Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato Risotto and Sauce

As it happens, I eat a lot of chicken. That's because it's cheap right now - whole chickens are under $2 a pound these days - and I can stretch a whole chicken pretty far. This particular dish uses a lot of chicken without using all that much at all.

Chicken Suprême with Risotto

There's a fundamental premise in cooking that we're all taught early - the mother sauces (Espagnole, Veloute, Bechamel, Tomato, and Hollandaise) and their derivatives. Suprême is a derivative of a chicken veloute, which is made by infusing the veloute with mushrooms and adding cream. The result is far more subtle than one would expect. Here I have paired the mushrooms with another fall vegetable - sweet potato.

Stage One: Preparing the Stock

A number of the components of this dish use chicken stock as a base ingredient. I've never given my recipe for chicken stock, so here is a brief explanation of how I do it. If you're also making your stock from scratch, do so a day or two in advance.

Take one whole chicken, and remove the breasts and legs for later use. Place at the bottom of a slow cooker with one small onion, quartered, and five chopped stalks of celery. Fill a cheesecloth pouch or cloth tea bag with black peppercorns, sage, and thyme. Fill with water and allow to stew for 4-6 hours, tasting the flavour hourly and adjusting as necessary. Chill stock immediately. Once chilled, remove fat layer (now solid) with a spoon or ladle. Strain. The meat remaining on the chicken may be picked clean for sandwiches, salads, and the like - the bones and skin should be discarded along with the other ingredients. The stock is now ready for use.

Stage Two: Preparing Sauce Suprême

As I mentioned, suprême is derived from a veloute, which is a white sauce made by thickening stock with a roux. Before you begin cooking, bring the stock back up to a warm, but not hot, temperature. In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter (european-style, or cultured, butter where possible), and add 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour. Stir consistantly until a thick paste is achieved. Continue to cook roux over medium heat until it has obtained a rich blonde colour. Begin adding stock a ladle-full at a time, using a whisk to beat out the lumps of the roux. Continue adding stock until you have added approximately 1 L, and season to taste with salt and white pepper - white pepper is preferred for both its different flavour and its lack of impact on the appearance of the sauce. Simmer on low heat until the desired consistency is reached. A well made chicken veloute will appear to have taken on cream, when no such liquid is used.

Once you have the veloute, add 1 cup of sliced white button mushrooms (or any blend you like), and 1/4 of a small onion, diced. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes, then pulse in the blender. Strain through cheese cloth to remove remaining solids. The result should be a thick, warm-grey sauce. Adjust the seasoning if desired and add a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream (35% milk fat, usually sold as whipping cream)

Covered, this sauce will keep for up to one week under refrigeration. I've never had much luck with freezing it.

Mise en place for this dish. Note some absent utensils.

Stage Three: Putting it all together

When cooking a meal with multiple components, it's important to have as much of your prep done as possible in advance, which lets you clean as you cook, and lets you time your cooking better. I don't have a time for cooking this dish because it takes long enough to make the risotto that the chicken will be cooked thoroughly (though not overdone) by the time it is ready. Start by preheating your oven to 350 and bring both the stock and the sauce back up to a high temperature (boil the former, but try not to boil the latter).

The mise is simple for this dish, as dishes go. Fine-dice one half of a small onion and set aside, prepare 1/2 cup of shredded extra old white cheddar (Parmesan would be more traditional), and dice 1/2 of a large yam. Lay out one of the chicken breasts you saved earlier and salt the skin side - season with sage, thyme, basil, and finely minced garlic. Immediately put the sweet potato into the stock to cook. Rinse about a 1/2 cup of arborio or long grain white rice until the water runs off clear and drain as well as possible.

Melt cultured butter in an all-metal frying pan over medium heat. Place the chicken breast skin-side-down and allow to cook until a rich golden brown. Turn over and sear before throwing into oven. Take another pan, add two tablespoons of water, and sweat the onions until they are translucent. Add the rice and toast it gently over about 40% heat.

Preparring a risotto is easy, but time consuming. One quarter-cup at a time, add stock and let it "cook away" before adding the next ladleful. Repeat this process until the rice is al-dente. Include cubes of the sweet potato - if you are feeling fancy, blend the potato into the stock to get a more uniform product.

Next add a double-shot of cream, and the cubed cheese. Cook thoroughly until thick.

To present this dish, form a round bed of the risotto (I would have used a ring-mold if I was working), over which you lay the chicken, and nape the whole dish with the sauce. As an afterthought  I think this would have been quite good with some sauteed asparagus with a little extra lemon.


  1. Young Padawan, a few comments on your recipe:

    1. I would not puré the mushrooms for your sauce supréme. Rather, quarter your buttons for a more elegant looking sauce. No need to blend or strain, thus saving valuable time and lowering dish load.

    2. If you want to be able to freeze most sauces, a thickened called waxy maize is required. It is used in a slurry, much like cornstarch.

    3. For your supreme of chicken, try placing whole leaves of sage under the skin, as well as your thyme. I will also accept pocketing the boobie and placing the herbs inside. I find seasoning the skin with fresh herbs when searing the skin tends to leave unpleasant burnt herby bits.

    4. I hope to God that you meant to sweat your onions and rice for risotto in butter and not water. Also, cream? Really? For shame. Costly and unnecessary if a risotto is made properly. Also, for those still reading: Constantly stir your risotto! You walk away, it burns, and you will have to do it all over again.

    Otherwise, fantastic meal little buddy.

    1. Yee! Creative criticism.

      1. This is largely a matter of taste - the quartered button mushrooms ARE sightly but I find the texture of stewed mushrooms offputting (strange, where I love them so much sauteed), which is why I chose to do it this way. Also, the puree tends to thicken the sauce just slightly.

      2. Good tip, thanks for letting me know. I try to freeze as little as possible as my room mate's cooking style is rather freezer-intensive, and there's not much room, but it's a good tip and when I'm living aloneish again, I'm sure I'll use the hell out of it. Commercially available?

      3. This works fantastic if fresh herbs are available - I mucked up my windowbox and have no such herbs available. I suppose in retrospect I should have written this recipe as the ideal rather than the norm.

      4. Good catch, and I'll correct it. For what it's worth I seem to recall being told cream was incorrect, but it's the way I was taught, and it seems like I only ever remember after the fact. By the way, good safety tip. I'll have to correct both notes.