Monday, September 17, 2012

Serious Meal Two, Part Two: Mains: Braised Chicken with Sherry & Cream, Pommes Boulangere

So.. then there was Main Course. This is a great recipe. It managed to feel both something special and perfectly-at-ease food.  Not too fussy or unusual, but with amazing flavour.

For mains we had:
  • Braised Chicken with Sherry and Cream
    • Glazed carrots (as per previously)
    • Steamed sugar snap peas
    • Pommes Boulangere
These dishes were pretty much all Heston Blumenthal at Home recipes. Well, except steamed peas. You can figure those out.

Here I'm going to cover the potato side dish - Pommes Boulangere, and then the Braised Chicken with Sherry and Cream. Yum. (Note, if you're just here for the chicken, scroll on down..)

Pommes Boulangere

Okay, so this dish is a variant of a dish you are probably familiar with - layered baked potatoes cooked with cream. This version has you cooking the potatoes in stock. Let's see how we went...

Firstly, you cooked some white wine. You are supposed to cook it down by a third. You know, it is actually quite difficult to guage a reduction of a third for a small volume of liquid (100ml). 

So then you add the stock (in this case chicken to match the main dish) and reduce that by half. Again, I found this difficult to judge accurately.
While that's doing its thing, you take thinly sliced onions.
And the cover them with an obscene amount of oil. I read the "cover with" part about four times to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding it. Nope. In it goes.
Okay, the stock is reduced and now has its time infusing away...

Onions cooking.... and more cooking...

And look! Super soft, super sweet onions with all that oil drained off. Surprisingly enough, they really didn't seem all that oily afterwards...
 So then it is really just the dance you know.. layer your thinly sliced potato with bits of butter (of course, it's Heston after all) and salt and pepper.  Oh and those super-soft onions.

You pour in a chunk of the stock/wine/thyme mix and bake it in the oven. Here, I wished I'd stuck the recipe more - you are supposed to used a weighed out amount, I just poured in enough to cover it, which in hindsight was a mistake as they were a bit too wet overall. I should have weighed out the liquid as this would have kept it from being too wet.


What I learned

  • Measure that stock!
  • Scary amounts of oil can lead to tasty results
  • You need a seriously heavy tray to go on top to squish them nicely down.


The flavour was great, without being as rich as the cream version can be from time to time. It's only real downside was that it still had some liquid in it pooling - which was totally my fault for not weighing the volume of liquid to be added. Which means, depending on how accurately you do those reducing stages, may mean you're out quite a bit. I'd certainly make it again though, far from a failure or anything.

Guest opinions

Well received (...though general agreement on the 'a bit wet').

Okay.. now for the mains!

Braised Chicken with Sherry and Cream

This was a seriously good dish. And not too difficult or time consuming.  It was possibly my favourite Heston dish I've tried to date.

So, let's make it!

Firstly, as an optional step, you can brine your chicken. I did so, but only for about 2 hours (less than than recommended 4 hours). This certainly still helped, making for tasty plump chicken thighs.
While my chicken had a bath, I sliced up a serious amount of onion, leeks and garlic.
Then, the chicken thighs (one per person) were seasoned. I was worried that this wasn't going to be enough, but was a good size serve, especially once all the vegetables were considered also.

 You brown the chicken, then put it aside to cook that pile of onion, garlic and leek.

Slow cook your onion, leek and garlic.
Then in goes the sherry.

I'll note that I couldn't find any of the specific sherry Heston suggested you use, and the bottle shop person had no idea what they were. But what I did buy was the best genuine Spanish sherry I could. This was not cheap I think around $25 for the bottle - but I have plenty left over, and its delicious. I never thought of sherry  being particularly tasty but now I see why all those grannies are getting tipsy on it! Decent alcohol tastes good, who would have guessed! <insert mock surprise here.> Given it is a big flavour component of the dish, I'd certainly think in this case it's worth the extra. Think of it as the money you saved buying chicken thighs instead of some expensive cut of meat.
Which then gets the alcohol flamed off. It gave a pleasing "woof" too...
See the flames?
You know what this dish needs, right? Added richness. This time from cream, not butter.The stock goes in now too. Then the liquid is reduced to improve flavour and reduce volume.

Okay, now the chicken goes in to braise, and so into the oven.
Okay, all done and ready to come out. (It gets cooled in the liquid, soaking up that flavoured goodness.)
So then chicken is put aside while you make up the final sauce.

Next step, as is often the case, is to strain all that onion and such out from the braising liquid.

I do have to note that the sauce here tastes delicious.
So the strained braising liquid now gets reduced to a sauce. Mmm. Smelt really good.

While that is reducing you prepare the vegetables that get added to the finish dish - baby onions and mushrooms. I do recommend using Heston's suggested blanching method to make peeling the baby onions easier. Though I just poured the boiling water into a bowl in the sink, with a second sink of cold water.
Herbed onions, and halved champignons all set.
Guess what this dish needs? Butter!

All the onions go side down... so they can brown up nicely. I love this second photo.. looks very magazine-like 'casual'.

Then the mushrooms get much the same treatment... butter.. plus mushrooms, cooked until they were brown and lovely. 

Then, it was really just assembly. Mix all the chicken, mushrooms, onion and sauce together with a touch of cheese, mustard and truffle oil. Heat up the reserved chicken and you're set to serve.

