Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sauteed Kale with Walnuts, Kumquats and Feta / Pan-Seared Chicken Breast

So, I have been 'revisiting the breast' having long eschewed boneless, skinless chicken breasts for dark meat or whole chickens, usually appending "and tasteless" to "boneless, skinless". In too many instances, eliminating the skin and bones and pan searing or baking them them can be the gateway to dry, tasteless chicken.

There are good things to be said for them when you brine them beforehand or pound them out and roll them up with a stuffing or make breaded cutlets and dress them with a lemon caper sauce (and other preparations) but for this quest, I had one goal: that preparation would be simple, fairly fast and involve a whole boneless, skinless chicken breast.

I don't always cook a different meal every night. I generally prepare ingredients (proteins, grains, greens, beans) once a week and assemble my meals adding a vegetable or two. In the winter, I'll make a soup or stew once every week or so. It means I don't have to start from scratch or eat a cloned leftover for multiple nights. It also allows me to improvise with the preparation without spending hours. I have homemade pestos and things like oven roasted tomatoes and roasted lemons in the freezer as well as chunks of pancetta I can take out to season things .

So when I made this meal, I made four chicken breasts and two servings of the kale.  The recipe for the chicken breasts was adapted from America's Test Kitchen "Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts" and the only things I will change the next time I make this is to not crowd my baking pan so much - it took longer to cook the chicken than necessary I think, and I will remove the tenderloin from the breast (see: step 2 of this Food Network instruction for a picture). Some pre-packaged chicken breasts already have this removed. If you turn the breasts skin-side down, the tenderloin is the little flappy part. I also used olive oil in the flour-cornstarch slurry instead of melted butter.

Most importantly, was it good?


Green garlic, sliced kumquats, toasted walnuts,
barrel-aged feta cheese and lacinato kale.
Chicken-y taste - 75% Moist and not dry - 90% Nice crust - 95%.  I would make the dish again, but probably cook it with the skin and on the bone in the first step(increasing the cooking time) removing both before the 2nd step of searing it off in the pan. However, if you have boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your fridge and need to cook them pretty quickly without a lot of fuss, keeping them moist, with a nice browned crust, this would work very well.

Although not mentioned in the recipe, it's also important to cook the chicken breasts skin-side down in the baking step - that evens out and flattens the presentation side so that when you sear them off, you get even browning across the whole piece of chicken.

Sauteed Kale with Walnuts, Kumquats and Feta, Dressed with a Sherry Vinaigrette: Many who know me know that I am a sucker for lacinato (dino) kale.  Any type of hardy greens that can be sauteed may be substituted. If kumquats aren't in season, you can absolutely use orange segments or slices, or apples, or sliced strawberries. You can certainly sub shaved parmigiana for the feta, almonds for the walnuts and white wine vinegar for the sherry vinegar- you see where I'm going with this, yes?

Recipes: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts + Sauteed Kale with Walnuts, Kumquats and Feta



Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts
(adapted from America's Test Kitchen's recipe)
Makes 4 servings
  • Pre-heat oven to 275F / rack: lower-middle
  • Baking pan to hold the chicken without crowding
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pastry brush
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Large skillet (if you use non-stick, add a teaspoon of oil to the pan when pre-heating)
Ingredients:
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Trim any excess fat.
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt -OR- 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (the recipe called for 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons butter)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Method:
  • Pre-heat the oven to 275F and adjust the rack to the lower-middle position. Poke the thickest end of each breast 5-6 times and sprinkle each side evenly with 1/2 teaspoon (1/4 if table salt) of the salt. Place chicken, skin-side down in the baking dish.  Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the thick end of the chicken breast registers 145-150 F. This will take 30-40 minutes - closer to 40 if the tenderloin is still attached.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer skin-side up to a platter lined with paper towels and pat them dry.
  • Heat the skillet over medium-high until you see wisps of smoke.
  • Whisk together the olive oil with the flour, cornstarch and pepper and lightly brush the tops with this mixture.
  • Lay the breasts in the pan, coated side down. Cook until browned (about 3-4 minutes). If your pan is small, cook two at a time. While the first side is browning, brush the side facing up with the remaining slurry of oil, flour, cornstarch and pepper.
  • Flip the breasts with tongs or a fork, reduce the heat to medium and the second side is browned. The temperature should read 160-165F - about 3-4 minutes.
  • Transfer the breasts to a platter and let them rest for 5 minutes.

Sauteed Kale with Walnuts, Kumquats, Feta and Sherry Vinaigrette
 Serves 2 or 4 if there are other sides.

  • Large skillet.
  • I had all of my ingredients prepped and cooked this in the same skillet I used for the chicken breasts while they were resting.
Ingredients:
  • 1 small bunch of lacinato (dino) kale, washed with lower stems removed, chopped into (approximately) 1" pieces.
  • 1/2 cup of (large pieces or halves), toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese (I used a barrel-aged feta which is slightly more dry. I also prefer brands that aren't super salty)
  • 1/2-1 cup of chopped green garlic (you can use minced shallots, diced onions or chopped leeks)
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Sherry vinaigrette
Method:
  • Heat the skillet over medium high heat with the oil. Add the green garlic and small pinch of salt to season, turn the heat down to medium and sweat the green garlic for 2-3 minutes. Don't let it get soggy.
  • Remove the green garlic (or other aromatic) from the pan, turn up the heat to medium high and add the kale in handfuls, tossing with tongs. Cook for about 3-4 minutes adding a couple of pinches of salt and pepper to taste. Add the kumquats and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the toasted walnut pieces and toss the mixture with tongs.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the contents to a bowl large enough to be able to toss.
  • Drizzle on the vinaigrette to taste and the feta. Toss and serve.

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