What I love about cooking is its split personality. Cooking requires technical precision, but also a certain amount of flexibility. It seems like an odd arrangement, but both precise technique and the ability to be spontaneous and adapt, happily co-exist when the heat is on. Technique, experience and intuition dance together and enlighten the cook toward a delicious masterpiece.
Inspiration and real-time situations influence a cook’s technical strengths and creativity. How many creative works of art and scientific truths have evolved out of “mistakes”? And, where would the world be without the creative spirit to “fix” them? I do my best to plan and be prepared whenever I start to cook a meal. However, I can’t tell you how many times I started cooking something and realized I was missing one or more of the required ingredients, the chicken went bad overnight, or had the wrong size pan. Damn, now what? A quick survey of the situation and my pantry, something unintended develops and who knows could be a new family favorite.
I rely on recipes I call my foundations. These recipes can easily adapt to any of life’s unexpected adventures, or my creative whims. One foundation recipe is Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel. I fall in love with roasted fennel every time I eat it, and this recipe is no exception. The subtle sweetness of the fennel compliments the richness of the caramelized shallots and roasted chicken. I will also seek out any excuse to use fresh tarragon. Still, the bones of the recipe allow me to develop many reincarnations at whim or by necessity.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is not complicated to make, or have a lot of speciality ingredients. A total bonus is, it does not require my full attention while it is cooking. Yet, there are a couple of technical factors that will influence the recipe’s outcome. The obvious one is knowing when the chicken is properly cooked. Undercooked chicken will make you sick and overcooked chicken is chewy and dry. The not so obvious influence is the baking pan.
Tips for Success making Oven Baked Chicken
In this instance size, does matter. The size and type of pan will determine how long the chicken will cook, and how it will cook. The higher the sides the more pan juices will develop. Too large of a pan and the juices will dry up. A pan that is too small will not allow for enough air circulation to achieve crispy skin and have the chicken cook properly.
I baked eight pieces of chicken with all the vegetables in a roasting pan that was 16″ x 11” x 1 1/2″ (41cm x 27.5 cm x 4 cm) in size. The finished meal was perfectly baked chicken with crispy skin, caramelized shallots and plenty of pan juices. Yet, being flexible is my mantra so use whatever baking pans you have. The size of the pan is more important, than the type of pan. Hopefully you have a baking dish with sides. If you only have small pans, divide the recipe between two pans. The outcome might be slightly altered, but more importantly you can still make this delicious baked chicken dinner without making a trip to the store.
Second, be observant and listen to the chicken with your senses. The chicken will tell you when it is done. Pierce the chicken at its thickest part with a fork, and take note about how much resistance you feel. The fork will slide through a perfectly cooked piece of chicken with little resistance. You should see clear liquid flowing out of the holes made by the fork. If you see cloudy or bloody juices spilling out of the chicken, the meat needs more time to cook.
Additionally, you can cut open the meat and look inside. It is better to cut across one piece of chicken then serve undercooked chicken to your friends and family. Chicken meat that is properly cooked, is not pink or appears raw. It should be juicy as well. The meat is overcooked if it looks dry and there are no flowing juices. The internal temperature for just cooked chicken is between 165˚F and 170˚F.
Flexible Tips for Oven Baked Chicken
I like to follow the recipe exactly as instructed the first time I cook it. I learn about how to prepare a new dish and about the author. Learning new techniques is fun, but so is being creative and adapting to my set of circumstances. So, after the first trial run, I am comfortable adapting a recipe to fit my mood, or to what is in my pantry.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is a balanced chicken dinner accented with tarragon, vermouth, garlic and lemon. If necessary you can adjust the ingredients, including the amount of time to marinate the chicken. Don’t like vermouth, no problem switch it with a dry white wine. The fresh herbs are not available at the store, fear not and use dried herbs. Can’t find shallots, regular onions sliced into thin wedges will suffice. No time to marinate the chicken, no worries it will still taste fine if you mix everything together right before you cook it. The depth of flavor may not be as intense, but it will be satisfying and delicious.
Cooking a meal should not be stressful. I always say use what you’ve got and enjoy the process. Technique is your friend that sets the foundation but also allows you to be creative and adapt to any of life’s mistakes and adventures.
© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.