Chicken & Mustard | Chicken & Polenta with Mustard Sauce & Sage Oil

This chicken & mustard recipe uses polenta and sage oil to carry forward a wonderful depth of flavour and a balanced mustard fire.

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Chicken & Mustard | Chicken & Polenta with Mustard Sauce

Introduction

Chicken has something of an unfair reputation. Frequently seen as the boring choice in restaurants and the safe choice at home, chicken tends to sit on both ends of the spectrum, served as frequently as the near-untouched protein in simple, healthy meals or as the base for any number of spiced and deep fried treats.

Perceived as generic, chicken often simple serves to suit a specific purpose and is rarely the centre point of a meal. If you take, for example, a simple bucket of KFC – yes, chicken is the primary component of the meal, but it isn’t the star of the show. The show itself is all about the sweet, salty, spicy coating and whatever sauce is served alongside.

The exception to this rule is when a plain chicken breast is served at home with a single carb and some vegetables. In this situation, chicken absolutely is the star of the show, but it’s a show very few people are watching.

Chicken & Mustard | Chicken & Polenta with Mustard Sauce & Sage Oil

The picture I’m trying to paint is of an ingredient that rarely gets the credit it deserves. In chicken, we have an incredibly versatile ingredient that works perfectly in almost all situations. There is a reason it is commonly used in cuisines all over the globe.

Most importantly of all, we have an ingredient whose versatility can be used to highlight its many wonderful qualities. Chicken has its own well-defined flavour and suits a great number of dishes perfectly.

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Chicken can be served elegantly and creatively and can absolutely be the star of the show. It can be the most exciting dish on the menu, but is usually the last one to catch our eye.

All it really takes is a little bit of love and a little bit of accentuation. Chicken goes with everything, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some flavours that help bring it to the forefront.

About the dish

One of the flavour combinations that best serve to highlight the flavour of chicken is chicken and mustard. Chicken has a very balanced, rounded flavour and mustard’s fiery heat helps to highlight that.

Making the mustard sauce with stock and a little cream helps to balance and temper it. Mustard is so strong a flavour it needs to be subdued to work to best effect.

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Polenta works here because its firmness and consistency help to stand up to the sauce. Foods tend to pair well with ingredients from their existing ecosystem. So as a derivative of corn, a natural food for chickens, polenta tends to work very well as a side, its creaminess and subtle sweet flavour a perfect carrier for sauce and a textured accompaniment for meat.

Crispy chicken skin adds a little extra bite, which naturally balances the softness of polenta and carries the flavour of mustard. It also goes some way to utilising the whole bird, which I find both important and a more exciting, attractive way of cooking.

Toasted pine nuts simply add a little bit of crunch. Other ingredients might be used to the same effect, but pine nuts and polenta pair naturally as two ingredients commonly used in Italian cuisine. I have also served them as a side with some mushrooms, whose simplicity and earthiness are a natural match.

Finally, sage oil adds a dash of colour, a splash of flavour and a helpful hit of fragrance to the dish. Thyme oil or parsley oil might also work, but I find sage, once again, suits the loose Italian motif. Though I’m certainly not trying to suggest there’s anything innately Italian about this dish.

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The sauce is a simple reduction of stock with a few little additions. We’ll start with 500ml stock and reduce it down slowly, then add a couple of teaspoonfuls of mustard, a handful of mustard seeds and some cream at the end and reduce it a little more.

While the sauce reduces, we’ll strip the skin from the chicken breasts and season it with salt, before placing it on a tray, sandwiched between two pieces of greaseproof paper. We’ll press it with something suitably heavy and ovenproof and bake the chicken skins in the oven for 30 minutes or so at around 180c, or until they’re cooked through and wonderfully crispy.

We’ll also very quickly toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan and set them aside for later. It’s always handy to get the little jobs out of the way.

I actually started with a block of polenta here, rather than with the dried stuff. You can use either, but I kind of wanted to highlight the ease with which that polenta can be turned back into something a little more malleable. We’ll basically cut up a block of polenta and simmer it in just enough water to submerge it while giving it a bit of a beating with a potato masher.

When it all effectively dissolves into the water, we’ll throw in a little cream and, depending on your preference for heat, an optional whack of mustard. Just remember, there’s mustard in the sauce as well, so don’t go too crazy.

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We’ll slice up a red cabbage and get some of it simmering away until we’re ready to serve, at which point we’ll season it with salt and throw in a quick splash of balsamic vinegar.

