Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
My family has always had something of a love affair with Jacques Pépin. It’s become a tradition to bestow his cookbook Fast Food My Way upon all young family members living on their own for the first time. The chocolate roulade that appears in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, his joint cookbook with Julia Child, has been the coda to our Christmas dinner for several years running; this year, we tried my colleague Owen Dugan's adaptation of the recipe (“Roll One Up”), featured in the Dec. 31, 2014, issue of the magazine.
Frankly, after preparing the aforementioned Christmas dinner—rolling the roulade, tying the tenderloin, twice-baking the potatoes—my family members and I were ready for a couple days (or weeks) of quick, easy cooking. For one meal, we turned to a standby chicken recipe, Pépin’s own variation on a classic French method for cooking frog legs by dredging them in flour and cooking them on a stovetop with butter, oil, garlic and parsley. It’s familiar ingredients, nothing fancy—just chicken done right.
The simple components of the recipe make it versatile. While I used mushrooms and spinach, you can add whatever in the fridge appeals to you. To me, this chicken calls out for some sort of starch; I cooked rice, but another grain, pasta or potato side would work nicely, too. The pan will contain a little bit of juice at the end, which the starch on the plate should readily absorb. If you want more of a sauce, however, you can easily throw in a little white wine and chicken broth and deglaze the pan.
There are two key points to getting this recipe right: You must pat the chicken very, very dry before dredging it, and you must cook it over very, very high heat.
My first thought for a wine pairing was Pinot Noir, whose earthy elements could play off the mushrooms. Plus, red wine seemed just right for a chilly winter day. I ventured to a fantastic wine shop down the street from my parents’ house. A very kind manager there directed me to some reliable Pinots in the under-$20 range (not an easy task), but once I’d told him what I was cooking, he urged me to consider one of his favorite Bordeaux blancs, the Château Graville-Lacoste Graves White 2013 (88 points, $18). It’s a blend of mostly Sémillon, with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
On its own, the Pinot, from Oregon, had the loamy, savory notes I had hoped for. But the wine’s bright cherry flavor turned medicinal-tasting with the food.
The Graves white, on the other hand, was perfect—it was exceedingly bright and aromatic, with a great array of fresh flavors. I would have happily drunk glass after glass without food, but the pairing made it even better. The wine’s herbal notes grew more complex with the parsley and spinach in the dish, and it had both the tasty echo of citrus and the crisp acidity to connect with the lemon squeezed over the food before eating. The harmony of the Graves with the chicken served as a welcome reminder: Appreciate your well-educated wine merchant!
Adapted from Fast Food My Way, ©2004 by Jacques Pépin. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Pair with white Bordeaux, such as Château Graville-Lacoste Graves White 2013 (88 points, $18)
Total time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Approximate food cost: $20 for 4 portions
1. Clean the mushrooms and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a small pot set on medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon butter and pinches of salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms to the pot. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 15 more minutes, tossing occasionally.
2. While the mushrooms are cooking, dry the chicken cubes with paper towels, making sure to get them as dry as possible. Coat the cubes completely in Wondra flour, using more than 2 tablespoons if necessary, and season with salt and pepper.
3. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot. Arrange the chicken cubes in a single layer in the skillet. Do not toss them. Cook for 3 1/2 minutes, then flip with tongs, one by one, to cook on both sides.
4. Combine the garlic and parsley in a bowl. Once the chicken is almost done cooking on its second side, add the mushrooms, garlic-parsley mixture and 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet, shaking to coat the chicken.
5. Remove the chicken and mushrooms from the skillet. Cook the spinach in the pan juices until wilted, about 2 minutes. To serve, divide the chicken, mushrooms and spinach among 4 plates, adding to each a lemon wedge and a starch of your choosing. Serves 4.