Things I learned from this recipe:

  • Sherry is surprisingly tasty.
  • Not all cream dishes have to be crazily rich (which is good, cos my stomach tends to not appreciate super-rich food). 
  • Again, straining sauces leads to amazing flavour + smooth richness of mouthfeel (Sorry, I had to go all food critic there for a second.)


Now, you know I really, really don't think the above image does this dish justice. Because that chicken was wonderful. As in... possibly-the-tastiest-chicken-dish-I've-ever-made wonderful. I was worried it would be too rich what with the sherry and cream, but it was just lovely. Chicken perfectly cooked through, sauce so, so tasty. If the potatoes had been a nice neat stack instead of a tasty mess, then I would have been hard pressed to self-criticise a single element. And that wasn't the fault of the braised chicken, so .. yes. A most excellent dish. I'd make it again.I also liked that it was doable on a single day, without requiring a lot of multiple day preparation which was a nice change too.

There was a fair bit of sauce left over, and I did consider if you could stretch it by adding extra chicken pieces. However, I decided that if you did, you would not have enough sauce for the chicken to sit in and braise properly, so in this case I think Heston got to quantities right. I will admit that the following night I cooked some extra chicken cutlets and we ate the most amazing leftovers using the sauce and potatoes. (And a little dessert left over too...) 

Guest opinions

Much enjoyment, every one cleaned their plates, and some opted for extra sauce to eat with their bread. Definitely a winner. Guest:  "Mmmm... So good!" I wish I could add more comments, but there was really an awful lot of eating, and not a lot of discussion beyond general "this is really nice" type statements. I really should remember to get scores out of ten...

Next time: Final part - part 3, Dessert. (And if my visitor post counters are anything to go by, that's mostly the one you are waiting for!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Serious Meal Two, Part One: Soup & Entree

Okay, so I'm definitely going to have to break up this meal into separate blog posts, as there was a lot going on. This was a dinner party for friends, and went well - good company, good food, that sort of thing.

The menu was: (Heston dishes are indicated by an asterisk (*))
  • Chicken Consommé*
  • Goat's Cheese Tarts
  • Braised Chicken with Sherry and Cream*
    • Glazed carrots* (as per previously)
    • Steamed sugar snap peas
    • Pommes boulangere*
  • Tiramisu*
In this post, I'm covering the Chicken Consommé and the Goat's Cheese Tarts.


Chicken Consommé

This is an interesting one, because at it's heart you take stock you've frozen previously and defrost it, heat it up and call it soup.

You'll possibly recall I made a big batch of the Brown Chicken Stock a while back, so for this I was planning on using the rest of that as my starter.

So you take the big pile of frozen stock cubes... this is my extra huge bowl... And place it over a sieve, lined with wet muslin.

After two and a bit days, mine looked like this...

Yeah, still frosty. At that point we decided to leave it on the bench (it was a cool day) covered by a clingfilm.

That was a bit more successful. It actually melted.

What I hadn't been expecting was the huge reduction in volume. That pile of gel stuff above? That's what's left over. The volume of the actual consommé was small, much smaller than I'd expected from about one litre and a half of stock that I started with. 

The technical explanation is that all that gelatine in the stock acts as a filter for impurities. Really, I wonder if given the volume loss, whether it might be overkill.

That said, what was left looked good. Clear and a deep colour. Which lead to my idea of how to creatively serve a small quantity of consommé!

 Anyway, serving is simple - simply gently warm it.

And place in your serving receptacle. In my case, inspired by the colour, I chose brandy balloons.

Things I learned from this recipe:

  • The reduction in volume using this method is substantial. I'd expect in order to serve this as a soup, you'd need a double batch of stock to start (around 4L). It's all that gelitine - it really hangs onto the bulk of the stock.


The end result... well.... not as great as I'd hoped. One guest (husband) didn't like it, and felt it tasted like KFC. The rest of the guests were more openly polite, but my own opinion was that it was OK, but certainly not the earth-shattering flavour I'd anticipated from the filtration process.

To be honest, I feel there are better uses for the stock!

Goats cheese tarts

So these are an old favourite - my husband's all time favourite entree. Goat's cheese tarts from an old (1999) issue of Vogue Entertaining and Travel. This is the quick recap for menu completeness.

For this, you do the following:
  • Slowly caramelise a pile of thinly sliced onion, thyme and olive oil.
  • Cut circles of excellent quality puff pastry
  • Place piles of cooked onion in centre, top with a slice of goat cheese
  • Bake the tarts in oven while you toast some hazelnuts
  • Serve tarts on a bed of greens with a scattering of hazelnuts and a drizzle of lemon juice and hazelnut oil.

So, you  thinly slice that onion and then pick all the little tiny leaves off your thyme. This takes ages, and is very fiddly. Get a nine year old to help if you have one.

 Slow cook the onion and thyme in olive oil until caramelised and soft (this takes about 30 mins)

 Assemble your tarts...
 Bake for 8 minutes, until puffy and golden. Then put them on their bed of greenery, scatter with toasted chopped hazelnuts, lemon juice and hazelnut oil.
Delicious. Very well recieved as usual, though husband thought they should have been bigger. (But I had a pretty good idea (I thought...) how rich the rest of the dinner was going to be, so little ones were good. If you are going to do this, I'd recommend go easy on the goat cheese, it can be very strong and overpowering if you use too much.

Next: Pomme Boulangere, a side dish.