Let me tell you all about it.
The September Bon Appétit arrived Friday, and I decided to make the cover recipe: Skillet Roasted Chicken with Farro and Herb Pistou. I think the decision was based on the facts that 1) Bon Appétit had just arrived and I wanted to make something from it, 2) it was chicken’s “turn” in our meal rotation, and 3) the other chicken recipes were oven-roasted and fried. While I like both of those varieties of chicken, the fried chicken recipe was an over-the-top caloric extravaganza that didn’t interest me. And oven roasting a chicken in the summer isn’t practical in our old rowhouse that lacks central air conditioning. (Cue creepy foreshadowing music.)
So I went with Skillet Roasted Chicken with Farro and Herb Pistou. First hitch: I could find neither acorn squash nor farro at our local Harris Teeter. (Do you like how I just glossed over the whole “What the heck is farro?” part of the story?) No matter. I was sure I would find both at the organic grocery down the street. Except I didn’t. But Bon Appétit says farro is sort of like barley, so I got that instead. And the Safeway came through with the acorn squash.
So I was set. I started cooking early because I knew there were a lot of steps, and I didn’t want to find myself juggling the chicken and the farro at the stove at the same time.
I started with the pistou. Pistou is French for pesto, which is one of my favorite items on Planet Earth. But as I began to line up my ingredients, I realized that the main ingredient of this pesto was parsley, which I totally forgot to buy. Bill did me and the cats a solid and ran back to Safeway for parsley and cat food. But the recipe also calls for chervil and tarragon. Why spend money on herbs when I have totally different herbs in my yard? So I threw the whole thing over and improvised a recipe of my own: parsley, thyme, oregano, garlic, pistachios, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It came out fine, except that it needed more olive oil.
Next, the acorn squash. Peel it (ugh) and chop into cubes. Then roast it in the oven for 30 minutes. But what’s this oven business? That’s not keeping the kitchen cool!
Squash thoroughly cooked, it was time to blanch the kale. That was easy enough. Thank you, kale, for your humble simplicity.
The barley? Hhmm. There are directions on the package, but it was clear from the recipe that Bon Appétit intended the farro to be prepared “risotto-style.” Can you make barley risotto-style? Based on absolutely no experience or knowledge of this topic whatsoever, I confidently forged ahead and spent over an hour adding broth by the ladleful to my barley. It took kind of forever, but eventually it seemed soft enough to eat. I added the squash and the kale, and set the whole thing aside, as I knew the greatest part of my culinary adventure was yet to come.
Now it was time for the real show stopper: preparing a sous vide for my chicken! As opposed to farro, I actually knew what sous vide was before I started this recipe — not that I had ever done it. Executed correctly, sous vide is the process of poaching vacuum-sealed food at a low temperature. Apparently it’s a thing now. The equipment to do a genuine sous vide is pricey, so Bon Appétit provided instructions for a hack. You can find another hack at Savvy Housekeeping. The Bon Appétit hack involves placing the chicken with its marinade into ziplock bags. When it’s time to cook the chicken, place the bags in a pot with cold water. Heat the water to 150 degrees, and I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH, make sure the burner is not set so high that the top of the ziplock bag hanging over the side begins to melt and stick to the pot. Or make sure the top of the bag doesn’t hang over the side of the pot at all. Whatever works to prevent you from melting a hole in your ziplock bag and letting water get all over your organic chicken that you’ve been marinating for nearly 24 hours.
Once you’ve secured your melted bags to keep any leaks above the waterline and your water has reached 150 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 50 minutes. Then submerge the bags (but not the leaks!) in ice cold water for 15 minutes to stop the chicken from cooking further.
But wait! You’re not done yet! Now you have to brown the chicken in the skillet! And THEN cook it some more in the stupid oven that turns the kitchen into an air quivering inferno. Take a moment to ask yourself why you bothered with this sous vide nonsense if the chicken isn’t even cooked all the way through.
Oh my god, this recipe was a lot more work than I expected (and I went in expecting it to be a lot of work)! It tasted pretty good though.
If you ever decide to replicate this recipe, here are my recommendations:
- Recruit a cooking team. It’s a lot of work; sharing the load helps.
- Put the most kitchen-backward person in charge of washing up as you go. A lot of pots, pans, and bowls were dirtied in the making of this meal.
- Work in a large kitchen, preferably with a wide stove, two ovens, a vacuum sealer, an immersion circulator, and ample workspace for everyone. And air conditioning.
- Have plenty of cold beer on hand. Cooking is thirsty work, and even an air conditioned kitchen gets hot.
- Make sure you have all your ingredients before you start. If you’re in a large, air conditioned kitchen with a wide stove and an immersion circulator, you’re probably not a block away from the Safeway.
- If you can’t score a vacuum sealer and an immersion circulator, delegate the sous vide cooking process to the soberest member of the team. Stress to your token sober person the disadvantages of melting a ziplock bag to the side of the pot.
- It’s ok to be flexible with the herb combination in the pistou. But don’t scrimp on the olive oil.
- Ditch the risotto-style preparation of the farro (or barley). Lots of effort for no discernible benefit as far as I can tell. Toast your grain, then cook it as directed on the package.
- Enjoy your delicious meal with a delicious wine, not whatever standard cheap stuff you already have in the refrigerator.