Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sometimes You Fail - Last Night's Dinner

Last night I made dinner.  Chicken breast with penne pasta in a white wine, cherry tomato, and asparagus sauce.  It was awful.  Like damn near inedible awful.  I could see Gordon Ramsey yelling at me, asking if I respected myself and my girlfriend for feeding us something so bad.  Yet this is part of cooking, particularly if you are an amateur like myself.  Sometimes things go awry, but I want to go back to the scene of crime and figure out what happened in the hopes it wouldn't happen again.

I've made a number of white wine cream sauces recently and they've been turning out really nicely.  I'm getting the hang of it, but they are always pretty thin and I've been racking my brain to try and thicken in up.  Inspired by some recent reading about the master french sauces I decided I would make a roux to add to the sauce in the hopes of thickening it up a little.  So I prepped my roux (2 tablespoons butter & 1/8 cup flour) and left it over low heat.

The chicken I was using was the Perdue Italian seasoned chicken breast.  It was an oversight on purchase, but still needed used so I dropped the chicken in a hot frying pan and cooked it up.  As the chicken cook, the Italian dressing that has been marinating the chicken starting to cook away until it was burning to the bottom of the pan. Once the chicken was one I threw in some sauvignon blanc (Barefoot) to deglaze the pan, but all the burnt Italian dressing came up as well turning the white wine from orange to brown.  I dumped the pan, trying to get most of the brunt bits out, then attempted to deglaze again with more wine.  I threw in some garlic and let the wine reduce, then I tossed the wine into my roux.  It all seized up and became a paste.  Like any reasonable chef I decided to throw in another 2 tablespoons of butter to try and thin it a little.

Turning back to the frying pan I threw in chopped asparagus and let that go for a few before tossing in the cherry tomatoes.  Little salt, little pepper and they were sauteing nicely.  Pasta was cooked.  Chicken was keeping warm in the oven.  I dropped my veggies into the still too thick sauce and then tossed in the pasta.  Globules of sauce were catching on the noodles.  Panic set it.  I grabbed what was left of some chicken broth and dumped it into the sauce pan, stirred a few times, plated, and served.  And then that first taste, that horrible, regretful first taste.  The wine and cheery tomatoes gave everything a sour taste.  It permeated everything.  The only bright spot was the chicken which was in good shape and pretty tasty, but it was a fail over all.  But with a failure should come lessons learned.

First, I need to add maybe a slight dollop of roux to my sauce not add my sauce to a 1/4 cup of roux.  Second, I shouldn't have tried to deglaze a pan with burnt Italian dressing on it.  That's the decision that set the whole meal toward disaster.  Third, cherry tomatoes were a poor choice.  They are just too sour.  If I had been committed to using them then I would have needed some heavy cream and probably even some sugar to cut through that initial sour taste.

I share this failure with you all because you can't be afraid to fail.  It sucks.  It's crushing to work on a meal only for it to be awful.  And even if my girlfriend told me it "wasn't that bad," I know the truth.  You just learn from the mistakes, remember were things went wrong, and try to never do it again.

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