I made dinner last night. You can say that so many different ways, can’t you? Dinner is a million different things, its possibilities renewable every day. Could be fish sticks from the box, popcorn, a casserole from the freezer, nothing at all. Dinner is evocative, laden. (Sidebar: In the mid 1990s, I auditioned for the National Theatre School in Montreal with a monologue from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. I cobbled together dialogue from the character Harper’s fight with her husband, Joe, and my opening line was, “I burned dinner last night.” God, I loved that play. I saw on it Broadway, with MARCIA GAY HARDEN playing Harper, and that pretty much sealed the deal.)
But last night, I did not burn dinner. Last night, I decided to try out Rishia Zimmern’s recipe for “Chicken with Shallots,” from the March 23 edition of the New York Times magazine
Just something about all those ingredients — chicken, shallots, white wine, tomatoes, butter — merging together in a single pan appealed. I don't really need to explain why, do I?
You sprinkle the chicken thighs with flour and salt and pepper, and then brown them well in butter, and the aroma that rises from the pan is the reason that we are not vegetarians and do not keep kosher.
Then, you set the meat aside and caramelize, oh, a dozen-plus shallots in the butter and the chicken fat, all the while inhaling. I once heard that the difference between amateur and professional chefs comes down to shallots and butter. Makes sense.
(“Not my dinner,” says Harper to Joe, whom she suspects of being a homosexual. “My dinner was fine.”)
If you’re so inclined, you pour yourself a glass of white wine from the bottle that you’ve opened in order to deglaze the pan.
And when the shallots are good and caramelized, you refrain from eating more than a few from the pan before adding the wine, some Dijon mustard, and tarragon.
And the chicken.
(“Your dinner. I put it back in the oven and I turned everything up as high as it could go and I watched it until it burned black. It’s still hot.” She's pissed. And also a little high.)
You’re supposed to let that all simmer, covered, for half an hour, but I mistimed the meal slightly and we were all hungry, so I skipped to the next step, which was to let it simmer, uncovered for 15 or 20 minutes. in order to reduce the sauce. Nobody noticed.
Then, you add the tomatoes.
Then, you compare your version with the version in the magazine and find it satisfactory.
Zimmern suggests serving this dish with fresh crusty bread from the bakery, and I have to say that sounds like a fantastic idea, but we didn’t have that, so we went for brown rice, with a side of broccoli.
And it was divine.
("Want it?" says Harper. When I did the monologue, I played that line straight up, sincere, like maybe Joe might actually really want his blackened dinner and she would go get it for him and take a few more pills while she was in the kitchen.)
Yes. Yes I do.