Paul Stearman, chef de cuisine at Marcel's in downtown Washington, says orders for this "undercover" dish are prepared as single servings in 8-inch skillets to ensure the chicken will crisp and brown properly.
For this recipe, use a skillet large enough to hold 2 pieces of chicken with plenty of space around them. (In a crowded skillet, pieces of meat tend to steam.) The chef recommends buying a 3-pound chicken and breaking it down into the right pieces. The chicken breasts recommended for use here are called "airline" breasts, and have the first wing joint attached. Look for the Bell and Evans brand.
At the restaurant, the chicken is served with a Yukon Gold potato cake and sauteed baby vegetables.
- For the chicken
- 2 bunches thyme, plus finely chopped leaves from 1 sprig of thyme (1/2 tablespoon)
- 2 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs (about 8 ounces total)
- Leaves from 4 stems of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
- Leaves from 2 stems of tarragon, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup clarified butter or olive oil (see NOTES)
- 2 (12 to 16 ounces total) boneless, skin-on chicken breast halves, preferably "airline" cuts (see headnote)
- For the sauce
- 1/2 cup store-bought chicken glace, such as Glace de Poulet Gold brand (may substitute with 1 cup rich chicken broth reduced by at least half; see NOTES)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon leaves
For the chicken: Divide the bunches of thyme into 4 flat portions, laying them in a roasting pan just large enough to comfortably hold the 4 pieces of chicken.
Spread a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter; place the chicken thighs (skin side up) on one side of the wrap. Fold the wrap over to cover, then use a meat pounder to hit the thighs just hard enough to loosen their meat without damaging the skin. (They should not be pounded flat.) Open the wrap and turn the thighs so the flesh is on top. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme, parsley and tarragon, then with salt and pepper to taste.
Roll each chicken thigh to form a taut roulade (but not too tight), with the skin facing out. Use kitchen twine to secure the roulades, tying them at the center of the roll. Trim off any excess string.
Heat enough of the clarified butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat to cover the bottom by 1/4 inch, a shallow frying amount. The butter or oil is hot enough when it has small bubbles that sizzle.
Carefully place the roulades into the skillet; brown for 15 to 20 minutes, disturbing them as little as possible so the skin gets crisp and golden brown. (The meat will not be cooked through; some fat between the skin and meat will render during cooking.) Reduce the heat if the roulades are browning too fast or unevenly.
Transfer to the roasting pan, placing each roulade on a bed of thyme.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Use paper towels to pat the chicken breast dry; season lightly all over with salt and pepper.
Pour off and discard the used oil and rendered fat from the skillet; add a fresh supply of clarified butter or oil that covers the skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch (the same step used in the roulade). Heat over medium to medium-high heat until the oil forms bubbles and just begins to smoke.
Place the chicken breasts skin side down in the skillet; cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until 1/4 inch of the edges along the top of the chicken breasts turns white. Turn the breasts over and sear the meat for 5 minutes; it will not be cooked through.
Transfer the breasts to the roasting pan with the chicken roulades, placing them on the remaining 2 beds of thyme. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, then transfer to the stove top (off the heat) while you make the sauce.
For the sauce: Heat the chicken glace in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until it has warmed through. Whisk in the butter in increments until the mixture is emulsified and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the tarragon just before serving.
To serve, discard the twine around the roulades, then cut each roulade in half crosswise and place the pieces flat on the plate. Cut the chicken breasts on the diagonal into 4 or 5 pieces, fanning them on the plate. Spoon the sauce around the chicken. Serve hot.
NOTES: A rich chicken broth is flavored with vegetables and equal amounts of meat and bone; the ingredients are first long-roasted for added flavor. It is cooked slowly and never boiled; it is skimmed during cooking and strained before cooling. Chef Stearman says 2 quarts of rich chicken broth should reduce to yield 1/2 cup glace.
To clarify a pound of butter, heat it slowly over low heat in a medium saucepan. After it has melted, let it stand for 10 minutes, then use a spoon to skim the foamy solids from the top. Pour off the clarified butter, leaving the watery residue in the pan. Pour the cooled butter into a plastic container, cover and refrigerate. The butter may be used a second time: Pass it through a fine-mesh strainer to eliminate any solids, then cover and refrigerate. Use within 1 month.
Adapted from chef Robert Wiedmaier's recipe.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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