The official name for this recipe is “Balsamic Chicken,” but the kids started calling it “Stinky Feet Chicken” because balsamic vinegar has a very particular scent when it starts cooking. Totally worth it, in my opinion…but you might want to make sure the evening is pleasant enough to open some windows, is all I’m saying.
Let’s shake it up and start with a side dish, though. Brown rice and broccoli is just about right for this dish. Sometimes I’ll substitute sweet potato fries instead. But if you’re going for the brown rice, then start it first, because it’ll take longer than the chicken. (Use half-strength chicken broth for the liquid you cook the rice in, if you can. It adds awesome flavor, and you’ll be using some broth for the chicken as well.) I am very bad at making rice. Go check out some Alton Brown or America’s Test Kitchen if you need rice-cooking tutorials, because I am totally not your girl.
The math of this recipe will serve 4 hungry family members, including a teenage boy who will want seconds. Feel free to scale it down if you’re serving fewer people. For the main dish, start with:
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts — pound these out a little bit, so they’ll be of mostly uniform thickness (that means they’ll all cook in about the same amount of time)
- 3-5 tablespoons of flour — use white or unbleached flour (wheat flour will be too earthy for this recipe)
- some salt and pepper
- about 2 tablespoons of olive oil — just enough for the bottom of the skillet
- about 1.5 cups balsamic vinegar — oh, baby
- about 1.5 cups chicken broth — one cup each of vinegar and broth would probably do the trick, but our family likes to have some extra “schlorp” for the rice
- a teaspoon or so of rosemary — this measurement is for dried rosemary; if you use fresh, use a sprig or two
- a large skillet — after all, it needs to fit six chicken breasts without crowding (I’ll come back and add an image here later, to show you what I mean.)
This is not my skillet, but it looks a whole lot like mine. Nice and wide, a few inches deep. Heavy stainless steel. Comes with a lid (though you won’t need the lid for this recipe). A very useful item.
A note on broth: Some folks go gonzo and *distill* their own broth with some kind of dark magic I’ve never tried before. (They all say it’s easy, whoever “they” are.) I’ve used broth from a can, bullion cubes, bullion granules, and Better Than Bullion. I really, really like Better Than Bullion. It’s a chicken base that comes in a little jar you’ll have to refigerate after opening; the broth is made by combining the chicken base with boiling water. I like that it dissolves more smoothly than cubes or granules, and I can control the intensity of the broth easier than I could if it came out of a can. Your choice. I probably couldn’t taste the difference anyway.
After pounding out the chicken a little bit — wait. Do you know about pounding? It’s when you carefully cover the meat with a little bit of plastic wrap that’s going to slip anyway and then pound it a bit with something wide and flat. We’re not trying to make it cry or anything…just making sure it’s of relatively equal thickness, because that way it’ll all be cooked through in about the same amount of time. The plastic wrap *always* slips. (And you don’t have to use a fancy meat pounding tool. I used the bottom of a heavy ceramic mug for YEARS and everything came out fine.) If you *do* use a meat-pounding tool (and I’m giggling just writing that term), do NOT use the side that has piercing points; just use the flat side.
So. Where was I? Yes. I got ahead of myself. Let’s back up to *before* you pound out the chicken. Spread the flour on a big, flat plate (a dinnerplate will do fine, or maybe even a pie dish if you want to be fancy) and blend in as much salt and pepper as you think would be nice. I tend to use about 1 tsp of salt and about a 1/2-tsp of pepper, but there’s lots of room for variation here. Then, start the skillet heating to medium-high with only enough olive oil in the bottom so things won’t stick. You don’t want the chicken to pan-fry or be “wet” in the pan. A relatively dry searing is what we’re after here.
Once the pan is pretty much ready, dredge the chicken breasts in the flour. You’ll want them to be covered thoroughly with flour but tap off any excess before laying them in the pan. Brown the chicken on both sides — should be 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on the awesomeness of your burners. Resist the temptation to turn the chicken over too soon or to move it around the pan. The combo of a relatively dry pan and relatively high heat should give you a nice browning, but it’ll only happen if you mostly leave the chicken alone. You’re not so much cooking the chicken here as sealing in the YUM.
After the chicken is browned, slowly pour in the vinegar. Safety tip: do NOT put your face over the pan while you’re adding the vinegar. This is not one of those moments in cooking when you should lean in and breathe in deeply the essence of what you’re cooking. Try to lean back from the steam or it’ll make your nostrils burn like you wouldn’t believe. Let the mixture come to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to somewhere between medium and low, and let it simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Again, resist the temptation to move the chicken around the pan too much. Do not cover anything.
While you’re waiting, prepare your chicken broth if you haven’t already. This would also be a good time to start steaming your veggies and get out a serving dish for the chicken. When the 10 minutes are up, add the chicken broth and continue to simmer. (You might need to boost the heat for a minute to get a boil going on again before going back to a simmer). Again with the not-covering. With the addition of the broth, things will not smell so awful. There is no particular time we’re going for here, but what we’re trying to achieve is a REDUCTION of about one-half to two-thirds of the liquid volume. This thickens the sauce and also turns the flavor up to 11.
After that, gently remove the chicken from the pan and place it in the serving dish you’ve already gotten out. Cover it up to keep things warm. Add your rosemary to the sauce still in the pan. (If you’re using dried rosemary, sort of rub it between the palms of your hands to activate the oils and break up the needles a bit first.) Continue to simmer and reduce for a few more minutes. I never time this part…you’ll just reach a point where it seems done or you just can’t stand not to serve it. Probably less than three minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken or into some sort of gravy-pouring thing, and serve. With the brown rice and broccoli that are already done, because you’re brilliant.