June 26, 2019

French Onion Chicken

If you haven't been keeping up with my Instagram account, you should know I crammed a dozen of New York's top spots into a 48 hour trip and basically doubled in size. Now that I'm back home, I'm trying to cook more since I ate at enough restaurants to last through the rest of the year. I'm getting creative with some basic cuts of meat, like boneless skinless chicken breasts. They can be bland and dry and tough if you don't cook them right, but I found a way to keep them tender and juicy and flavorful. I personally consider this the epitome of health food because it's covered and vegetables and low-carb, meaning I don't feel guilty eating this with a big pile of mashed potatoes on the side.

This recipe is essentially a quick French onion soup thickened to a gravy for the chicken, which is then smothered in cheese and baked until hot and bubbly. A big skillet is the key to the dish so you keep building the layers of flavor and also don't have to wash too many dishes. The onions go in the pan first with a bit of butter, and they're sauteed until tender. I add some beef broth, which I swore I would never do with a poultry dish (it's actually a long-running debate within my family, especially for Thanksgiving). However, it's basically required for any good French onion soup, so I'll let this one go.

The chicken itself is pretty simple: just get some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound until even and fairly thin. I know you can buy thin chicken breast cutlets, but those are usually far to thin for my taste and overcook pretty much instantly. I try to keep mine maybe 1/2" to 3/4" thick so they can get nice and brown on the outside but stay juicy in the middle.

You can sear the chicken in the same pan as the onions, as long as you take the onions out first so they don't burn. The gravy is also made in the same skillet so you can take advantage of the chicken drippings. A few spoonfuls of flour will thicken it into a roux in just a few moments. The onions go back in the skillet along with more beef broth. It should become a nice smooth gravy as soon as it comes to a boil, then I add some fresh herbs for some extra flavor. Once it's the right texture and flavor, the chicken can go back in. As everyone knows, the best part of any French onion soup is the cheese on top, so I pile it on each piece of chicken. My personal favorite here is Swiss, but the traditional route is Gruyere. Really any good mild melting cheese will do, so provolone and mozzarella are some more approachable options.

The chicken really only needs to bake for a few minutes depending on how thick you pounded them out ahead of time. The real goal here is to get that cheese all brown and bubbly (and of course make sure the chicken is cooked so nobody gets salmonella). The dish doesn't really take all that long to make, but if you wanted to prep it ahead of time a good pause would be after you assemble the skillet but before you bake it off. Chicken straight from the fridge will obviously take longer to heat up and cook through than if you had cooked the dish in one go, but it only took me about 10 minutes in the oven. It's still doable for a weeknight dinner, and the leftovers are even better.

2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Medium Yellow Onions
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 T Butter
1 1/4 Cups Beef Broth
2 T Flour
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
8-10 Slices Swiss Cheese (or Gruyere, Mozzarella, or Provolone)

Heat oven to 400F.

Slice the onions in half, then cut into thin crescents.

Melt the butter in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 4 minutes or until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and 1/4 cup beef broth, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until very tender. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat on the skillet to medium-high. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add the flour to the pan drippings over medium heat and whisk until smooth. Add the onions, then stir in the remaining 1 cup beef broth. Bring to a boil, then season with salt, pepper, and the thyme. Return the chicken to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over each cutlet. Top with two slices of cheese. Transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is golden brown.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Creme de la Crumb

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