Years ago, I used to own a restaurant. Every time we went to change the menu, one item that we couldn’t part with was the simplest of all—it was “Just Plain Chicken.”
It was as simple to make as it sounds. Just a plain organic chicken breast sautéed with salt and pepper. Originally it was an homage to my mother, who would occasionally bemoan the fact that every meal in our house (when I was cooking) had to have a sauce or something.
Fast forward a decade or two, and I now have friends saying the same thing. When they look at a menu, they just want something simple. Something that lets the main ingredient shine through.
And for you home cooks, this couldn’t be better news.
Taking a simple, easy approach to a lovely organic chicken breast or a sustainably caught piece of fish can make meal preparation a snap. It can highlight that one item and its flavor without any heavy spices or flavors.
One of my favorite things to do for dinner these days is to season a piece of really fresh fish with salt and pepper, dredge it in flour and sauté it until it is golden brown, and is just cooked through.
After you remove the fish to a serving platter, deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of white wine or lemon juice, add a touch of butter and a few capers and you have fine dining at its best, but at home.
Similarly, taking an organic chicken breast and sautéing it gently in a bit of butter or olive oil takes all of 10 minutes, but lets you enjoy the true flavor of chicken, which we so often bury in breading or sauces.
It is a great way to lighten your menu during the diet season of spring, and it also makes for fine food in a flash. There are only a few things to keep in mind if you want to add “just plain chicken” or “just plain fish” to your menu.
First, go for the highest quality you can find. Yes, that organic chicken breast or sustainably caught fish are going to cost you a bit more than their mass marketed cousins. But they will net you more flavor and make the meal more satisfying without adding extra items to your grocery cart.
Second, prepare to dress things up for those who doubt. If you think that piece of simple chicken or fish look too stark on the plate to please your family, think about adding a simple glaze or pan sauce on the side just to keep them happy. You shouldn’t spend too much time or effort on these, and I have some ideas from the pantry that can really help.
If you add a touch of bourbon, whiskey or rum to the honey glaze you create a family favorite at our house called “Hot Toddy Chicken.”
Try my recipes below.
You can go with the “just plain” option or add a honey lemon glaze or caper pan sauce in seconds after you put your chicken or fish on a platter.
Just Plain Chicken for Two
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken breast into the hot pan. Cook for 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve immediately or garnish with a glaze or pan sauce.
Honey Lemon Glaze
(This recipe makes “Hot Toddy Chicken” if you add liquor to the pan sauce.)
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Bourbon or Rum (optional)
1 Tablespoon Butter, cut into small bits
Several sprigs of fresh herbs—rosemary or thyme work well
After removing chicken from the pan to a warm platter, add the honey, lemon juice, liquor and herbs to the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a whisk. Let the ingredients come to a simmer, stirring for about a minute. Add the butter a bit at a time, stirring to mix the butter into the other ingredients as it melts. Pour over the chicken.
Just Plain Fish for Two
2 large boneless, fresh mild fish fillets (Such as flounder, rockfish or salmon)
3 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon each salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Mix the flour and seasoning in a shallow bowl or rimmed plate. Pat the fish dry and dredge it in the flour mixture. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the fish in the hot oil and cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until the flesh is opaque. Serve with lemon or a pan sauce.
Caper Butter Pan Sauce
2 Tablespoons dry white wine
1 Tablespoon capers, drained
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon butter, cut into bits
After removing the fish from the skillet, deglaze the pan by adding the white wine and stirring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the capers and lemon juice, swirling to mix everything together. Whisk the butter in, a bit at a time, letting the butter melt into the other ingredients and making a cohesive sauce. Pour over the cooked fish and enjoy.