Elegantly rustic: Chicken with white beans

by Terry B on October 3, 2007

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
Serves 4

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.

Kitchen Notes

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.

Other Notes

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.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

cedar October 3, 2007 at 5:27 am

That looks fantastic, chicken and beans, what possibly could be better matched?

Toni October 3, 2007 at 5:59 am

My first thought was “Tuscany”. And for me, the essence of a fabulous meal is exactly what you describe here – simple ingredients, artfully combined, to create a meal that asks for nothing more than a bottle of wine, and friends and loved ones to enjoy the evening with. The most memorable meals are usually created this way – don’t you think?

Christine October 3, 2007 at 3:00 pm

This looks really fabulous! Simple and delicious – my favorite combination. I also like that it’s pretty healthy (with the exception of the bacon, of course!).

ann October 3, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Yo B (I’ve been wanting to say that for awhile) you left a comment on my blog that I so completely could’ve left on yours! I guess we’re all feeling the simplicity as we ease into fall, no?
But what I really want to know is, where did you get those fabulous plates? They’re gorgeous!

Elle October 3, 2007 at 4:28 pm

You can be sure I’ll be trying this one out very soon. My husband and I were just talking last night about adding more beans to our diet, and boneless chicken breasts are a staple in our house. Side note–I’m very sorry about Cosmo, he seemed like a very special little guy.

Found you through Tastespotting, by the way. I’ll be back, for sure!

Terry B October 3, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Cedar—Welcome to Blue Kitchen! I just had a quick look at your fun, eclectic blog.

Toni—You’re exactly right. Well, except maybe make that a couple/few bottles of wine.

Christine—Regarding the bacon, it comes out to one slice per person. Not too overindulgent for all the flavor it adds.

Ann—I was having exactly the same thoughts when I was reading your latest post and leaving my comment. The plate, alas, was the last one on clearance at Le Magasin, a wonderful little store here in Chicago that sells fabulous home furnishings from the various regions of France. The always friendly and gracious owner, French native Didier Milleriot, opened the store in 2002. Le Magasin [French for "the store"] also has an online store.

Elle—Welcome! We’ve always been fans of chili and various Mexican uses of beans here at Blue Kitchen. More and more, though, I’ve been discovering more European treatments like this one and totally getting into them.

Cindy October 3, 2007 at 7:25 pm

That looks wonderful – looks like that will make the menu in the next week or so as the weather cools down.

So very sorry about Cosmo.

Katiez October 3, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Love white beans with anything…add some carrots, garlic, yeah, I’m happy!

Jak October 3, 2007 at 8:13 pm

looks awesome. will definitely give this a try. thanks for such an extensive write up/review.

ps. as a designer i dig your header.

tami October 3, 2007 at 9:22 pm

That recipe looks divine :)

Congrats again on the beautiful soup recipe! I mailed your cookbook out today so it should be to you by Monday!

- tami

C October 3, 2007 at 10:09 pm

My personal belief is that bacon will make anything taste markedly better. ANYTHING. Well, except cucumbers.

Melinda October 3, 2007 at 10:16 pm

Looks good and looks like something I would actually make coming home from a hard day’s work!
So sorry about Cosmo. Your eulogy is very touching how a wee cat won your heart in the end. You are a great big softie really.

Lydia October 4, 2007 at 3:42 am

This dish looks delicious. As a non-bacon eater, I’d probably add a touch of barbecue sauce to the liquid for the beans, to get the smokiness into the dish somehow. It’s a great trick!

Terry B October 4, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Thanks, all!

Tami—Looking forward to a whole book on soups. I’m seeing future posts.

C—As soon as I read your comment, I started craving something combining the two. Maybe a cucumber and bacon salad. Or paper thin slices of cucumber instead of lettuce on a BLT.

Melinda—As Curly of the Three Stooges used to say, “I resemble that remark!”

Susan from Food Blogga October 5, 2007 at 12:56 am

Though having it in a hip bistro would be fun, it would probably be more fun having it at your place with you and Marion.

Jann October 5, 2007 at 10:51 am

This certainly looks tasty to me~ and I do love the simplicity of this dish. Certainly a very “Frenchie “meal! Cheers!

Terry B October 5, 2007 at 2:46 pm

Susan—So when are you coming to Chicago?

Jann—Speaking of simplicity, your latest post sounds wonderfully simple and satisfying.

Julie October 6, 2007 at 2:15 am

Those beans look soft and pillowy and delicious. Some food pictures make you want to poke a fork right into the picture and take a bite, and this is one of them.

Also: congratulations on your winning soup!

laura October 7, 2007 at 12:11 pm

made this tonight and it was wonderfully warming. sucked up the juices with some crusty bread. really lovely food. thanks for the great recipe

Steve October 7, 2007 at 6:40 pm

Made this last night after being instantly smitten by the photo and description. It was delicious and even easier than it sounded. This will definitely go into the rotation around here.

