An ace up your sleeve

Roast chicken with mustard sauce

What would you serve at a special dinner party if you didn't know who was coming? If you wanted to impress but knew nothing about your guests and what they liked? Would you play it safe with something homely and reliable, or go out an a limb hoping to wow them with the unexpected?

Personally I would err on the side of caution. A lot of people are not very adventurous eaters and feel uncomfortable beyond the safe and familiar: roast chicken, meat & three veg, and pork & beans, etc. Of course these people should be challenged, but choose your moment — if your date is grossed out by their warm beef tongue entrée you might well be getting cold shoulder for dessert. The best thing about unadventurous eaters is that they'll be surprised by even the most timid deviation from the mean, so a small adjustment to a classic recipe is all it takes to make them think you're Thomas Keller (although they won't think that, because they don't know Thomas Keller is).

This chicken dish is one of those aces that I keep up my sleeve for special occasions. It has all the flavours and textures of a classic French roast chicken with a couple of adjustments to elevate it above a standard Sunday roast. The recipe below is only a rough guide, but I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Roast chicken breast with mustard & brown butter sauce

Potato gnocchi

Microwave a couple of large desiree potatoes for 10-20 minutes or until completely tender. Remove the skins and pass twice through a potato ricer. Season well with salt then chop through 1 part flour for every 4 parts of potato flesh by weight. Bring this together to form a homogenous dough, then divide and roll out into 2 cm-thick ropes. Chop into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Boil, drain, and toss with olive oil. Set aside on grease-proof paper and arrange so they're not touching each other (or they'll stick together).

Mustard & brown butter sauce

In a saucepan over a high heat, cook 3 tbsp of unsalted butter until browned. Whisk in 2 tbsp of brown chicken stock, 1 tbsp of dijon mustard, and 1 tbsp of crème fraîche (or sour cream). Simmer gently until reduced by one third then remove from the heat until ready to serve.

Roast chicken & shallots

Take a whole chicken and remove the legs, wingtips, wishbone, and back (you now have what's called a 'chicken crown'). Season with salt & pepper. Sear the skin of the breast on all sides in a heavy pan, then place breasts-up and roast in a very hot oven (230ºC/450ºF) for 25-30 minutes. Throw a couple of skin-on shallots into the pan to roast as well. When cooked, remove from the oven, cover in foil, and rest for 10 minutes.

Putting it all together

While the chicken is resting, remove the tough outer layers of skin from the roasted shallots. Heat a few tablespoons of butter and a few of olive oil in a non-stick pan until the butter is foaming. Add the gnocchi, the skinned shallots, some salt and fresh thyme leaves and sautée over a medium-high heat on both sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile cook green beans in salted water for 5 minutes, then remove, shock in cold water, cut in half, and set aside.

Once the chicken is rested, carve the breasts and place in the centre of the plate. Around this arrange the gnocchi & shallots, then spoon over some sauce. Finally, scatter the green beans and serve.

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