Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Amazing Transforming Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Image from Wikipedia.org
I'm pretty sure it was these on the Tree of Knowledge

This is a tale of an incredible sauce that over the course of a week formed the basis for not one, not two, but three distinct dishes. With a few bits of that, tads of this, and a wave of the hand, the sauce took on three entirely different shapes.

It all started with delicious food bits on the bottom of my pan. You see, my wife and I often make a very cheap, very simple baked cheesy pasta dish. It isn't really mac and cheese... it's even easier than that. Basically, you cook up whatever random pasta (not spaghetti) you have in the house, then layer it with cheese (preferably multiple kinds) in a baking dish, put breadcrumbs and butter on top, and cook it.

There are a lot of variations... you can spice it up, add meat, or add more cheeses. I like to add bacon, not only because it's delicious, but also because it's normally the only meat in the house. Well, on this fine day, we had some chicken breasts. So, I decided to cook them up and put them in the dish. The quickest way seemed to be Sautéing, and since I can't leave well enough alone, a put a ton of other spice on them... garlic, salt, pepper, a dash of chili-powder... and primarily smoked paprika.

Now, you normally see sweet paprika in the store, and sometimes spicy paprika... those are good, but smoked paprika is AWESOME. I got my first bottle online, and thought that was the only way to get it (talk about inconvenient!) But, recently I discovered the AMAZING grocery store: Fairway. They have it there, and cheap! They also have tons of other amazing things, including a coffee section that will knock you out, and a fish market that DOESN'T SMELL LIKE FISH. Amazing. I don't live near by, but some of my in-laws do, so now when I go there, I can grab non-perishable things like the delicious smoked paprika.

Pardon my digression. Although, it could probably be said that my entire blog is a digression. A digestion digression! Oh snap. So, when I was done cooking these yummy chicken breast for our basic cheese/pasta bake, I realized that there was a ton of yummy bits on the bottom of my pan. Now, the way to make use of these flavorful, meaty tidbits is to deglaze the pan. A lot of times you do this with water, broth, vinegar, or wine. I, of course, wanted to deglaze it with beer... the problem? The dish I was making really couldn't use that much wet ingredients. But, I deglazed the pan anyway and poured the liquid over the chicken. The chicken sat in the liquid until I put it in the pasta bake, but I couldn't add the liquid to the bake, which is a waste.

My brain started to ponder over what I could use this recipe for. Suddenly, another dark hidden cooking idea I had in my head popped up and merged with the beer-deglaze idea. The idea: roasted red bell peppers. I had wanted to use roasted red peppers in a dish for weeks, but couldn't quite figure out what to do... So my brain slowly formulated the following recipe, that ended being a lot more than I thought it would be.

The chicken:
4 boneless chicken breasts
lil bit olive oil
1 tablespoon(ish) smoked paprika
1 teaspoon(ish) black pepper
1 teaspoon(ish) chili powder
dash o' salt

The sauce:
2 or 3 Red peppers
1-3 onions (depends on how many you have lying around, and how much you like onions)
couple cloves of garlic (depends how much you like garlic)
1 cup or so chicken stock
Any other spices you deem fit

The first thing to do is roast the red peppers. There are a LOT of ways to do this. Probably the best way is on the grill... but I don't have a grill, so there are a few other things. You could use tongs and cook them directly on your gas stove, which I did, and it works... but its smokey and stinky. What really works is laying down some aluminum foil on your broiling pan, and broiling these bad boys. The broiler is basically like an upside-down grill, so just keep checking these to make sure they're not... well, on fire. That's actually all you need to worry about, because you want them to burn. You basically cook/turn, cook/turn them until they are entirely black. Then, you place them in some airtight container... what I do is put them in a metal bowl, and place plastic wrap over them. Just make sure the peppers don't touch the wrap, because it will melt in get in your food. EW. We'll come back to the red peppers soon.

