The one where we talk about Roasted Chicken and Pan Sauce

There’s such beauty in the simplicity of a great roasted chicken breasts, hugged by a sauce generated from its own comforting flavors. (Ugh I think that was the most Pioneer Woman-esque sentence I’ve ever written). That being said…for a simple dish, there are a lot of steps needed to bang this out and a handful of places where it can all go wrong. Don’t worry though, ya girl Chelsea’s here to troubleshoot for you. Here’s the four main things to keep in mind:

  • The Cut. This recipe is not for boring and deceptively expensive boneless skinless breasts. Chicken thighs and legs are delicious, but for another post. You need skin-on split breasts for this–don’t worry, I’ll show you how to de-bone them.
  • Get A Thermometer Already! Your chicken, steaks, pork chops, everything you sear, grill, or roast will never taste good until you shell out the whole $15 for an oven-safe thermometer on a wire, so you can check the temperature without having to constantly open and close the oven. Plus you can set an alarm, so you’ll know the very second your meat comes to temperature. One of the most important tools you can have! It’s the trick to having perfectly done, moist meat.
  • The Pan Sauce. Yup, that mystical and delicious thang. I’ll be honest, even with a little help from my buddies gelatin and cornstarch (thanks Kenji!) it still sometimes doesn’t thicken up the way I want it to.  If I were REALLY looking for a viscous gravy I could take a roux thickening approach, but that will yield a really heavy sauce. Unless you’re serving mashed potatoes it’s really unnecessary. Your pan sauce will still pack an awesome punch of flavor even if it doesn’t turn into a restaurant-like syrupy glaze.
  • Time. Because there’s butchery and chopping of vegetation involved, plan for about 45 mins to an hour for this to all come together. Good things can’t be rushed!

You’ll Need

  • Skin on split chicken breasts, one per person
  • Kosher salt and several grinds of pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A small shallot
  • A clove of garlic
  • 1/2 a cup of white wine
  • 1/2 a cup of chicken broth
  • 1 packet of gelatin (optional but helpful)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • A little cornstarch
  • Soy sauce (trust)
  • Honey 
  • 2-3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, whatever is at hand (parsley, chives, tarragon, dill, or rosemary)

The Method

  1. Set the oven for 425 degrees F. Pour the chicken broth into a cup with the gelatin, whisking together with a fork. It’ll need some time to gently re-hydrate. Chop the shallots, garlic, and herbs.
  2. Nextt we’ve got to de-bone the chicken. Basically, you’re going to make a diagonal slice through the chicken, as close to the bones as possible, in fluid strokes so the portion doesn’t get all hacked up. Hold the sharpest knife you have with your dominant hand, and wrap the other hand in a towel, using it to stabilize the meat. Go slowly, separating the breast and the bones like a book. When you’re almost all the way through, your knife will hit a small rogue bone–use small controlled cuts to gently remove it. Now you’ve got yourself a skin on chicken breast, just like the restaurants! Okay not like the restaurants, if this is your first time doing this is probably looks like an uneven piece of crap. It gets wayyyy easier with practice, you’ll be an expert in no time. Flip the chicken over, there will be a distinctive “loose” section. That would be the chicken tender. Pull that off and throw in a plastic bag in the fridge to cook later in the week. Coincidentally, it should make your chicken portion more even! Even meat = even cooking. Check out this link for more in-depth instructions.
  3. Toss a few good glugs of olive oil in an oven-safe frying pan and set it over medium heat. Salt and pepper both sides of your newly butchered chicken breasts and put them in the pan, skin side down. Fry until the skin is golden and crisp, about 5-6 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready because the chicken will release easily from the pan, not sticking at all. Monitor this stage carefully–you want golden chicken skin, not burned! Flip the chicken over, insert your thermometer into the center of the thickest part of one of the breasts, then cook until the thermometer hits 158 degrees F. Remove from the oven and set on a plate or a cutting board to rest for 10-15 minutes, or however long it takes you to make the pan sauce. The chicken’s temperature will spike another 10 degrees or so as it sits, finishing the chicken then redistributing the juices as it cools. Note: if you’re cooking for a big crowd, you can skip the frying pan part and stick the seasoned chicken skin-side up in a roasting straight into the oven. Broil the last few minutes of cook time to get that crunchy, golden brown skin. The pan sauce will turn out a little less chicken-y, but that’s a small sacrifice if you’re entertaining.
  4. Set the same chicken pan over medium heat with some olive oil and whatever is left in the pan (all that juice, chicken fat, and browned bits are a flavor goldmine!). Keep an oven mitt handy for adjusting the pan–the handle will be super hot! Sauté the shallot in the pan for 8 minutes, adding the garlic for the last 2. Add the wine, and use a wooden spoon or a whisk to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. (PS, this is called deglazing!!). Add the gelatin-y broth, crank up heat to medium high, and let the liquid bubble and reduce by about half.
  5. Drop the butter into a small bowl of cornstarch so it’s nice and coated with it, then add to the pan sauce along with a splash of soy sauce (umami bomb!) and a little drizzle of honey. Let the cold butter bubble with the sauce, at a hard boil for at least 30 seconds. Cut the heat, then add the chopped herbs, stirring constantly. This sauce will thicken like whoa as it sits, so slice up the chicken and serve soon after you finish. This would be clutch with roasted potatoes, roasted veggies, and a simple salad on the side. Pan sauce love for all!

Remix The Dish: this is the recipe for a classic and simple pan sauce, but there’s a million ways to tweak it depending on what flavor you’re going after. Try adding in Dijon mustard, orange marmalade, blackberry or cherry preserves, red wine, maple syrup, or vinegar. Taste and taste again to identify what’s missing, and use your brain and your pantry to tweak it until it tastes the way you want it to.

