Perfection Found, Almost

The Kitchn’s Cooking School
Lesson 5

Little by little, I’m getting back to my usual way. First work, then cooking, then exercising, then meditation, and now, finally, The Kitchn’s Cooking School. Where did we leave off? Ah, yes, the lesson on poultry.

I’m just so glad that I’ve finally found the perfect way to cook chicken breasts. This part of the chicken used to cause me a lot of anxiety. When it was tender and juicy, I wondered, “Is it cooked enough? Am I going to have to haul myself to the hospital?” A call to Sascha never pacified me. He, too, has the same anxiety with chicken. When it was dry and tough, I knew it was safe to eat but wondered how the hell to cook it better.

I’ve tried this foolproof way a few times now. And it just works out perfectly every time. That’s one major culinary anxiety down. It feels like such a triumph.

First, you have to pound the chicken breast with something flat and sturdy (I use a pot) to even out the thickness. Then you season it with salt and pepper on both sides. On the stove, put some oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, turn the heat to medium and sear one side of the chicken breast for one minute to brown the meat. Then flip the chicken and cover the pan. Turn the heat to medium low and let it cook in its juices for 10 minutes. No peeking. Go do something else until your timer rings. After 10 minutes, still no peeking, take it off the heat and let it sit covered for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and, if you want a little heat, ground red pepper.

I had a little bit of fun with the sides. Once, I made Penelope Casas’s garlic green beans from the Genius Recipes cookbook. It’s a recipe I love, where the beans cook the same way as the chicken breast—covered and in its own juices.

Most recently, I made a quick mache salad (pictured). I rubbed the bottom of the salad bowl with a smashed clove of garlic—something I learned from Hilah Cooking—and I tossed the mache around a bit to rub the garlicky goodness on the vegetable. Then I dress the salad with olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated garlic (since I found this Bon Appetit video, I have been chopping garlic less and grating it more). It’s a nice side if you want to give your meal a little punch.

I learned about these gentle green leaves in France. I used to do a language exchange with a family, where I went to their home for dinner and we spent one half of the evening speaking English and another half in French. The matron of the house, a lovely mother of three young adults, made a mache salad that was so simple and delicious that I later made it regularly in my own apartment while I was in France. Her mache salad consisted of mozzarella cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper. That was it. I never knew salt could do that to a dish. I had never used to add salt to any food that was already cooked and ready to be eaten. That’s what pepper’s for. But that salad blew my mind.

To get back to the chicken, one thing I realized after the last time I cooked chicken breasts is that I should always have limes in my kitchen. Those chicken breasts were one lime squeeze away from perfection.