While the polenta is simmering away, we’ll cook the chicken, which is as simple as it comes. Ultimately, chicken is chicken, so if you wanted to sear and then roast it, you’d be more than welcome to do so.

I prefer to flatten it down with a few whacks of a rolling pin (or a meat hammer), then slice each breast into one or two pieces and fry it. It cooks quicker, which is always helpful, and creates a wonderful layer of gnarled up bits of chicken to crisp up in the pan.

Once the chicken is cooked, we’ll toss a few mushrooms into the pan with some garlic and scrape up any of the chickeny goodness we can get.

A few final things to remember

  • I see no reason you couldn’t substitute the chicken for pork, if you had some pork handy instead. The same is true for a few other proteins as well, provided they tend toward the subtler side, flavour-wise. Throwing in a big ol’ hunk of beef might be a bit much, for example.
  • The sides are optional. You’ve actually got a main meal sized meal even without them. It just lacks a little in the vegetable department. Nutrition, people!
  • Crispy chicken skin is also optional. I just love it, so I try to put it with basically everything. Seriously, it’s scary how many uses I find for it.

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Chicken & Mustard | Chicken & Polenta with Mustard Sauce & Sage Oil

Chicken & Mustard | Chicken & Polenta with Mustard Sauce

This chicken & mustard recipe uses polenta and sage oil to carry forward a wonderful depth of flavour and a little bit of mustardy fire.
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 20 mins
Course Dinner, main, Main Course
Cuisine English, Italian
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

Chicken

  • 2 Chicken Breasts skin on
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • Salt
  • Oil

Sauce

  • 500 ml Chicken Stock
  • 2 tsp Mustard
  • 1/3 cup Cream
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seeds

Polenta

  • 1 pack Polenta 500g
  • 2 tsp Mustard optional
  • 1/3 cup Cream optional
  • Salt

Cabbage

  • 1/2 Red Cabbage
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt

Mushrooms

  • 1 cup Button Mushrooms
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • Salt

Garnish

  • 20 g Sage
  • 1/2 cup Neutral Oil
  • 1 handful Pine Nuts
  • Salt

Instructions
 

Sage Oil

  • Strip all the leaves off the stalk and throw the stalks away, then drop the leaves into boiling water for just 30 seconds before quickly straining them and plunging them into ice cold water. Dry them off and drop them into a blender with the oil. Allow them to sit for a few minutes, then blend and strain out the debris. Season the oil with a tiny pinch of salt and pour into a squeezy bottle or something of that kind.

Crispy Chicken Skin

  • Strip the skin from the chicken breasts and season each piece with salt, then sandwich them between two pieces of baking paper and place them on a tray. Press them down with something heavy and ovenproof, then bake them for about 30 minutes at 180c. If they aren't done enough after that, remove the top sheet of baking paper and the weight and finish them off.

Pine Nuts

  • Throw a big handful of pine nuts into a hot pan with no oil and brown the outside, then set aside.

Sauce

  • Reduce 500ml stock until you have a thick, sticky jus. You won't have much left at all by that point. Add the mustard seeds, mustard and cream and reduce again, until it thickens slightly and leaves you with enough for two people.

Red Cabbage

  • Thinly slice the cabbage. You want about a cup of sliced cabbage, if fairly tightly packed. Simmer in hot water for 5 minutes or so, then drain the water and toss with a splash of balsamic and some salt.

Polenta

  • Break up the polenta and simmer it in just enough water to submerge it. Allow it to soften a little and give it a little mash with the potato masher. Eventually it will break up completely, leaving you with thick, gloopy polenta, which you then need to season with salt, adding any cream or mustard you might wish to add, and stir it all together. If it's too thick, break it down further with cream or water. If it's too thin, just simmer it very, very gently until it thickens.

Chicken

  • Flatten your chicken breasts with a few good hits with a rolling pin. You're looking for an even thickness all the way across. Slice them up into two or three pieces each and add to a medium-hot, oiled pan and colour all over, cooking each side for long enough for the chicken to cook all the way through. You're looking at roughly 5 minutes per side to be safe, but it will depend on the thickness of your chicken, so be careful. If you can, check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. You're looking for at least 165f. You might want to throw some garlic in with the chicken while it cooks.

Mushrooms

  • Quarter the mushrooms and dice up a couple of cloves of garlic. Throw them all into the pan you cooked the chicken in at the same time and add any additional oil and seasoning you might need. Cook for just a couple of minutes, tossing and stirring as you go. You don't want to overcook them!
Keyword Chicken, Chicken Mustard, Chicken Polenta, creamy polenta, mustard

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