OK, I know we've already had two recipes of the month for June, but the dish Brian made for dinner last night was so delicious that I just couldn't resist sharing the secret with you here. Well, not much of a secret, really, because he found it on the New York Times site: Skillet Chicken With Rhubarb. But for those who didn't happen to see it there, it's really too good to pass up. It's quite rare to see rhubarb in a dish that's savory rather than sweet, but chef Melissa Clark points out that rhubarb is really a vegetable, not a fruit, and says it's time to embrace its "true, pucker-inducing nature."
Brian happened to stumble on this recipe at a time when we had free-range chicken legs in the freezer, following our last run to Trader Joe's, and lots of fresh rhubarb out in the garden. However, it was also a day when the outside temperature had peaked at over 90, and it was still over 80 degrees inside the house by suppertime. Hot weather like that makes a heavy, meat-centered meal seem a lot less appealing, and it isn't the ideal time for slaving over a hot stove anyway. So instead of making it right away, he just did the first few steps that night: picking, trimming, and dicing the rhubarb and setting the chicken to season with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. (The recipe says to use lemon thyme if you have it, but though we have three different varieties of thyme growing in our front yard right now, that isn't among them. So he just went with the regular garden-variety thyme from our herb bed.) Last night, when it was cooler, he did the rest of the steps: browning the chicken, making the rhubarb sauce, and simmering everything together. He also followed the recipe's suggestion to prepare a batch of polenta to go with it, though he left out the Parmesan cheese that normally goes in our polenta, thinking it might clash with the flavor of the rhubarb.
The result was absolutely exquisite. I think it may have been the most savory piece of chicken I've ever tasted. I honestly can't say what it was about the process that made it so good; was it the long steeping with salt and pepper, the faint hint of thyme, the brief simmering with the rhubarb sauce, or a combination of the three? I don't know, but I'm not about to look a gift chicken in the beak. Suffice it to say, it's delicious. Brian said he felt like he'd "made a restaurant-quality meal in our own kitchen," but considering some of the meals I've eaten at restaurants, I'd say that was damning it with faint praise. I'd describe it, instead, as a meal I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve to a true gourmet, should we ever happen to have one over for dinner.
I took a couple of pictures of the dish as prepared by Brian, but they didn't look nearly as nice as the ones by the expert food photographers at the Times, so I suggest you check them out there if you want to see this dish at its best. But if you want to taste it at its best, you definitely don't need an expert chef in a professional kitchen. If Brian could make it taste fabulous in our modest kitchen, you can definitely do the same.