To this day, my favorite thing to do in the kitchen when deciding what to cook for dinner, on the rare occasion that I have nothing planned, is to go to my refrigerator and create a meal. Now, it actually helps to have food in the refrigerator when doing this. Even an Iron Chef can’t create a meal with no ingredients.
Today I wanted something hearty and comforting. I happened to have chicken breasts and bacon, so those two items were the inspiration for this dish.
I’ve watched my fair share of cooking shows and competitions, and if a competitor ever chooses chicken with which to participate in a challenge, it’s like an automatic loss. Chicken just doesn’t have the magic that other meats do. Chicken breasts can be moist and lovely, but they must be cooked properly. Actually I can, and I have said that about all meats. But some meat can be slightly forgiving; chicken breasts are not.
Chicken is widely available in the U.S., and it’s fairly inexpensive, so it’s quite commonly used. Even better, if you’re watching your pennies, whole chickens are extremely inexpensive and can be easily broken down into breasts, thighs, and so forth.
I’ll show you what I do sometimes with chicken breasts to ensure a perfect cook, and present them in a way that’s perfect for a comforting winter meal. This dish isn’t fancy in any way, but if you’ve been dining on frozen pizza lately, you’ll think you’re dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I guarantee it!
Chicken Breasts with a Bacon Cream Sauce and Sautéed Apples
4 thick slices bacon
Splash of olive oil, if necessary
2 chicken breasts, close to room temperature
3 shallots, diced
1/2 teaspoon chicken demi-glace
Reduced apple cider*, or apple juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Cream, about 1/3 cup
Dry off the bacon with paper towels, if necessary. Then dice it.
Place the bacon in a hot skillet. Add a splash of olive oil if necessary. It depends how fatty your bacon is.
Cook the bacon until browned, then using a slotted spoon, place the bacon on paper towels to drain.
If there’s too much bacon grease in the skillet, remove some and save it for other purposes.
To prepare the chicken breasts, take a sharp knife and cut along each breast horizontally, to make two breast pieces that are more uniformly thick; one will be smaller and slightly thinner than the other. Pound any part of the chicken breast slices that are slightly thicker. Season with salt and pepper.
Place two of the chicken breasts in the skillet with the hot bacon grease. If you’re concerned about uneven cooking, cook the two same-sized breast pieces together. You can always use a thermometer to make sure that the internal temperature doesn’t go over 150 degrees.
Brown on both sides, and lower the heat slightly to cook the breasts completely, although properly. Place them on a plate and cover them loosely with foil.
Add the shallots and sauté them until soft and golden.
Meanwhile, add the demi glace to a small measuring cup or bowl and all a little water to cover. Microwave until the water is hot and whisk in the demi-glace until fully incorporated. Have this, the reduced cider (see below), the mustard, and the cream on hand.
When the shallots are golden, pour in the demi-glace mixture, add the mustard, and then pour in the cider reduction.
Stir well and cook for a minute. Then add cream. The amount of cream you use depends on how creamy you want your sauce. I kept mine slightly thick, but you could easily add twice as much as make a cream sauce.
Sprinkle in a little dried thyme, if using, and taste sauce for seasoning. Then add the bacon and stir in well. This just softens the bacon. If you prefer, save it to sprinkle on the top of each serving.
For each serving, I placed the larger and smaller chicken breasts on two plates.
Just for fun, I sautéed a few apple slices, just to enhance the apple flavor in the sauce resulting from the reduced cider. Of course, this step is not necessary, it was just a fun addition.
If you do this, just a few apple slices is all you need.
So as you can see, a very delicious and hearty meal was created with the simplest of ingredients, namely chicken, bacon, shallots, apple cider, demi-glace, and cream. Onions could be substituted for the shallots, and broth could be substituted for the demi-glace. In the case of the apple cider, which in my case my hard cider, I have never come across a family that didn’t have some kind of apple juice in their refrigerator!
* A reduction, no matter what kind of liquid it is, is just that – a reduction of volume. Through a light simmer, you gently evaporate the liquid, which thickens it, and also creates a more concentrated flavor. Then it can be incorporated in a sauce, a vinaigrette, or a soup. It’s a simple technique, and one you should know.
I used a cider from Normandie which was a present from my mother; we happened to have about 2 cups leftover that would have gone flat. The Normandie region in France is famous for their apple-based booze, like Calvados.
From the 2 cups of cider, I ended up with about 1/4 cup of reduced cider, perfect to add to the above cream sauce.