Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A One-Pan Experimental Dish Gone Right: Italian Dressing Chicken and White Wine Orzo Risotto

Super Bowl Sunday's cooking less than 48 hours passed, a second episode of Glee hit the airwaves as I began to prep for tonight's meal and take on the challenge of one-pan cooking. The solution for tonight in particular: use one of the best multi-purpose pans in the kitchen, i.e., the sauté pan.

From the French, sauter (to jump), the technique of sautéing typically requires high heat and low fat (as the wide pan bottom evenly distributes the heat in such a way you don't need oil to provide that function), and is further characterized by the tossing of ingredients within the pan itself. At the same time, a sauté pan's construction lends itself to low heat/longtime cooking, as well as the development of deep-flavoured sauces, the base of which I've found to be called a "fond" (i.e., the brown bits usually rendered after cooking pork, poultry, etc.). Technical discussions on the proper use and materials of kitchen cookware are certainly a plenty, and so I say choose the one you're most comfortable with and adapt techniques to suit what works for you. [Contrary to what some suggest, and as you may note in some of the dishes I've prepared already, I get a fond quite easily with my non-stick pans.] More specifically, so long as you have either a sauté pan or a skillet, and a lid to match, you should be able to recreate tonight's meal: Italian Dressing Chicken and White Wine Orzo Risotto.

The meal starts off with prepping the chicken and giving yourself at least half an hour to let it marinade. [Aside: As you'll see in the mise en place photo, I started with frozen chicken, which I transferred to the fridge in the morning before going to work to slowly thaw out. To finish/speed up the thawing process, I got these into a bowl of water and set this all in the fridge. This process definitely works better than thawing the chicken in a microwave, which definitely has the potential to start cooking the chicken if you're not careful.] Cube up the chicken (I used two chicken breasts for this recipe) into approximately 1" pieces and thoroughly mix this into 1/4 c Italian dressing and the juice of half a lemon. Cover this with plastic cling wrap, gently press down on the chicken, and get this into the fridge for at least half an hour, or longer if you have the time to do so.

If I remember correctly, I first had chicken that had been marinated in Italian dressing in upper lower Michigan. My girlfriend's mom had grilled the chicken pieces on skewers and then served it off the skewer; the result of which was an unmistakable robust flavour from the marinade and an extra layer of flavour from the grill. The recipe I present here is an adaptation of that recipe, particularly as I don't have a grill in my apartment.

Onto a preheated pan at medium heat, use a pair of tongs (so you don't drown the chicken in Italian dressing marinade) to transfer the pieces of chicken into the sauté pan in small batches at a time, making sure not to overcrowd. At this point, you're not trying to cook the chicken all the way through: brown the chicken on all sides just so the exterior is no longer pink, essentially creating a sear to keep as much of the Italian dressing flavour in the chicken as possible. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate until all of the chicken has been prepped in this manner. Then, turn the heat down to low and transfer all of the chicken and any juices on the plate back into the sauté pan. Cover the pan and allow the chicken to cook for 10 min, stirring things around halfway through. At the end of the 10 min, the chicken should be done, but do cut into a piece to be sure. Hopefully you read this recipe in its entirety so you can read this message: especially when using a sauté pan, be sure your ingredients are cut as evenly as possible to ensure maximum even cooking. When done, transfer all of the chicken onto a plate with your pair of tongs (so you don't get rid of the leftover bits and marinade), salt and pepper to taste, and cover with another plate or tin foil to keep the chicken warm as you prepare the white wine orzo risotto.

Now, in the traditional sense, risotto is cooked with rice and there are certainly right and wrong ways to cook risotto, and to do so as properly and authentically as possible. With that said, and as I hope you can tell from the title of this blog post, I want to put it out there my experimental recipe which I am presenting here is not meant to be seen as a traditional risotto. Indeed, I am instead relying on the technique of slowly cooking my orzo in a broth. The orzo ends up absorbing most of the liquid (much like vialone nano rice would) and the overall texture (from what I can tell) is developed as if using arborio rice. In addition, the starches from the orzo will eventually be released by the end of the cook time, adding to the creaminess of the orzo risotto (much like if using carnaroli rice). That issue aside, if everything was cooked in the manner I've presented so far, you should have a good amount of Italian dressing marinade left in the pan. Raise the temperature back to medium and incorporate 1 tsp flour, making sure to cook this well so there are no clumps; the marinade should thicken almost immediately, so do watch and stir this base constantly, breaking up any clumps you see forming. When this base has thickened and the flour has been cooked down (about 3 min), add 1.25 c chicken broth, 1 tsp olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon (remember the other half you used for the marinade earlier). Bring this to a rolling simmer (I suppose this could also be translated as "boiling"), and then add 1/2 c orzo.

Once this all gets going, add 1/4 c dry white wine (I used my favourite, Sauvignon Blanc), stir in, and bring the temp back down to low. Take note of the smell coming from the orzo risotto; you should be able to distinctly smell the wine. Cover the pan, setting it so that there's an opening about the lip of the pan. [Here, I'd like to note how great the sauté pan is for this particular stage; I imagine a skillet would encourage the moisture to evaporate much more quickly due to the slope of that pan's walls, and it would be a bit tougher to cook with all this liquid without having it accidentally spill out as you move the orzo risotto around.] Be sure to check on the risotto every five minutes, pulling the exterior to the center of the pan with a wooden spoon. As you continue to cook the risotto, you'll notice the viscosity will increase as the liquid evaporates and the risotto won't collapse outward as easily. In addition, you should be able to smell less and less of the wine as it cooks out. The above left photo is after 10 min, while the right photo is at 20 min. Note the darkness of the risotto and the thickness of the remaining liquid. After 20 min of the orzo's cook time, the orzo risotto should be ready to serve. If you haven't been tasting the risotto throughout this process, make sure you taste the risotto after minute 20 to ensure the orzo is al dente. You don't want raw pasta but you certainly don't want mushy pasta either; if need be after minute 20, the orzo can handle about 5 more minutes of low heat.

When the orzo is al dente, chop some fresh parsley and then add it to the orzo risotto; then, turn off the heat completely and plate up!

From the creaminess of the orzo risotto that matches so very well with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, to the moist and textured Italian dressing chicken that adds contrast to the orzo risotto, this is certainly a light and easy one-pan dish of patience with much flavour, and which does not leave too many dishes to clean up. Just as is the case with many of the dishes I've cooked as of late, this recipe serves one very well with leftovers, but easily serves two. (You may, however, want to make a double batch of orzo risotto, it's that good.) As always, check out more photos from tonight's meal here.

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