14 May 2010

Why Wondra? Why Velveeta?

There's plenty of precedent for using processed ingredients in haute cuisine. Jean-Georges used Hellman's mayo and canned condensed milk (and little else), to make a sauce for shrimp in one of his restaurants. David Bouley admitted to using Heinz ketchup.

I got Wondra from Jacques Pepin.  He uses it primarily for dredging. I use it for quick thickening sometimes. It's a great tool to have in your toolbox, but sometimes it's also the right ingredient. Wondra allows you to make a nice thin crust on a piece of meat. It protects the meat, doesn't burn easily, and doesn't clump.

I used Velveeta in my latest recipe because that's what I used when I originally made the dish.  The recipe came from a caterer I know, who will remain nameless. When she originally instructed me on the dish, she said, "I hope you don't mind using Velveeta."  I didn't.

This sauce isn't very cheesy. The Velveeta just sits in the background and, with the thickening of Wondra, props up the sauce. The principle attraction of Velveeta is that it can be incorporated at any time and it's stable for a long time, which is great for catering. But if it's great for catering, it's also good for a dinner party where you want to actually spend time with your guests and not fuss over the food, but still make something good.  That's what my coworker asked for, and I hope I delivered.

What I'd really like to do is make this dish in to a type of cheater's risotto.  Parboil the vialone nano rice, and incorporate it into half the sauce, while the thighs finish in the oven with the other half. Maybe throw in a few saffron threads, too, to make it more like risotto alla milanesa. In that case, the Velveeta would nerf the making of the dish in another way. Often, making risotto, you have to hit that perfect spot where the rice is soft and the sauce is creamy. With this, the sauce is already creamy. You just cook it until the rice is just right.

Actually, this is what I'm having for dinner tonight.  I'm off to make it.

p.s., if you ask my friend the caterer for the recipe for her chicken dish, you get something that calls for fresh-grated sharp cheddar cheese.

06 May 2010

Chicken Thighs with Vermouth and Cheese

A coworker just asked me what I'd do with some chicken thighs and not much time.  I came up with this. What I love about chicken thighs is that you can't overcook them. What I dislike is the longer you cook them, the more of their flavor leaches out into the sauce, and the more the thighs become stringy.  I also don't like the texture you get when you apply high heat directly to the chicken flesh. It reminds me of plastic. In this recipe, the Wondra flour acts like a very light breading, forming a crust that keeps the meat plump, but dissolves back into the sauce. During the initial saute, it also lets some of the juices go through and stick to the pan, so you have something to deglase, and helps thicken the sauce more than the Velveeta (I know) alone.

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
Wondra flour
Salt & pepper

1/2 c dry white vermouth
1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp herbes de Provence OR 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves (not ground thyme)
1/4 lb Velveeta cheese (I know.) cut into 1/2" cubes

Preheat oven to 325.

Heat the olive oil and butter in your heaviest pan.

Dry the chicken thighs very well with paper towels and lay out in a single layer.  From a height, season with salt and pepper, and dust gently with Wondra flour. (Doing this from several feet above the chicken gets you an even, thin coverage you can't get with dredging.)

Saute the thighs in the oil and butter, in batches, if necessary, so that they do not crowd each other, and a crust is formed on the chicken. Set the chicken aside on a platter to rest.  Deglase the pan with vermouth, scraping up all the brown bits, which should dissolve and thicken the vermouth as it reduces. When the sauce is smooth, thin with chicken broth, add the herbs, and add the cheese.  Stir until the cheese melts.

Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, stirring and coating all sides with the sauce.  Cover and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes to cook through.

Serve with rice.

Serves 4.5 people.