Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chicken & Gravy, and a pie confession

I have a confession to make, and I'm a little embarrassed by it. A little shortcut I take on everyday affairs in the kitchen sometimes, when I'm only cooking for Bunny and myself and not worried about impressing anyone. When the requirements for dinner are simple and nutritious and tasty, and I really don't mind having some imperfections.

I use frozen pie crusts. Not the good ones, either, just the everyday Tenderflakes. They're nothing special, and I can definitely taste the difference when I do make my own crust. Honestly, though, if I bulk making quiches for frozen dinners, or just whipping up a leftovers pie, I'm not concerned with the perfect pie crust.

Pecan pie for guests, I'll make my own.

Last night was a bit of a simple/lazy/somewhat lovely thrown together dinner. A month ago or so I'd made a chicken pot pie, with perfectly cubed chicken breast and some frozen mixed veggies. Me being me, I didn't use a real recipe, so I ended up with entirely too much filling, and I was able to freeze about a cup to a cup and a half of the extra.

So, last night was use the chicken pot pie filling night. It was a bit of an anemic filling, so I decided to quickly cook up some chicken thighs to get some extra meat and drippings to make a fresh gravy, and I diced and blanched some carrots and broccoli that were chilling around the crisper. The extra chicken and fresher veggies really brightened things up.

Can I also tell you how I made the best gravy ever? I made loads, so there's a nice tub of rich chicken gravy in my fridge. So, here's some instructions for simple sauted chicken thighs & gravy:

Ingredients:
  • 6 chicken thighs, bone in (optional), skin on (the skin on is important here. Gravy does require pan drippings and some good flavourful fat, to me, and you just don't get it with skinless)
  • A tablespoon or so of oil (I like olive, use what you like though)
  • Seasonings (I used a liberal sprinkling of season salt & garlic powder, but it's really season to your tastes)
  • 3-6 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, or other liquid
  • Additional liquid (water is fine)
Directions:
  1. Heat skillet medium to medium high, add olive oil to pan
  2. Liberally season chicken thighs, on both sides
  3. When pan & oil are hot, place chicken in pan, skin side down (I like cooking the fatty side first, it helps lubricate the pan for the other side and prevents sticking)
  4. Cover the pan, let chicken cook 5-10 minutes, until skin side is well browned. Flip chicken, cover and let cook another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Chicken is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 170*F (Full disclosure: I generally pull my chicken bits off the heat around 160-160 if I can and let the temperature rise as the meat rests) Pull chicken from pan & set aside to enjoy the deliciousness
  6. At this point, you should have a lovely pan full of drippings. Reduce the heat, to just below medium, and add the flour to the pan - the amount of flour you need will depend on how much drippings you have
  7. Vigourously wisk the flour and drippings together, they should get thick (like a roux). Continue to add flour until you have a paste like mixture in the pan. Continue to cook, wisking, for a few minutes - this allows the flour to cook off a little
  8. Slowly add stock/liquid to the pan, starting with 1/2 cup. Note: this will steam up, so you will want a longer handled wisk. Wisk very vigourously, ensuring the liquid and flour/fat paste mix up evenly. It won't look pretty at this stage, but that's ok. Just let everything mix fairly evenly.
    1. Note: I cannot stress enough just how important it is to add the liquid in stages. Adding in stages allows you to evenly incorporate your thickener (that pasty flour/dripping mixture) with the liquid portion of your gravy. Add a little, wisk until combined, repeat. I have found that this is the single best way to avoid having lumpy gravy. You can add all the liquid at once, but do this at your own peril.
  9. Continue to add stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time and wisking vigourously until incorporated. By the time you have all the stock in your pan, your gravy should be much looser. Bring things to a simmer and let reduce a touch. I let things reduce for about 2-3 minutes.
    1. Reducing the gravy like this helps the flavours intensify and blend together better. It also gives the flour a chance to properly thicken things up, and helps you really adjust the thickness later.
  10. At this point, everything is up to taste: do you want a thin gravy or a thick gravy? Your best bet is to taste your gravy now and go from there. If it feels a little viscous for your tastes, thin it out with more liquid. If it feels thin, let the gravy continue to reduce until you are happy with the thickness.
  11. Seasoning: sometimes you will have to adjust your seasoning. Be gentle here: if you are using herbs, add them early. If you are using salt, wait until the end to season, especially if you plan on reducing.
  12. Enjoy!
Bunny and I made a very thick gravy last night, as we were using it as the sauce in our pot pie and I find thickness is necessary. However, I got tons of gravy from my pan, and thinned the rest out, and that's what's in my fridge right now. And it's delicious.

A Note on Liquids in Gravy:
Growing up, there was one thing, and one thing only, that was ever used in gravy: the starchy water from boiling potatoes.
I'm not so into using water in gravies anymore. Starchy water is great for a gravy where you have loads of flavourful drippings and you just need liquid, not flavour. The fact is though that the liquid adds so much flavour to the gravy. Broth takes things up about ten notches. Wine works nicely (particularly red wine in a beef gravy), and I love using juice in my gravys (apple juice pork gravy, anyone?).
You can use whatever flavours you like, but I always recommend being a little bit more adventurous than just water.

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