Know when to stop tweaking it. It seems simple, and it is, in a way.
There’s a dish my family loves: Dijon Tarragon Chicken. I got it from Food Network years ago; I think it was a Rachael Ray recipe. I love to cook, and I love good food, and no one can afford to eat out all of the time, so if you want to eat good food all of the time, that’s the best possible combination, because you are going to have to cook that food for yourself.
This dish came out of desperation. No one in my family is a huge fan of poultry. We are red meat fans, through and through, but I also know that you can’t eat red meat all of the time. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be healthy.
Not being keen on it, whenever my mother cooked chicken, as a child I avoided the kitchen. Not seeing the big picture, i.e. having a family of my own someday, I didn’t see the point of learning to cook it if I wasn’t going to ever make it. This is the shortsightedness of childhood. I learned to cook my favorite meals from Mom, and ignored the rest. Fortunately, when it came time to cook for my own family, I realized I had absorbed more than I’d thought, such as the necessity for variety. Or maybe it was the simple fact that I was good and tired of red meat at the time, and wanted something different.
No matter what it was, I was not good at cooking chicken. Mom didn’t fry things either, so this was yet another thing I didn’t – and still don’t – know how to do. If you eat fried chicken at my house, and it’s actually pretty good, I can guarantee you it came from a box, or the deli counter at the supermarket. It certainly didn’t come from me. Can we say food poisoning? No, really, it would be.
But the recipe I found was extremely simple to follow, and it was a hit. Boneless chicken breast, boiled in chicken broth, then you pour the broth into a bowl, put the breast in another one, and make a…roux, I guess is the correct word…with butter and flour. Then you add Dijon mustard to it, and the tarragon leaves, stir, put the chicken back in the pot and simmer while making rice to be served as the bed beneath it. Delicious, and a bit rich.
I’ve made this meal many times over the past ten years, and once I had the recipe memorized, I started tweaking it. First I wanted more sauce out of the recipe: when you’re serving it over rice, a lot gets absorbed right away, so there was never enough sauce to flavor everything, and honestly, I could happily eat the sauce alone, it’s that good. So the first thing I did was double up on the amount of sauce that I would make with the chicken. Then I discovered that the entire family liked the chicken shredded over the rice, so I started doing that. And then we wanted the buttery flavor of the sauce increased, so another stick of butter was added to the recipe. And finally, by accident, we discovered that by tossing everything into a pot and adding more water, leftovers made an awesome chicken soup.
At that point, I stopped meddling with the recipe. I can’t think of any way to make it taste better, and I’m afraid to try adding my usual go-to items, which are garlic, onions, and bell peppers. I think this is the only recipe in my arsenal that doesn’t use any of those three.
So that’s my tip for today: know when to stop before you ruin a delicious meal. And thank you to Rachael Ray and Food Network!