Friday night I had a taste for something tomato Italian, and I didn't want to make Ragu spaghetti. I had a frozen chicken breast that I wanted to use, too, as it went into the freezer back in November. I was a nice chunky breast, probably 8 ounces! Enough for two meals, as I cook for myself and no one else.
While the chicken breast, tightly wrapped in tin foil, was defrosting using the cold water method, I rummaged through my cabinets. Not much, hmmm!
Hardly any extra virgin olive oil left!
I quickly scootched around the internet for some easy recipes, but didn't find anything EASY enough!
So, I gulped and decided to wing it on my own, with NO RECIPE! I said to self, "Jan, how many cooking shows have you watched over the years? How many Hell's Kitchens? How many Master Chefs? How many Cooking with Julias? How many Jacques Pepin? You can do this, woman. Just do it!"
What I had on hand was:
A half-empty jar of small pimento-filled green olives (store brand)
Three-quarters of a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce with green peppers and onions (they are so small and so few you need a magnifying glass to see them)
Other spices, including salt, pepper and dried parsley
After the chicken breast was thawed, I rinsed it well under cold water and then dried it with paper towels; cut it lengthwise, being very careful as I was working with a large sharp knife that scares me half to death, and then trimmed away the fat and the small ends with a smaller knife. I then cut both halves into roughly 1/2" thick "medallions."
In a plastic grocery bag, as I did not have any "shake and bake" bags on hand, I mixed up some all purpose flower, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and a wee bit of Italian seasoning mix, about 1/4 teaspoon. I tightened up the bag opening and shook the ingredients to mix them, and then tossed in the chicken medallions and tossed away until they were well coated.
Meanwhile, I added a couple of tablespoons (rough measure, as I was just pouring from the bottle) of vegetable oil into a skillet, and added about a tablespoon of olive oil. Brought to about medium heat. Then I shook off the excess flour mixture on the chicken medallions one by one and added them to the hot oil, being careful (1) not to burn myself, LOL! (2) to maintain the bubble of the oil around each piece as it was added by temporarily increasing heat (gas stove) as necessary, and (3) working quickly so that some medallions would not finish cooking well before the others!
I cooked then all for about a minute, then did a "slide-shake" of the pan to redistribute the medallions from around the hot spot in the center of the pan. Cooking time on the first side was about 5 minutes, then turned them with tongs, checking to make sure the first side was browned. Success! Nicely browned, YES!
Second side was cooked a scant 3 minutes and I did the shake/slide thing with the pan a couple of times. The last minute or so I added some chopped green olives and a little of the juice from the jar to add some brine, did a couple more shake/slide things with the pan and then turned off the heat as I was removed the chicken and olive bits to a bowl; covered with tin foil to stay warm while I did the sauce. This is what the chicken looked like after I removed it from the pan -- try to imagine it not blurred:
I have no idea where the thought to make a roux came from, but when it entered my brain I instantly went with it. In a little bowl I mixed a bit of all purpose flour -- and yes, I did a major sin, I used some of the left-over in the plastic grocery bag from coating the chicken medallions! Since I'm still here to write about it, I did not kill myself with ptomaine poisoning. Added more salt and pepper. Dumped a couple tablespoons of cold butter into the frying pan and turned on the heat. When the oil that had been left in the pan and the newly-added butter was bubbling, I slowly added the flour mixture with one hand from the bowl and frantically stirred with a fork in the other. Let's just say my technique leaves something to be desired. But it worked because I REALLY whisked that fork around and was careful not to add too much flour mixture all at once.
Brought the roux to a foam, while stirring constantly:
I let it foam until it turned a rich golden brown color and started slightly smoking, added some dried parsley (I have no idea why):
I turned down the heat and added about a cup of the Ragu sauce, a wooden spoon-full at a time, stirring each in well before adding the next. This is what it looked like after I finished putting in the spaghetti sauce:
You can see that using the roux made the sauce very thick! And it added a layer and depth of flavor, not sure how to describe it, but remember when I said it was smoking just before I added the first of the Ragu spaghetti sauce, I was reaching for a certain subtle smoky flavor I've seen done on those t.v. cooking shows, but didn't want it to taste burned! I thought it tasted really good and turned out well, but I am well aware I was treading on dangerous ground!
By the way, that is a genuine Grandma Newton wooden spoon. She died in 1960. Afterward, as the old family home was cleaned out and Grandpa went to live with my Aunt Laurel and Uncle Verne, the possessions were divied up amongst my dad and five aunts. This spoon and other things ended up in our family stash. When I moved away to my first apartment in the summer of 1969 after graduating high school, I took with me an assortment of odds and ends, including a beat up (even then) old tin kettle that I'm pretty sure came from Grandma's house, a relish dish, a fancy glass bowl, some knick-knacks, and Grandma Newton's wooden spoon. That wooden spoon, and the other much loved items, too, have been with me ever since. I remember she had a set of wooden spoons that she kept in a glass jar on one side of the sink. They were worn and stained. I loved those old spoons because Grandma Newton made magic happen with them! Now my old, inherited wooden spoon is like Damascus steel, it's indestructible!
How well I remember sitting on a tall stool on one side of the butcher block island in her small kitchen, watching her cook. My nose was never far away from the bowl, LOL! She NEVER used a recipe! So, this wooden spoon is, at a minimum (if I date it from the 1950s), about 70 years old now. Likely older. Who knows? Maybe Grandma Newton got those spoons as a gift from her mom (Mathilda Forsythe Belanger, 1861-1943) when she married Grandpa Newton. Holy Hathor!
After I stirred the sauce into the roux for a few minutes, I put the chicken back in:
Then I let it all simmer on very low heat for about 5 more minutes, covered.
Meanwhile, I prepared a single serving of fetticini for myself. When the chicken was done, I spooned a good helping over my fetticini and added some shredded parmesan cheese.
Popped it into the microwave for 30 seconds to slightly melt the parmesan and then had at it!
Very good! The chicken was moist and tender, easily shredded with my fork. The sauce was thick (which I like) and stuck to everything, very tomato-y, and had that little "extra" flavor (slightly smoky?) As a last second garnish, I tossed on a few more chopped green olives, which added a bit of saltiness, because the dish otherwise was not salty (I have to watch it on the salt for health reasons). I will make this for myself again. It is probably an abbreviated version of chicken parmesan but without the black olives :)
I have left-overs for one more supper, just have to cook up some fresh pasta.
July 16, 2017:
Hola! Where does the time go, Geez Louise! Half summer is already gone, and I am first now updating this from last December, tsk tsk. Bad Jan! So, been busy puttering around the yard, as always, and paying more attention than I probably should be to politics. The kitchen "remodel" is on hold due to budgetary constraints, but I hope to have that remedied before the end of the year. And I have yet to paint the guest room - it's only been 3 years now since I moved in to this version of Maison Newton, I'm not lazy or anything, nope... LOL! Take care and have a great rest of the summer. Jan