Simply prepared Chicken Breasts with White Beans would be at home on a French farm table or in a cozy neighborhood bistro. Recipe below.
Before I start this week’s post, I want to ask a quick favor. I know most of you are just here for the food. I respect that—that’s what Blue Kitchen is really about, after all. But we lost a dear old friend this week, someone I think you should know. Please read about him in WTF? Random food for thought. Okay, here we go.
My first thought with my first bite of this dish was that something this simple shouldn’t taste this good. I don’t mean easy to make, though it was that too. I mean simple ingredients—chicken, bacon, onion, carrots, garlic, some beans, a little wine, a little broth, some dried thyme—nothing exotic, nothing trendy or pricey or precious. All combined in a simple, straightforward way.
But it was good. Restaurant good. Not a rock star chef restaurant where a simple dish like this would be deconstructed and reconstructed into a well-meaning homage to the original, flashy and exciting but somehow off the mark. No, you’d find this dish in a little corner bistro that similarly combined a handful of simple ingredients—a good kitchen, a friendly, hip [but not hipster] staff and a handful of tables in a comfortable room—to produce a place you come back to again and again.
I called this dish elegantly rustic. It’s not so much its visual presentation. To be sure, it’s a handsome, hearty looking meal, something that will stir anticipation when it’s set before you. But it doesn’t lend itself to artful, architectural platings. In fact, to do so would be to do it a disservice. No, this is a meal whose roots are found on a rough wooden table in some French farmhouse. Or in a Tuscan one, perhaps.
Its rustic elegance comes instead from the way the simple ingredients come together to create something that is at once so comfortably familiar—like something you’ve eaten all your life, even if it’s the first time you’re tasting it—and surprisingly elegant in its subtle undertones. The thyme and the wine elevate the delicious, but big-flavored bacon, garlic and onion with a nice, refined finish.
I could smell the flavors layering and evolving as I cooked. You start by frying bacon—off to a good start, right? The original recipe only called for a teaspoon of thyme. I upped it by half and sprinkled about half of it on the chicken before browning it in the bacon fat. I did this partly to give the browned chicken flesh nice flecks of herbs and partly to impart a little more flavor to the blank canvas that is a skinless chicken breast. The immediate result of adding thyme earlier, though, was to shift the smells emanating from the kitchen from Waffle House to storefront bistro. As each new ingredient hit the hot pan, the aroma added a new layer.
Okay, enough rhapsodizing. Here’s the recipe.
Chicken Breasts with White Beans
4 strips bacon
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle [see Kitchen Notes]
1 onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup broth [low-sodium chicken, vegetable or mushroom—see Kitchen Notes]
2 15-ounce cans white beans [Cannellini or Great Northern], drained and rinsed
Cook bacon in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel and reserve. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from pan [I used a relatively low-fat bacon and actually had to add a drizzle of olive oil]. Season chicken breast halves on both sides with salt, freshly ground pepper and half of the thyme. Brown on both sides in skillet, about 4 or 5 minutes for the first side, 3 minutes for the other side. Transfer to plate.
Sauté carrot slices in skillet until beginning to soften, about 6 minutes, adding olive oil to pan if needed [I did]. Add onion to pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and remaining thyme and sauté until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
Add wine and broth to pan, scraping up brown bits. Add 2/3 of beans to pan. Roughly mash or purée remaining beans with hand masher or food processor and add to pan to slightly thicken the sauce. I used a hand masher and added a little broth from the pan to make mashing easier. Crumble bacon slices into pan and stir mixture to blend. Return chicken and any juices to pan.
Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes to let flavors blend and chicken breasts cook through. After 10 minutes, slice one of the breasts at its thickest part to see if it’s done—what you don’t want to do is cook it to death and dry it out. Serve yourself this sliced breast, so your guests get nice, whole ones. If stew is too dry or thick, add a little water. I didn’t need to do this.
Place chicken breast halves on individual plates or in shallow bowls and spoon beans alongside.
Even carrots deserve to be elegant. Whenever recipes call for sliced carrots, I slice them on an angle, to avoid making them look like dreaded school cafeteria carrot coins. And if you have one of those crinkle cut tools, go into your kitchen now and throw it out. Then never speak of it again. By the way, sautéing the carrots actually enhances their sweetness, much as it does onions.
Broth. Now that low-sodium chicken broth is readily available, I’m more okay with using it. It wasn’t the sodium itself that troubled me—it was the knack fully-loaded chicken broth has for making everything taste like chicken soup. But for this dish [and for many dishes that call for some kind of stock or broth] I used Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base, by Superior Touch. Besides avoiding possible chicken soup issues, it adds a nice, earthy flavor to the mix. Superior makes nine different bases in all, but stores that carry them at all usually only carry a few—most often chicken, beef and vegetable. In Chicago, the mushroom base is available at Treasure Island.
Recently, Tami over at Running With Tweezers hosted her second annual Super Soup Challenge. She got 54 great soup recipes—you can see them all in her Super Soup Challenge Roundup. I entered my Watercress Vichyssoise, mainly to get Blue Kitchen in front of some new readers. Well, I ended up winning one of two prizes! Wow. Thanks, Tami! On a related note, I may have just set a personal best for number of links in one paragraph.
Also this week in Blue Kitchen
How do you say goodbye to a small creature who’s been a big part of your family’s life for more than 17 years? I try to do just that, at WTF? Random food for thought.
The Kitchen boombox is silent this week. A little too much going on at Blue Kitchen recently. It will be blasting away again next week, I promise.