On one of my first nights interning in the kitchen at Lucques, I was given the honorable task of preparing the famous short ribs for braising and then keeping an eye on them through the night. Excitedly, I obliged and eagerly asked “How long do they need to braise?” Our sous-chef Aaron looked at me with a blank stare as if he had suddenly realized that my brain was merely the size of a grain of farro. “Until they’re done.” And he walked away.
I don’t usually cook chicken. It scares me and I think it’s boring. It scares me because it’s one of the few things that shouldn’t be cooked to medium or rare, and if it were, could result in severe illness. I probably think it’s boring from eating one too many dry, skinless, boneless chicken breasts in the ’90s when the low-fat lifestyle was in vogue. It seems like a catch-22. If you cook it too much it’s horribly dry, too little and you might kill someone. So why bother with chicken when I could be cooking up duck, lamb, pork or steak? But in truth, I have had some extremely delicious chicken over the years. I chewed with utter confusion during my college semester in Paris. “Why does this ‘poulet’ taste so different from in the U.S? It has flavor?!” And more recently our chef de cuisine carried out a heaping tray of delicious dark brown crispy breaded fried chicken for the staff to eat for dinner before our shift. And as I chomped down on my perfect drumstick, I thought maybe it’s time to give chicken a second chance. It is spring, after all, a time for new beginnings. So I embarked on this sure-fire method, which had been shared by another restaurant colleague. Sear the chicken skin side down until it’s crispy, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake it…until it’s done.
Lemon Chicken with Spring Vegetable and Pancetta Risotto
- 3 lbs organic bone-in chicken breasts and drumsticks
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced crosswise into wheels
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium sized leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 2/3 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
- 4 cups low salt chicken broth
- 1/2 cup diced pancetta
- 1 pound thin asparagus, cut diagonally in to 1 inch pieces
- 2 cups shelled fresh peas
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Parmesan-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
- 1/4 cup minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Lift skin of the chicken from the meat and slide the cloves under the skin. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. (Be sure to wash your hands with soap after handling raw chicken.) Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Place the chicken, skin side down in the pan. It should sizzle. Place the lemon wheels on top of each piece. Let the chicken cook in the pan until the skin has become dark brown and crispy. You will have to rotate the drumsticks a few times to crisp the skin on all sides. When the skin has crisped, flip the chicken over in the pan so that it is skin side up. Using tongs place the lemon wheels on top of the skin. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes.
While the chicken is baking make the risotto.
Place the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the leeks, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 30-35 minutes.
When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, add the pancetta to the risotto. Continue cooking, adding stock and stirring constantly for about 5 minutes then add the asparagus with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm and the asparagus and peas have cooked.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
When the risotto is done, turn the heat down to low and stir in the Parmesan cheese and chives. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese. Serve topped with the lemon chicken.