Sauté the chicken in a stick pan... okay, let me explain. You can't use a non-stick pan for this recipe. I KNOW, I KNOW. We love them, nothing sticks, easy to clean... blah, blah. But trust me, it's worth it! I use stainless steel, but as long as there's no Teflon involved, go for it (copper, aluminum, cast iron, re-enforced titanium.) I actually tend to not use Teflon pans unless I'm cooking something really sticky; i.e. eggs. You also want the pan to be pretty big and have a lid. This way, you can keep using the pan and not have to get too many pans dirty.

So, anyway, Sauté the chicken over medium-high heat in a lil' bit of olive oil. Standard olive oil is fine, I always use cheap stuff for cooking, and the good stuff (ultra-extra-virgin, first cold press) for dips and salads. If you apply heat, its not worth the good stuff.

While one side is cooking, smack all the above spice on there (paprika, salt, black pepper, chili powder, whatever you want). Cook it all up till they're juuuust done. You'll be cooking (poaching, actually) them more later, so don't get obsessed about getting them ultra-done. Once done, place the chicken to rest somewhere while you cook the sauce.

During the cooking of the chicken, you can start up the sauce. Lay down a bit of olive oil in a medium sauce pan, and start sauteing the onions. I like to slice the onions reeeal thin before hand. I do this with a mandolin, but you can get it pretty thin with a knife. Cook them pretty slow, and reduce them down a lot. Once they're mostly cooked, add some garlic into the mix. I actually also sliced the garlic real thin, but if you're lazy you can use pre-minced stuff from a jar. Once the garlic and onions are cooked, pour in the chicken stock. Take the red peppers, peel of the blackened skin and de-seed/de-stem them. Then just plop them in the pot with the onions, garlic, and stuff, and turn the heat to low, letting it simmer.

Now, if you've left the chicken pan off heat for a while, time to turn the heat back up. Yup, there's nothing in there but the flavor bits, but to get 'um, ya gotta turn up the heat. Once it gets hot, pour some beer in there. What beer? How much? This really depends. I think you could use anything from a decent lager to a dark ale. I don't think you should use too light a lager--a middle of the road ale should be fine. No stouts or porters. Stouts and porters don't do good in high-heat environment because they tend to get bitter. Cold applications tend to be much better for dark beers (do I see stout ice cream in the future?) If I remember correctly, I used cherry wheat, but that's just because it was in the fridge. You pour the beer, probably about half of it, into the pan and use a metal utensil to get all the bits up. It should be sizzling and the pan should become clean pretty fast. Once you get all the bits up, pour it all into the mixture simmering in the other pot.

Turn the heat back up on the pot for a little bit, stirring the mixture. Then, take an immersion blender to it. Get it nice and smooth. Now, pour it back into the chicken pan. Put the chicken back in with the liquid, slap the lid on, and put it over medium-low heat. Let it cook for a while, what you're basically doing is poaching the chicken and letting the stuff get in there reeeaaalll good.

Serve the chicken over rice or pasta and pour the sauce over the whole thing. And it is D-LISH. And that's the end, right?


There was a ton of sauce left over. What to do with it? The next day, my wife added a little bit of tomato paste to it (I'm sure any tomato product would work, its just what we had), and some oregano and other spices. She slapped it on some homemade Naan, put some cheese on that with garlic, and BAM we had naan pizza with roasted-red-pepper sauce. It was delicious, and that was it. Right?


A few days later, we STILL have some of this sauce left over. I decided to put it on pasta... but why not doctor it one more time? Shoved it in a pot (small, at this point... not much left) heated it up, then added about a half a cup to a cup of heavy cream. Some Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have the money) wouldn't hurt either. Then BAM. Some REAAALLLY good roasted-red-pepper-cream-sauce-over-penne.

So, I ended up inadvertently creating an extremely versatile and yummy sauce. This is also one of the few recipes that I really created start-to-finish. Most of my other ones are doctored recipes, recipe combos, and doctored combos. Give it a shot; there are few things more delicious then roasted red bell peppers.

Thanks for reading, and remember: Don't be afraid to drink it, eat it, or cook with it. But always drink it in moderation while you cook it.

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