Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eating In: Tarragon roasted chicken with russet-Gouda gratin

We were having guests for Halloween, and since I knew there'd be knocking and trick-or-treat-ing and lots of interruptions, I figured an easy, just-stick-it-in-the-oven dinner would be a good idea. Roasted chicken thighs are always good--they pretty much cook themselves into deliciousness with little/no help needed. And I was thinking a simple but yummy potato salad would be good--a no-fuss crowd-pleaser I could make ahead of time.

But a mysterious, four-days-late Mexican hangover must've overtaken me at the grocery store because I bought russet potatoes instead of reds. Sure, you can make potato salad with russets, but it gets all grainy and mushy--not what I had in mind.

So I decided to make a gratin. It's one of those dishes that seems complicated and time-consuming, and that's because it is. Or rather, it is if you don't have a food processor. I would guess it'd take close to an hour (or longer) to slice the potatoes and grate the 2+ cups of cheese by hand, and if you've got a 10 month old swimming in the dog's water dish you'll need to add an extra hour for general policing. So, not happening. But with a food processor, the cheese grating and potato slicing took about 3 minutes total. Oy, what a slave I am to the kitchen.

I used Gouda and Romano in the gratin because that's what I had big chunks of. Not to let the cat out of the bag or disappoint you, but most of my cooking isn't planned days in advance. It's "oops, bought the wrong potatoes, now what?" more often than not. In fact, not only did I use Gouda (instead of Gruyere or some other gratin-appropo cheese), I also had to be a trickster when it came to the "cream" part of the recipe. Maybe some of you regularly have heavy cream and whole milk in the house. We do not, so I had wing it. I ended up using nonfat milk mixed with full-fat plain yogurt to make a fattier cream/milk substitute. And it worked!

We had a giant Costco hunk-o-Gouda in the fridge, which is all melty and mild, and with a little Romano for sharpness, nuttiness and depth, it was a surprisingly great combo. But my guess is that most cheeses would work well here. It's not an exact science; dishes with tons of cheese and potatoes tend to be pretty forgiving. But mixing a milder, softer cheese with a stronger, hard cheese worked well.

Russet Potato Gratin with Gouda and Romano
4 large or 5-6 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced to about 1/8" thick (not the thinnest blade on the food processor, the thicker one)
2 medium yellow onions, sliced medium
6oz grated Gouda (using large holes on grater)
2oz grated Romano (using large holes on grater)
1 c milk
1 c whole-milk plain yogurt
3 T chopped fresh parsley
3 T chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
3 T butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a 9"x13" baking dish (you can use any shallow pan here--we used a larger one so the gratin would be thinner and crustier).

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and cook, without browning, until soft, about 7 minutes. Take pan off heat and allow to cool somewhat (the onions can be warm but shouldn't be hot to the touch).

While onions are cooking, whisk milk, yogurt, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl until yogurt and milk are combined. Set aside.

Using food processor attachments, grate both cheeses. Empty cheeses into a bowl, wipe processor bowl and use large slicing blade to slice potatoes. Set potatoes aside in processor bowl.

Add potatoes in a single layer, slightly overlapping.
Add half onions, scattering over potatoes. Add half of the cheese mixture.

Repeat with potatoes, onions and cheese mixture. Add herbed yogurt-milk mixture last, drizzling over the potatoes to evenly distribute the herbs.

Use your hands to press down onto the potatoes. The milk mixture should not cover the potatoes completely, but it should be a close call.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes until very golden and bubbly. Allow to sit for ten minutes before serving.

Tarragon Roasted Chicken
Ed called this "bearnaise chicken" because it has the same ingredients as bearnaise sauce. It's seriously easy and requires very little prep. Just promise me you'll use fresh tarragon. When you're talking about a five-ingredient dish, every ingredient matters.

1 1/2 T chopped fresh tarragon
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 T butter, melted
8 chicken thighs, half with skin and half with skin removed (or you can leave skin on all of them if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375F
Mix melted butter, lemon juice, garlic and tarragon in a small bowl.

Season chicken thighs with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken thighs skin (or flesh) side down and leave to brown in the pan. Do not fuss with them or you will tear the skin and flesh. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Dot bits of lemon-tarragon butter on the pieces and then, once you've peeked and can see that the chicken is nicely browned, turn pieces over (skin side up). If the chicken sticks there's a good chance it hasn't seared yet.

Using a spoon and knife, gently lift the skin and slide a little flavored butter under the skin, or just dab some of the butter onto the skinless thighs.

Once you've added the butter, place the saute pan into the oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Top with any remaining butter and roast for another couple minutes. Serve immediately.

[where: 98118]

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