Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chicken, Biscuits and Mustard Shallot Gravy

One of the most frequently requested meals in our house is chicken, biscuits and gravy. It is our comfort food, easy to make and if I have chicken, I usually have everything else I need. The meal is sometimes requested at 5. Or I decide it is a good idea at 5:30. And I frequently don't have a whole chicken, I just have some bone-in chicken breasts. I can finish this meal in just over an hour which makes it an obtainable weeknight meal with the feel of a weekend treat.

Despite my happy claims, I would like to clarify that this meal uses bowls, pots, cutting boards, baking sheets and knives. It is not a one pot meal that gets your family to the table in 30 minutes and leaves you with 0 dishes to clean except that one pot. You could trim the time down by using boneless skinless chicken breasts and get the meal to the table in 45 minutes but it would take some organization and one of those evenings where you don't get the yell from the other room that, "it spilled". Or a meltdown that they can't find "that toy", which despite your pointing out that there are five thousand other toys to choose from, still results in a massive hunt throughout the entire house for that one specific toy that ends up getting played with for about five minutes after you find it. Or if you don't have kids and you don't know what I'm talking about then maybe you had one of those days at work where you wished you had picked a different major in college (or went to college in the first place), and again, this is not the night to make this meal unless cooking soothes your soul. I return now to the regularly scheduled program of food.

Biscuits which might seem mysterious at first glance, are pretty straightforward. Most recipes call for 2 cups of flour, 3/4 cup of milk, cream or buttermilk, 6 - 8 T butter, 1 tsp salt and 1 T baking powder. If you chose buttermilk, then you need to add 1/4 tsp of baking soda and reduce the baking powder. If you search for biscuit recipes this is a pretty universal recipe which ironically brings about wildly varied reviews from people saying they are the best to worst biscuits they have ever made. So it must be in the details. Is the baking powder fresh? Did the biscuits sit on the counter for too long and loose their bubbles causing them to fail to rise when they were put in the oven? Did the dry ingredients get properly whisked together so the leaveners are evenly distributed in the flour? Was the oven hot enough? If it isn't then the biscuits don't rise as the process is quick and the bubbles will pop if they don't expand. Now that I write this, it seems that biscuits are more mysterious than I claimed, but it's just science. There is no magic and if your biscuits don't rise I would argue that there is a 95% chance that your family will still enjoy them.

Chicken, Biscuits and Mustard Shallot Gravy
Serves 4

4 bone-in chicken breasts
2 T Olive Oil
salt and pepper

1 - 2 shallots, chopped
2 T flour
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 T dijon
salt and pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour plus another 1/4 cup for rolling out the biscuits
1 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 T unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk

Pre-heat the oven to 425degrees.


Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Place a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 T of Olive Oil and when it starts to shimmer, place the chicken, skin side down in the pan. Let it cook until it is golden brown, about 3 - 5 minutes, and then flip it over. Check the chicken frequently, you want it golden brown but not too dark because it is going to keep cooking in the oven. Cook for 3 - 5 minutes more and put it in the oven and cook for 20 - 30 minutes, when the temperature reaches 160. The time will depend on the size of your chicken breasts.


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter (I use my fingers), until it looks like coarse meal. Add the milk and using a large wooden spoon or spatula, stir gently, pressing lightly with the spoon until the liquid is all absorbed. Take the 1/3 cup of flour and coat your hands and the counter you will be making the biscuits on. Gently knead the biscuit dough a few times until it is holding together, but without overworking it. Place on the floured surface and press out to a square until the dough is about 1/2  inch high. Cut into squares and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. I usually get 12 - 15 biscuits.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and put the bisuits in, setting a timer for 12 minutes.


Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Drain off the fat from the pan (that the chicken was cooked in) and put the pan on a burner over medium heat.

Throw in the shallots and stir them around. When they start to look translucent, add the wine Scrape the bottom of the pan and simmer off about 1/2 the wine. Add the flour and cook for 1 - 2 minutes, stirring. Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in the dijon, if you are using it. Taste and add salt and pepper.

Serving Suggestion: Steamed broccoli or wilted greens (like spinach or chard).

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