Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Valentine's Day Dinner: Champagne Chicken

You know, champagna is not champagna unless it comes from the province of Champagna. I learned that in Bartending School.
- The Continental

The Valentine's Day Dinner: Champagne Chicken

While there's always room for the occasional glass of champagne, my Champagne Chicken is best kept to rare and special occasions, like Valentine's Day.

Normally, my dishes have some semblance of healthy about them. But this dish is about the feelings that it evokes. Champagne, butter, AND cream.

While I certainly will not compare these flavors to chocolate, I will compare the emotions and feelings that these foods evoke. The fine bubbles and delicate flavor of Champagne takes me back to many romantic and blissful events. Weddings, celebrations, 3rd dates, etc.

Butter is decadent. Beyond it's flavor, it's use has been relegated to times when we're throwing caution to the wind, letting our guards down, and getting to know the person across the table. But, butter's flavor here, provides the savory offset to the slight sweetness of the Champagne. The whole sum of the parts thing. You've heard of that, right?

The cream is, again, decadent, but we're not trying to overdue that aspect. Instead, the cream provides body and mouth feel. Sure, flour makes a fine thickener for Thanksgiving gravy. But, tonight, I'm not really thankful for the world, I'm thankful that I'm sitting with someone that I feel passionate about.

Cream provides just the right feel, just the right touch. While it thickens like flour does, it mingles with the senses in a way that a floury gravy never can. It's mellowing and silky and while it mixes with the butter and Champagne, it never fully blends. It carries the sweet and savory combinations along with it. And you feel the flavor, rather than merely taste it. Back to the sum being greater than the parts, combined.

Well. That's that. I like all this dish. Bad be damned.

It's not that I think any of these ingredients are all that bad for us, it's just a lot of calories. And, we're going to use those rich ingredients as our sauce to top and cook our lightly breaded and beautifally browned chicken breasts, well... you get the idea. Let's stick to once a year.

Yep. Healthy eating at it's best and worst. But, it's worth it.

Champagne Chicken

Things you'll need

1 large ziplock freezer bag (easiest) or plastic wrap
a heavy cutting board or chopping block
a smooth meat hammer, a heavy, filled jar, or something like a small saucepan (that size that's useless)
a large skillet with a rim (the one that you use for your "hamburger helper," Not that you make that stuff...)


1/2 lbs chicken tenderloins
1 cup of dry Champagne or sparkling wine*
1 cup heavy cream/whipping cream
3 tbsp butter
1 cup flour
1 tbsp white pepper, ground
1/2 tsp salt


Step one is to flatten the chicken tenderloins. While not critical, it makes for a better presentation. It also cooks faster and more evenly. If you're using boneless chicken breasts, you'll have to cut them down a bit, too. It won't look pretty to have 1/4 lb of flattened chicken breast on your date's plate. This isn't a drunken meal of chicken fried steak at Denny's at 2am! That was your first date...

Put a tenderloin into the bag and zip it closed while squeezing all the air out of it. Place it on the cutting board and gently pound it flat. Don't just hammer away, sort of work from the center, out. In waves. Repeat with all the tenderloins. Set them aside on a large plate.

In a large, shallow bowl, stir flour, salt, and pepper together. Dredge each piece of chicken in this mixture and return each to the plate.

Melt butter over medium high heat. Use the large shallow skillet here. The pan needs to be large enough for all pieces of chicken to fit at once.

Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan to keep it from sticking. Turn the chicken and add champagne into the pan. It will bubble up quite a bit. Gee, how fun! When you've recovered from all the fun, add just enough water to bring the level about 1/2 way up the chicken. Do not cover the pan.

Simmer for 15 minutes. The liquid should be reduced by about half. Remove chicken to individual, warmed plates.

Whisk the cream into the pan liquid. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened. Pour sauce over the chicken and put any remaining sauce in a gravy boat to use at the table.

* You'll only use about a cup or so for the recipe. So make sure to pick one that you like to drink.

Serve with a small portion of pasta or egg noodles, tossed in butter, and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. A little of the Champagne sauce goes well, too.

For your vegetable, I'd recommend a simple salad with olive oil and balsamic dressing or just a simple vinaigrette. Avoid getting fancy with the veggies, and absolutely no broccoli tonight, okay?

Of course, keep the Champagne cold throughout the meal.

Keep sipping.

I'd like to tell you I have the perfect Valentine's Day dessert coming up, but to be honest, I don't have anything new. I'm not a dessert guy, despite my absolute love of cheesecake. Cheesecake is everything, when it comes to desserts.

In this case, you're following a pretty heavy meal, so cheesecake seems questionable. But, it's one night and cheesecake servings are small in size. Go for it. Out of my cheesecakes, I'd suggest the ginger cheesecake. I've got a super secret vanilla bean cheesecake that's delicious, but I've never written it down. If you really want it, let me know. I'll consider letting you in on it.

The other option that I'd suggest is fresh, ripe mango. ONLY if it's ripe. It's always mango season, somehow. They ship from the tropics, I guess.

If you go the mango route, get a couple of them in various degrees of ripeness to be sure you have one that's perfect, come February 14th. That night, make a pretty fan of mango slices. Put them in the fridge, but make sure you let it come to room temperature before serving it. At dessert time, garnish it with some whipped cream. To put it over the top. a light dusting of freshly ground cardamom will absolutely do it for you. Very light and only if you can do it fresh. I'm serious, if it's preground, don't use it. Just go with the mango and whipped cream.

More Champagne works, too.

Enjoy. Happy Valentine's Day.

But! I haven't called for your car yet! Must you fly so soon, my little songbird? Must you fly so soon?

Very well, go... but allow me one last moment to drink the intoxicating vision of you. Eyes blazing, hair flowing, chest heaving as you flee to the lobby.

Wait! You forgot your coat.

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