Also: here’s a funny little Snapchat video of me making this. The production value is just outstanding.

Quick Mole Chicken with Poblano Rice

The same trip to Chicago that I visited Girl and the Goat, we also ate lunch at Frontera Grill. I’ve been a huge fan of Rick Bayless from seeing him on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. He’s one of the most genial guys in the business and treats Mexican culture and cuisine with such a reverence. I ordered his chicken mole enchiladas, completely cleaned my plate, and they haven’t left my mind since.

Mole is a rich Mexican sauce, usually flavored with chiles, spices, seeds, fruit, and chocolate. I am for real. It sounds strange, but the spicy, sweet, and bitter notes come together in a thick dark sauce that just sings. Authentic mole is no joke–I’m talking 36 hours and 40 ingredients kind of tough. I was pretty stoked to find a well, completely bastardized version in the Chopped cookbook, made from pantry staples like peanut butter, soy sauce, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Somehow the peanut butter mimics the rich and complex sweetness you’d get from traditional sesame seeds and dried fruits normally used, and the soy sauce give the sauce a hit of umami flavor. It’s nowhere near the version an Abuelita would make, but my modifications made a tasty approximation, especially when compared to the freaky motor oil concoctions sold in jars at the grocery store.

The poblano rice is visually stunning and will keep well for several days. Save time and upcycle what’s in your fridge by using a rotisserie or leftover grilled chicken.

You’ll Need:

For the Poblano Rice

  • 1 cup or basmati, jasmine, or any long-grain white rice
  • 3 poblano peppers
  • One bunch of cilantro
  • A shallot or half of a small onion
  • A clove of garlic (hell, use the pre-chopped stuff in a jar, whatever)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Like wedges for garnish

For the Chicken Mole

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or save a step and use whatever chicken is leftover in your fridge)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Chili powder (ancho is preferred but regular is fine)
  • 1/2 tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice (can sub for cinnamon instead)
  • A clove of garlic, minced (or use a small scoop of the jarred version, it’s cool)
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • A heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder
  • Several big shakes of soy sauce
  • A big dash of sugar
  • A couple big squeezes of honey (optional)
  • Kosher salt


  1. First we’re going to prep the poblanos. The peppers have a thick skin that tastes best when charred and removed (treat Hatch chiles the same way). Turn the oven up on a high broil, coat the poblanos in olive oil, set in a foil-lined roasting pan, then place directly under the broiler until they’re blistered and black, 8-10 minutes. Flip the poblanos over and broil the other side until they’re good and charred. Let the poblanos sit on you kitchen counter until they’re cool enough to handle, 10-15 minutes.
  2. While the poblanos cook, start the chicken. Toss in kosher salt and a dash of th Chinese 5 Spice and chili powder,  then sear in a skillet with a little oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set to the side on a plate (they won’t be cooked through yet). Don’t wipe out your skillet, those leftover browned bits of chicken are a flavor goldmine! Obvi, skip this step if you’re using leftover chicken.
  3. Toss a little more oil into your skillet, and over medium heat, toast the 1 1/2 tablespoons of chili powder, 1/2 a tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice, and minced garlic, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 a cup of water and use your spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Whisk in the peanut butter, cocoa powder, soy sauce, sugar, and a dash of kosher salt, and let bubble and thicken over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT: you must taste the sauce at this point and use your spidey senses to figure out what it needs to make it taste balanced and delicious. Needs more spice? Add more chili powder or some cayenne. Lacking in flavor? Add more kosher salt. Mine was a little thin and I couldn’t taste the sweetness, so I drizzled in honey and it made it perfect. If you’re cooking fresh chicken, add them and any accumulated juices back to the skillet and coat in the sauce. Turn on low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Back to the poblanos. Use your hands to gently peel the skin off the peppers and remove the bulk of the seeds. Throw them in the carafe of a blender, along with a clove of garlic, a peeled shallot, and a dash of kosher salt. Chop off the stem base from the bundle of cilantro and toss into the blender as well, then blend until smooth (scrape down the sides of  the blender if you need to). You’ve now got yourself some bangin’ green soffrito! Pour half into a jar to store in the fridge and use later (we’ll get to that) and set the other half aside to use in the rice.
  5. Pour a couple teaspoons of olive oil and the rice into a small saucepan and turn to medium heat. Stir the dry rice constantly, toasting it but watching to make sure it doesn’t scorch. You’re done when the rice turns opaque white, about 2-3 minute in. Toasting the rice gives it a toothsome texture and helps keep the granules separated, not sticky. This technique is what makes a rice pilaf a pilaf–it’s not just “rice with stuff in it” as that poor girl on Food Network Star believed. Once the rice is good n’ toasty, pour in 1 1/2 cups of water, a big dash of salt, and the rest of the poblano soffrito. Turn to low, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the heat and let it steam covered for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the lid and stir, so the poblano soffrito is well incorporated.
  6. Put the rice and chicken on a plate, and enjoy! Garnish with lime wedges and sour cream.

Remix The Dish: the next day I tossed some chopped chicken up with the leftover mole sauce, rolled them up in corn tortillas, and baked on 375 degrees for 20 minutes. BOOM insta enchiladas. The soffrito is great to have in the fridge as well–stir into eggs before scrambling, whiz in the blender with some Greek yogurt and a splash of water for a tasty sauce/salad dressing, mix with sour cream as a dip, or spoon over goat/cream cheese and spread over bread.