As part of my final unit, there was another Black Box assignment, which I both dreaded and stayed up all night excited about. For this assignment, I had to prepare three recipes highlighting specific ingredients as part of each recipe. In the end, the three recipes provided a composed dish. I had to use a lean protein in the main entree prepared using a dry heat cooking method, a side dish that included a legume, grain, pasta or starch dish that contained vegetables and included knife cut techniques, and another side that celebrated the vibrancy of a green, yellow, or red vegetable. In each, I had to explain the flavor profile, ingredients used and why, and skill techniques used.Here is my final black box assignment–Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems–in probably more detail than you actually need, or want!Roasted Chicken Thigh: Mise en Place
To make this rustic chicken thigh, I took a nod from provincial France. I used lemon thyme as an aromatic and oil, salt, and pepper to bring out the sweet saltiness of the chicken skin. When the chicken was done roasting, I then used the pan drippings and stock to make a concentrated jus to lap over the thigh. With the exception of cooking four thighs, all other ingredients were to taste and not measured in exact amounts.
Roasted Chicken Thigh: In Process
To begin, I oiled the chicken and then seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides. I then added the chicken, skin side down, to the pan and pan fried until the skin gave way. I then turned the chicken over, added the lemon thyme, and popped in the oven to roast. By pan frying the chicken, I was able to brown the skin and immediately infuse flavor and moisture into the meat. The roasting of the meat allowed for gentle heat to penetrate and cook the meat without drying it out.
Once the chicken was done roasting, I removed the pan from the oven and put the chicken on a tray and tented to rest. I removed most of the accumulated oil and added the stock to deglaze the pan. This allowed me to reap the benefits of the concentrated flavors of the bits on the bottom of the pan. I then cooked the stock and sucs down to create a pan sauce. Right before plating, I added a nob of butter to the jus for a bit of shine and richness.
Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: Mise en Place
To make the aduki bean/veg hash, I finely minced lemon thyme and tarragon. I then cut the onion in a brunoise as they were there for flavor (not texture) and almost melted into the dish, and the potato and yam in a small dice so that they were large enough not to fall apart during cooking and provide a nice visual accent. I roughly chopped the spinach so that it would end up similar in size to the other components of the dish, and drained the aduki beans. For this dish, I used equal parts of all veg and beans and seasoned as I went; layering the seasoning so as to not over salt at the end. The flavor profile of this dish also echos a french style; loosely based on the the concept of fine herbs.
Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: In Process
To make the hash, I began by sweating the onions over low heat to coax out the sweetness without adding color. I then added the white potatoes and turned up the heat to cook a bit. After a few minutes, I added the yams, stirred, and put a lid on the pan in order to steam the veg to soften and cook through. Once the potatoes and yams were almost cooked through, I added the thyme as it is hardy. I took the lid off, added salt, the aduki beans, and spinach; stirring until heated through. I then added the fragile tarragon at the last minute. I stirred the hash and tasted for final seasoning which included a bit more salt and a fair amount of pepper.
Braised Broccoli Stems: Mise en Place
In order to make the braised broccoli stems, the first thing I had to do was to slice the stems into very thin slices. While I might have been able to do this by hand, it seemed inefficient. I used a mandolin to provide even, exact, precise cuts. Once the broccoli stem was prepared it was simply a matter of gathering about three tablespoons of butter, some stock, and salt and pepper. In the end, it is not a precise science on the the ingredients as the amount of stem varies on the individuality of size of each stem. In this instance, I used two stems.
Braised Broccoli Stems: In Process
To braise the broccoli stems, I began by sautéeing the finely-sliced stems in butter. This brought out a bit of natural sweetness. Once the stems were well coated and heated through, I seasoned with salt, added stock, and began simmering slowly in a very little liquid; adding additional liquid as needed until the stems were cooked through and a bit of a sauce was created via the butter and stock being reduced. This allowed the flavor to concentrate in overall sweetness while at the same time mellowing any bitterness.
Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems: Composed Dish
I chose to make this composed dish for more than one reason. I am an advocate of using product head-to-tail; even when it comes to vegetables. I also believe that eating outstanding meals should not have to be cost-prohibitive. And lastly, and equally important, I believe that food that is good for you CAN taste incredible. I have been to too many restaurants that tout healthy food that just tastes bland. By utilizing the correct cooking method, looking at the nutrition within the ingredients, and coaxing out the best flavors from each ingredient, I hoped to produce a stellar meal that debunked that idea that healthy food has to be boring. And if I could do this on the cheap, utilizing things that many throw away—all the better!
After evaluating all the options out there—and there are SO many—I decided to go with the humble chicken. Where I live, chicken thigh is very inexpensive and readily available. It just so happens that the thigh is also very flavorful and moist. Decision made! As for the hash, I happen to love the natural sweetness of aduki beans and find that they pair well with many dishes, but I deliberately chose them for the hash as it might be something that you would have left over in your fridge—much like the other ingredients in the hash. A few handfuls of spinach, a single yam, and a couple of potatoes in the cupboard, along with herbs that are growing in the window; all perfect for this flavorful, yet nutritious medley. And then there was the broccoli…a few years ago while going to the farmer’s market in my community, we started experimenting with using every part of the veg we bought. With rare exception, all went well, but in regards to the braised broccoli stem, “well” is an understatement. I would put it in the category of deep-fried carrot chips—addictive! If you have not tried either, DO. Given that I was trying to create a meal that was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and visuals,AND that was nutrition and possible on almost any budget, chicken thigh, beans, potatoes, greens, and the stem of something most toss out were more than symbiotic.
In order for the meal to be a success, I had to coax out as much flavor from the chicken as possible by pan frying and roasting; in addition to utilizing the pan drippings for a sauce. The hash had to be flavorful and beautiful as it was providing quite a bit of the color on the plate. By sweating the onion and steaming the potatoes and yam, I did not mute those colors. And the broccoli stem had to be cooked to perfection so that each bit was tender and sweet. By braising the broccoli, I was able to control the texture and season as needed.
By setting up my mise en place for each component up front, I was able to evaluate where to start next with a clear understanding of the steps involved. I started the chicken first, then the hash, and lastly the broccoli, and was able to tent the chicken while making the pan jus and finalizing the other dishes. The finished dish was garnished with raw broccoli flower tips on the broccoli stems and a flavorful jus that brought the whole dish together. In the end, the dish was a success as well as the black box assignment.