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Chicken with Watercress Sauce

September 1, 2006

I grew up in the lovely city of Birmingham, AL where Frank Stitt was—and still is—the star chef. In fact, this Alabamian won a James Beard Award for the “Best Chef in the Southeast.” His best-known restaurant is Highlands Bar and Grill, which serves French food with a southern influence by utilizing ingredients that are indigenous to the area. While growing up, it was such a treat to go here with my family. Today, the first thing my mom does when she learns that I am coming home for a visit is make a reservation at Highlands!

A couple years ago, Frank Stitt blessed us with his first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. While home for Christmas and dining at his restaurant, my momma bought me his book (signed by him and my favorite waiter, who has been working at Highlands since I was a little girl). Not only are the recipes fabulous, but the cookbook is also a joy to read as it includes a lot about where Frank Stitt acquires his inspiration and finds his ingredients.

A couple weekends ago I had a “me weekend.” Amidst many weekends filled with friends’ weddings, bachelorette parties, and showers; I finally had a weekend to myself. So I took advantage of this time and treated myself to a lovely meal designed by Mr. Stitt. I had a difficult time narrowing down which dish I wanted to make, but ultimately decided upon the Chicken with Watercress Sauce recipe.

I really enjoyed this dish and will certainly make it again. I usually find chicken to be a bit boring, but this was quite tasty and the sauce went very well with it. Making the dish was a little overwhelming at one point as I was trying to organize it all in my head, but afterwards I realized that it is actually not so hard—I am just not used to having to follow someone else’s orders for a recipe! Now that I have made it, from hereon it should be much easier. I do recommend that you have all ingredients prepared before starting the dish.

So here is the recipe (for 4 servings):

  • 1 large Bunch watercress, tough stems removed, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, and cooled in ice water
  • 1 ½ cups Homemade chicken broth or canned low-sodium broth, boiled to reduce to 1 cup
  • 3 tbsp Unsalted butter
  • 4 Large frenched chicken breasts (See Note 1)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 8 Large asparagus spears, trimmed, blanched in boiling salted water until just tender, and cooled in ice water
  • 8 Small radishes, trimmed and halved
  • 2 Medium spring onions, quartered and glazed (or sautéed) (See Note 2)
  • ½ cup White wine (See Note 3)
  • 2 tbsp Heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Squeeze watercress lightly to remove excess water. Place it in a blender and puree until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes (you may need to add a little of the reduced chicken broth to facilitate pureeing.) Set aside.
  3. Heat a large heavy ovenproof sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Season the chicken with salt and white pepper, add skin side down to the pan, and cook until golden on the first side, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the chicken and place the pan in the oven to finish cooking, 4 to 5 minutes longer. (See Note 4)
  4. While the chicken is cooking, slice the asparagus into halves or thirds, depending on the size, and place in a medium saucepan, along with the radishes and spring onions. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter, season with salt and white pepper, and warm gently; keep warm over very low heat.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a rack set over a platter. Pour out any excess fat from the pan, set over high heat, and deglaze with white wine, stirring up the brown bits. Boil until reduced by half. Add the (remaining) chicken broth and reduce by slightly over half. Add the cream and reduce slightly, about 30 seconds. Turn the heat down and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and watercress puree. Season to taste.
  6. Spoon the sauce onto warm serving plates. Top with the chicken and arrange the asparagus, onions, and radishes around it. Serve immediately.

I ended up making a little extra sauce because, personally, I don’t think you can ever have too much sauce. I also drank a Sauvignon Blanc with this dish, which I think went really well with it (but I am also biased because “Sauvignon” is one of my favorite words to say—“Szechwan” is another favorite).

Enjoy!

Notes:

  1. Frenched chicken breasts are meatier than your normal chicken breasts and have the skin remaining on. They also maintain a little bone on the end, which is really just there for aesthetic purposes from what I can see. Your butcher will know what a “Frenched chicken breast” is and will properly prepare it for you. Frank Stitt notes that a regular chicken breast can also work, but you will need to use less time for cooking it. Personally, though, go with the Frenched style—it looks so much cooler!
  2. He says spring onions here, which normally mean scallions. However, this seemed a bit odd to me because how does one quarter a scallion? And won’t they just get soggy in the sauce? And where are they in his prepared dish picture (trust me, they were not there)? Thinking that this is either a mistake or he is not referring to scallions after all, I used a Vidalia onion. The sweetness of this onion worked well with the dish.
  3. Remember when cooking with wine to always use a wine that you would drink! This is because the flavor will concentrate when cooked.
  4. Okay, so he says that the chicken will cook about 11 minutes. My chicken? It took about 45 minutes! Perhaps my breasts were too big? (I have always wanted to be able to say that.)
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. gemma permalink
    September 3, 2006 1:07 pm

    This looks delicious i can’t wait to try it. By the way I was recently similarly confused with the spring onion/scallion. Luisa at the wednesday chef was able to clear it up for me. While usually spring onions are a european translation for scallions, she said that “spring onions are actually the small fresh onions still attached the the stalk that grows aboveground. They’re larger than scallions and shallots but smaller than regular yellow onions. They’ve got a really lovely fresh green fragrance (and sometimes come in purple variations).” Hope that clarifies things!

  2. Kristin permalink
    September 3, 2006 8:45 pm

    Gemma (and Luisa) – Thanks for the clarification!

  3. Luisa permalink
    September 8, 2006 8:46 pm

    Yum, this looks delicious. I am desperately in need of a “me” weekend, so I loved the fact that you took the time to cook this lovely dish for yourself. I’m surprised that Stitt said a bone-in chicken breast would cook in only 11 minutes…. Your time table sounds more accurate.

  4. Mathew permalink
    September 12, 2006 11:23 am

    I will defo try this bad boy – Even Raq may like it as it sounds very tastyGood job

  5. Robert permalink
    October 5, 2006 9:13 pm

    I love that cookbook; it’s one I keep near my comfy chair in the kitchen. I’ll have to peruse it tonight.

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