January 24, 2012

Pan Seared Chicken with Mushroom Wine Sauce

Photos by Holliday
I am a huge fan of cream of mushroom soup.  It is versatile, easy to make and inexpensive - whats not to like?  Well the nutritional content for one and two, when cooking for just one person leaves quite a bit left over.  Unless you want to be eating cream of mushroom based meals for the next 3 days, cracking open a can may be a little wasteful.  Granted, a can of condensed soup doesn't cost very much, but I just can't bring myself to throw out half a can and putting leftovers in my fridge seem to just turn into mush.  There are times that cream of mushroom is ideal, even for leftovers: tuna casserole, chicken and rice casserole, Mexican casserole... I'm sure you can see a pattern here.  Well, I've been on a mushroom kick this past week and last night was no exception.  I had been craving chicken with mushrooms all day so as soon as I got home I pulled out my notebook and started figuring out a game plan to make a healthier and smaller version of a favorite dinner.

I will be doing a little calorie counting and sodium counting here, but it is more important to me to be replacing canned and prepared foods with fresh alternatives while cooking.  In my Feel Better Commitment I decided to make changes that weren't about loosing pounds or pant sizes, but to change how I felt mentally and physically (although the lbs and pant sizes will be a nice perk).  One way to do this is to make favorite dish components from scratch and so I set out to make a creamy mushroom sauce for my chicken without opening up a can.

The easiest solution I could think of with the ingredients I had on hand was a creamy pan sauce with mushrooms, onion and garlic.  Simple and easy, plus that means I would only have one pan to wash after dinner.  I start by dredging my 1/2 chicken breast in flour, black pepper and thyme.  Flouring chicken serves two purposes: keeps the chicken moist in the pan and helps to create a thick base with fond to make the sauce from.  I add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil to my pan and once the oil is heated I gently place the chicken in.

I recently learned a trick to know when your chicken is ready to flip in a skillet: wait until the chicken slides on it's own when you shake the pan.  It takes about 4 minutes for this to happen, and once it does flip the breast over and cook the other side for the same period of time.  The chicken has turned a nice golden color and once my 8-10 minutes are up I place the chicken on a plate and into the oven to stay warm while I make my sauce.

I have a good amount of fond in my pan from the chicken drippings and flour so I add the tiniest splash (off the stove) of white wine and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is dissolved.  Toss in my mushrooms, onion, garlic, black pepper, thyme and oregano and I'm ready to saute!  I mix all my ingredients thoroughly and make sure each mushroom has a nice coating of taste on it.  My kitchen is also starting to smell wonderful!  Not much beats the smell of fresh mushrooms sauteing in garlic and wine.

Once my mushrooms are soft and the onion transparent, I pour in about 1/2 a cup of chicken broth and stir everything again and let the liquid reduce.  One side note here: while I was cooking the mushrooms I was noticing that my mushrooms were creating brown bits in the pan.  I realized that they were creating a fond as well!  It was an interesting surprise.  I'm not sure how this will factor into the final taste, but I'm hoping that it will make the sauce even more tasty.  Anyways, back to cooking!

I let my liquid reduce by about 1/2 and then added some cream and a dash of paprika.  I had thought about using something like nutmeg, but I have never (gasp!) used it in cooking before - just baking - so I was slightly intimidated.  Plus I was really hungry and didn't want to ruin the dish if the flavors didn't work together.  So paprika it was.  And some cream....

I kept going back and forth on the cream.  I knew I wanted the sauce to be thick and creamy but I had hoped that the flour in the chicken fond would have helped with that.  Not so much.  It was reducing well but didn't have quite the texture I was looking for.  I decided to just put a splash of cream in my pan about half way through the reduction and waited to see what would happen.  So far so good!  The cream mixed well into the sauce and gave it the creamy/smooth texture I was looking for.  The total reduction time lasted about twice as long as I had meant it to, but I didn't want runny sauce.

Time to serve up my plate and relax!

Along with my chicken I made up a small salad with onion, freshly made parmesan croutons and cojita cheese crumbles.  A glass of Pinot Gris and I'm ready to dig in.  My first reaction is to the moistness of the chicken.  I am amazed that it stayed so juicy, even with being in the oven for longer then I had anticipated.  My new pan sear trick must have worked!  Exciting!  The sauce is tasty too.  A tad on the bland side, but I somewhat figured that would happen since I was slightly timid on the seasonings.  Next time I will be a more aggressive seasoner and may play around with the spices in sauce (dare I try nutmeg?).

Bottom line, my sauce was similar to a condensed cream of mushroom sauce except mine is lighter and tastes fresh.  The mushrooms, while soft, keep their texture and a little bit of firmness.  The garlic and onion added a nice sweetness to the sauce as well.  My stomach and cravings were satisfied without leaving dinner feeling weighed down.

As I cleaned up my kitchen I realized I hadn't used any salt.  None.  At all.  And I found I didn't miss it.

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