Terry B October 9, 2007 at 1:31 am

Laura and Steve—This is my favorite kind of blog compliment of all. Someone actually cooking the dish and enjoying it. Thanks!

Chewy October 9, 2007 at 3:42 am

Hey, Terry. You should get an instant read thermometer for your meat. It makes life much easier and makes you look more professional in front of your guests ;)

Terry B October 9, 2007 at 4:08 am

I have one, Chewy. But I only remember to haul it out when I’m roasting or grilling something.

Chewy October 11, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Oh, I see. Mine’s attached to me. I even use it to measure water temperature when making coffee!

Terry B October 11, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Chewy—Chastened by your earlier comment, I actually hauled out my instant read thermometer last night to make sure some roasting chicken was done. Thought of you when I did it. Of course yours would be attached to you, though. You’re a professional—you’ve got the public at large to defend. If I screw up, I just take out family and friends. Still, I am going to start using mine more often now. Thanks!

Suzy October 27, 2007 at 7:52 am

Wonderful recipe and tempting as it cools ( finally!) here in Texas. One thing- don’t throw out the ripple cutter, turn veggies long ways and slip ultra thinly for some interesting slices. I cheat at times and use zucchini cut rippled and long, very thin, let rest between some toweling to draw a bit of the moisture out and use either in place of pasta in lasagna or roll up after a slight smear of a creamy cheese mixture for instant snacks for the lunch box.

Elle November 2, 2007 at 3:24 pm

I can’t believe I’ve been so busy and forgot to post about making this! I’ve actually made it three times since my first post. That’s how much we love it. I made a couple of very small changes–one, I always fillet chicken breasts, because they cook faster, so there’s less chance of them drying out. (Not that yours looked dry! I just always do that, no matter the chicken recipe.) And two, instead of thyme, I’ve been using a nice herbes de provence. This recipe, as you can see, is in regular rotation in our home. It has so much going for it–it’s easy, delicious, and warm and comforting for these chilly New England evenings. Oh, and it smells delicious when cooking, too. My husband is always happy to come home after a day at work and smell bacon cooking, lol. Thanks for the recipe!

Terry B November 2, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Elle—Thanks! I always love to hear from people who end up making my recipes [especially when they like the results]. Regarding your small changes, I’ll often fillet chicken breasts too, specifically to avoid the drying out problem. And herbes de provence is an absolute go to herb mix for me in the kitchen. I had to fight the urge to make the same substitution myself, simply to broaden my herbal horizons.

Miss Scarlett December 16, 2007 at 12:37 am

Just made this for dinner earlier in the week. Pretty good the first night, but made for AMAZING leftovers. It tasted better the next day. Weird! But definitely a keeper!

Anna May 12, 2008 at 7:11 pm

I really enjoyed your article and you definitely got me interested in trying that recipe. It looks perfect.

I was wondering if you would like to contribute a recipe to my new blog? I have created it as a place where anyone can come and publish their recipes. You can include links to your site as well. This is at:

Your Recipes.

Or if you would like to exchange links with me at my site,
Low Calorie Recipes, please let me know.

Thanks.

Snoo May 23, 2008 at 11:06 pm

I found your recipe on tastespotting this afternoon and cooked it up the same day. This was an excellent meal that came together faster than I thought possible. I will make this again!

slong August 11, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Made it months ago and loved it! Am making it again tonight! Thanks for making it an “easy” cooking night!

Shaunna February 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

Just wanted to say thanks for this great recipe. I found it at 4:30 and we were eating by 6:00! Quite impressive considering I had to make a quick trip to the store for the beans. This was so easy and so satisfying on a cold, wintery day. We’ll definitely be making it again! And I’m so pleased I found your great blog! Thanks!

Stella March 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Made this last night and my sauce did not thicken very well. For the beans – what size should the cans have been? I used two 19oz cans and it just seemed like the chicken was swimming in them! Haven’t given up on this one yet, will try again as I did like the flavours.

Terry B March 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Thanks, everyone!

Stella—I should have specified 15-ounce cans of beans. I’ve updated the recipe—thanks for pointing this out. Regarding the sauce not thickening, did you mash 1/3 of the beans as called for? It’s been a while since I’ve made this, but I don’t recall that the sauce gets really thick. But if you’d like it a little thicker, just transfer the chicken breasts to a plate and tent them with foil and let the sauce cook down uncovered for a few minutes. I’m glad you’re willing to try it again—I hope it works out better for you next time!

dori April 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I always find new recipes for Monday nights since it’s one of the few weeknights that my husband can make it home for dinner. He loved it. Instead of halving it, I cooked it as instructed so he could take a portion to work for dinner tonight. We both decided to wait until we could dine together on Thursday to eat the leftovers. The beans were just soupy enough that we may shred the chicken for the second time around. We will definitely be putting this in the rotation! Thank you!

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