Some food, some drink.
Easy Weeknight Dinner: Creamy Garlic Chicken and Pasta.
A quick and simple weeknight dinner doesn't necessarily have to be an all-inclusive, pre-packaged affair. Tender chicken, properly-seasoned pasta of and a bag of frozen vegetables are the foundation of a complete dinner for a busy family; and it all comes together in less than 30 minutes.
Don't belive you can bring together dinner as quick as I'm claiming? Well, let me direct your attention toward some empirical evidence via the companion video for this recipe!
As those who know me best will attest to, it's very easy for me to lose track of time when I'm doing something I enjoy. Cooking is no different, but that can be a problem when there are people waiting on a meal. On weeknights with tight schedules, there just ain't a lot of time for me to be lost in thought while knocking back a gin and tonic and twirling a wooden spoon. Likewise, it seems like the times when there's not a lot of time for dinner are when the packaged foods come out. I dare say that it's an unavoidable fact of life for a busy, pragmatic household. Akin to my feelings on fast-food, I've developed a bit of a moral compass where boxed dinners are concerned; and while once every-so-often is ok, I think home-cooked convenience food is just as realistic in the same amount of time if you know what to buy at the grocery store.
One of the reasons I cook is because I enjoy the challenge of reverse-engineering food that's processed and packaged. I'm sure you've seen the stuff in the freezer section that's touted as a complete meal that you can warm up in a skillet with just a little water. The idea is nice and all, but it's not too far off from something you could whip up with your choice of ingredients after a wee bit of thoughtful shopping. This skillet chicken recipe I'm throwing at you has plenty of creamy garlic-infused pasta so as to be filling; and a modest amount of meat to keep it substantial without being ridiculous. What's more, Mr. Birdseye still gets paid, as this dinner is chock full of some soon-to-be-unfrozen veggies.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
To start the chicken, combine the first 1/2 tsp salt, the first tsp of salt-free seasoning, and the 2 tsps of flour. Coat the chicken chunks well and set aside.
For the pasta, fill a 4 quart pot 3/4 full of water, add the smashed garlic cloves and bring to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp salt, return to a boil, and cook pasta until almost al dente (about 5-6 minutes). Reserve 1/2 cup of the water the pasta was cooked in and drain the pasta (but don't rinse it!).
To bring it all together, start with a cold 10-12 inch skillet. Toss in the minced garlic, butter and olive oil and put the burner on medium-high. When garlic just starts to brown, toss in the chicken to brown for 2 minutes. Don't move the chicken much; it'll brown better. After the 2 minutes have elapsed (btw, the chicken won't be done), stir in the frozen vegetable medley and continue to heat through until chicken is no longer pink (~ 5 minutes) stir in the pasta, remaining salt-free seasoning, salt, mustard, sour cream, bacon, and enough pasta water so as to make sure that everything is coated evenly (start with about a 1/4 cup). Stir for another 2-3 minutes over the heat and adjust the sauce thickness with the remaning pasta water as necessary before serving.
- Procedure is key with this recipe. If you want dinner in less than 30 minutes, and you want all the flavors and textures to be spot-on, having a good kitchen timer to keep you on-track can certainly help.
- Before you do anything, get the raw chicken seasoned. The time the meat spends with the salt is like a mini "dry-brine". The Salt will draw liquid out of the meat; and conversely, the meat will then draw the seasoned cure back in.
- I use a cast-iron skillet, but any 10-12 inch skillet (non-stick or otherwise) that you're comfortable cooking in should do.
- Don't draw your reserve pasta water until you're just ready to drain. This salty, starchy elixir really brings the dish together.
- You probably won't use all the pasta water, but it's swell to have extra on-hand in case dinner needs to sit in the skillet a little longer. Stirring in a few tablespoons will bring a dry skillet instantly back to life.
- You probably won't have to adjust the heat on your burner much at all. Medium-high heat is needed to brown the meat, but the frozen veggies will drop the temperature of everything in the skillet pretty quickly; so that extra heat will then be necessary to bring everything back up to temperature.
- In case your curious, this particular stir-fry veggie blend had stuff like broccoli, grean beans, sugar-snap peas, red bell pepper, onions, and mushrooms. All the same, plain ol' broccoli or even peas and carrots would be swell.
So, you probably wanna know how this stuff tastes. Well, given that we've taken care to build flavors throughout every step of our cooking (ahem, ahem), this stuff is pretty damn tasty for a meal that came together in less than 30 minutes. The makeshift sour cream sauce is what gets you to the table, but upon closer inspection, you'll taste the benefit of hitting that pasta water with those cloves of garlic. Thanks to the sit in the seasoning before cooking, the chicken is unbelievably moist, tender and flavorful despite being cut up into those tiny bits that are usually prone to dessication. As for the vegetables? Well, I'm a bit biased here. I happen to think that frozen veggies are the ultimate in packaged convenience food; they're cheap, they taste great, and you can stockpile ahead 3 months when they go on sale, which is like taking out insurance against fresh produce prices. Most importantly, (assuming you're buying plain ol' veggies) they don't have a bunch of crap added to them either; so with this dish I get a lot of fresh taste without the knife work and a rigorous produce list.
Although this is written like a recipe, it actually reads more like a technique; and that's on-purpose. You could permutate this stuff a plethora of different ways and get a different meal every day of the week. Shrimp, lean pork, or even tofu would suffice in the protein department, and there are at least as many different varieties of frozen vegetables as there are days in a month. If dairy's not your thing, try finishing your skillet supper with a good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Once you get the technique down, you'll not only know what to keep in the fridge and freezer when time's short, but you'll also be on your way to making dinner without a reliance on recipes, which can totally take the stress out of the necessity of weekneight kitchen duty.