March 12, 2012

Pan-Roasted Chicken in Beer Sauce

Tonight was one of those garbage can nights. The kind where you drag in from work, tired and aching, really not wanting the leftover meatloaf and grits in the fridge. Then you think, what kind of fine world is this in which alternate dinner prospects consist of meatloaf and grits? So you get to work. You gather up those odds and ends: that frozen chicken, leftover parsley, sour cream, red potatoes. You really want a white wine sauce but there is only a half-drunk bottle of champagne left over from a long ago engagement party. But there is Highland Gaelic Ale in the bottom drawer - always leave it to those bottom refrigerator drawers to hold something special!
I should add a caveat: this past weekend was fridge-cleaning weekend. Spotless shelves, but a concerning amount of white, bright space. No wonder leftovers and white wine are hard to come by. So tonight is chicken in beer night. A quick trip to the corner grocery for fresh mushrooms and green onions makes this dinner complete.

Plus, I am reading this food photography book, trying to learn new and more sophisticated ways to photograph my food. Tonight's dish was all about trying to deal with the harsh lights of my kitchen, balancing them with the steam from the beer sauce, the golden-brown of the chicken, and the bright green of the parsley. Photographing food really makes you pay attention to color and texture. Dinner becomes an exercise in presentation, a balance of light and shadow. And when you can clean out the leftover-leftovers in the meantime, then I call that a win for a Monday night.

Pan-Roasted Chicken in Beer Sauce
Serves 4

16 ounces chicken breasts or cutlets
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon olive oil (or equal combination of butter and oil)
16 ounces mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup beer (ale or Hefeweizen)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Green onions or scallions, for garnish

Heat oven to 200 F. Slice cutlets into equal pieces. You may need to slice the thicker sections lengthwise for even heating. Season with sea salt and pepper and dredge in flour. In a skillet, heat half of the olive oil until slick and shimmering. Add chicken pieces and roast until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to plate and keep in warm oven, about 15 minutes. 

In the same skillet, heat rest of oil and saute garlic and onions until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and cook about 1-2 minutes, until mushrooms are soft but retain texture. Add beer, chicken stock, sour cream, and chicken pieces from oven and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is hot and bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley, green onions, and extra salt and pepper. 

I served this delicious dish with a bed of wilted spinach and herbed roasted potatoes. But this is such a versatile dish and can be made with many vegetable and spice combinations. Add some hot sauce for a spicy kick or scale down the sour cream for a clear broth dish with pasta. Serve over rice or even alongside grits or hominy. Cook with fish instead of chicken, or substitute meat for peppers and brussels sprouts for a delicious vegetarian combination. Be creative with your refrigerator!

Make something from leftovers and bottom drawer things this week. You never know what combination of garbage can items you can salvage with a delicious supper!
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