A Page Outta: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Leftovers Edition

Cooking breeds leftovers. Sometimes, depending on what you're cooking, those leftovers don't constitute a full meal in and of themselves, but rather only a component of a dish. I ran into this when cooking from Alinea for Shiftwork Bites, and re-purposed the leftover components for a completely different dish the following evening.

Adapting dish components like that forces you to think through the nature of those ingredients and their construction in that recipe, and apply those concepts on their own, without the benefit of direct guidance. It's a great way to learn about kitchen improvisation, technique, and flavor/texture combinations.

I plan on making that an integral part of A Page Outta for several reasons. Experience tells me I'm going to have plenty of tidbits left over - a cup of sauce here, a bit of brunoise there, maybe a bit of protein. Experience also tells me that I probably won't be able to tackle a full-on post on a weekly basis. As is appropriate for leftovers, I'll be using them to stretch things a bit.

In that vein, I bring you curry-fried chicken breast with vichyssoise sauce, carrots, cocoa-butter-confited watermelon radish, and pickled pistachios. This dish owes its origin to a couple of different sources of inspiration, aside from its obvious debt to Julia Child.

First, it occurred to me that a soup is basically sauce in a different form, and vice-versa. Think about it for a minute; Vichyssoise is sort of like a hybrid Espagnole/Velouté, with potato starch replacing roux as a thickener. Adjust the seasoning slightly, thicken a bit, and serve it as a sauce.

The second reference point is a dish my mom made frequently while I was growing up, and which was always a favorite. It was basically breaded and fried chicken breasts, with plenty of curry powder mixed into the dredge. It was always sided with mashed potatoes, and served with a cream gravy fashioned from the pan drippings.

I took those two concepts, threw them together, and came up with dinner. The potatoes became the sauce instead of a side, but aside from that, it's really just a dressed up version of my mom's dish. Thanks, mom.

First, I gently warmed the vichyssoise, allowed it to reduce slightly, and emulsified in some butter for texture and flavor. As that held on the stove, I pounded out a few chicken breasts, and dusted them lightly with flour into which I had mixed a good dose of curry powder, salt, and pepper. A quick fry in hot oil was all they needed, thanks to the pounding, ensuring that they'd be evenly cooked and still juicy. Carrots were simply steamed whole until just tender.

Earlier in the day, I had prepared a few of the garnishes, which really elevated the dish. Finely sliced watermelon radishes took a bath in a small pot of not-quite-simmering cocoa butter until cooked through and tender, and were reheated in the same for service. The pistachios were quick-pickled with vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, clove, black peppercorns, and a few shards of guajillo chile.

Both of these garnishes are fantastic on their own, and I'm sure they'll find their way into other dishes. The radishes took on a silken quality, and were deeply imbued with a nutty, earthy flavor reminiscent of chocolate without being chocolatey, and still had a bit of their original peppery kick along with just a hint of bitterness. The pistachios added just the right brightening hit of acidity (a flavoring component I think is often paid short-shrift), with just the right spice notes to go with the dish. My wife described them as tasting like savory apple pie. Their gently toothsome texture was also a nice contrast to the silky sauce and slightly crunchy, mostly juicy chicken.

To plate, I ladled a bit of sauce onto the center of each plate, placed a breast of chicken on top, then garnished with carrots, radish slices, and a scattering of pistachios. It hit all the right notes, from the earthy sweetness of the sauce to the slight musk of the curry powder, to the vague bitterness of the radishes, with the pistachios bringing everything into focus.

With a bit of refinement, I think this could be a truly excellent dish. It was also about the perfect way to utilize the little bit of vichyssoise I had left over. For those of you not interested in leftovers, hang in there. Next week I'll have another edition of A Page Outta, focusing on one of the suggestions you guys left in the comments. I selected it randomly, and am really curious how it's going to work out, both on the plate and on the page. In the meantime, what's next?

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall