8 April 2013

Chicken, asparagus and peas in a Marsala cream sauce : a "once in six months" dinner dish!

I am quietly very proud of this recipe.  To me, this represents a little of where I am in regard to my cooking experience.  Put in Masterchef terms, this is "my own food" - but not everyday food.  Because of the quantity of double cream, this is very definitely a "once in six months" dinner!

Even so, I'm still proud of it.

You see, at one time, I'd have cooked this a) from a recipe instead of following my own thoughts and b) if I had have been making it up from scratch, I'd have done it a totally different (and not so successful) way.

To put not too fine a point on it, we've been having a few tummy issues in the family just lately, which has resulted in our relationship with food being a bit hit and miss.  We either just haven't wanted to eat - or what we could eat has been a short list!  Still, we're getting a bit better on that front now - exhibit A being the Tapas meatballs, which had been on the menu list for probably three weeks or more.  We eventually got around to being able to face them and were jolly glad we did.

I wanted something "nice" for our Sunday dinner.  Something a little out of the ordinary, something inoffensive and unchallenging to eat, that would tempt the taste buds and satisfy the tummy.  I had a number of favourites to choose from, as anything involving cheese, bacon, curry or chilli usually gets a thumbs up of approval.  Also on that list is anything in a cream sauce, which doesn't get made that often because of the general naughtiness of the cream sauce.

The obvious choice for a cream sauce was chicken and the minute I had decided on that, the rest of the recipe just fell out of my head with virtually no amendments once I'd written it down.

Now, in days gone by, I'd have sweated off the onion and garlic, then added the chicken and in so doing would have burned the garlic, making it bitter.  I'd have then added the cream and tasted, only to find it was bland and too gloopy.  So I'd probably have added the vegetables in the hope that they'd cheer the flavour up and when they didn't, I'd probably have added something completely random like Worcestershire sauce.  The end result would have been a slightly bitter sauce with overcooked vegetables and reduced cream - all of which was pretty horrid.

Well, I reckon you have to fail at making something (and probably several times) before you begin to work out where you went wrong.

This time, I browned (or maybe that should be - more correctly - "goldened") the chicken and removed it.  Then I sweated off the onion and garlic (without burning it) and added the Marsala wine, then some stock.  (Wouldn't have thought to use stock in the past!).  I re-introduced the chicken, which cooked as the stock reduced.

Then, when the stock had reduced sufficiently that adding the cream wouldn't affect the texture of the sauce, I added the asparagus (no, not the chicken - it would have taken up too much room and the asparagus wouldn't have cooked properly) and cooked that for 2-3 minutes in the stock.  Then I re-introduced the chicken (so that it could re-heat), then the peas (as they only need seconds in which to heat up), then in the final few minutes, the cream.  Leaving the cream until last means that the ingredients all cook and exchange flavours with the stock - so it's essential to use a good stock.  It also means that the cream doesn't have time in which to reduce, so maintaining the integrity of your sauce.  Bring it all back up to temperature and serve.  Perfect.

I made a couple of mistakes with the accompaniments though.  Firstly, I used rather too much thyme on my garlic and thyme roast potatoes and parsnips.  This is purely a personal taste issue, as I find too much thyme to be redolent of disinfectant.  Hubby and son & heir enjoyed them though.  Oh, and they'd have been a lot more crispy if the oven hadn't decided to turn itself off (for some reason, it switched over to timer-controlled.  I lost some 15 minutes of cooking time, thanks to that!) half way through.

Secondly, I decided to make a variation on Vichy Carrots.  I didn't want the sweetness that a Vichy carrot brings with it, so decided to use vegetable stock to cook them in, but omit the sugar - adding the butter that makes the glaze and cooking them in the same way as Vichy carrots.  Well, it kind of worked.  They tasted great, albeit a teensy bit overcooked as I used too much stock which took too long to reduce and the use of stock instead of water gave them an odd colouring.  That one needs further work, I think!

However, there were murmurs of appreciation all round as the family tucked into their chicken.  The chicken breasts were still tender and moist - not overcooked - and deliciously flavoured from being cooked in the stock and Marsala wine.  The asparagus was perfectly cooked with just a teensy bit of bite left in each piece and the cream sauce was just delicious.  Real lick the plate stuff!

If we had three more chicken breasts, I'd be perfectly happy to eat that again for dinner tonight, it was that good.   Aaah, happy sigh! 

The Chicken Chick


Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced finely
150ml sweet Marsala wine
200ml chicken stock, using 1 tsp stock powder or 1 stock cube
150g asparagus, cut on the diagonal into 1" pieces
3 handfuls of frozen peas, defrosted
sea salt & black pepper
150ml double cream.

Method :

1.  In a deep frying pan or wok, heat the oil over a moderate to high heat.  Add the chicken breasts and fry, undisturbed, on each side in order to gain a little golden colour.  Reserve on a plate.

2.  Add the onion to the frying pan and reduce the heat to moderate.  Stir fry, not allowing the onion to brown, until demonstrably softened.  Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute.

3.  Quickly add the Marsala wine and allow to frizzle for a moment or two.  Add the stock (or water and stock powder) and bring to a boil.

4.  Gently return the chicken to the pan and maintain the boil so that the stock begins to reduce.  Cook like this until the stock has reduced to a third of its original quantity.

5.  Remove the chicken breasts back to the plate and add the asparagus and black pepper to taste.  Cook for 2-3 minutes or so until softening, then return the chicken to the pan.  Continue to cook for another minute or so to bring the chicken back up to temperature.

6.  Add the peas and as soon as the sauce has returned back up to temperature, add the cream and, once again, bring back up to temperature.

7.  Check for seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve with roast potatoes and a selection of vegetables.

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