I’m a huge fan of the 1960s in general and Mad Men in particular. I especially love picking out the show’s references to bygone recipes that have, for one reason or another, fallen out of favor over the decades. In an effort to channel my inner Betty Draper, I now routinely order a Vodka Gimlet at nicer restaurants, and I’ve been hunting high and low for a proper Chicken Kiev recipe. But Roger Sterling’s enthusiastic endorsement of Beef Wellington really caught my attention.
I need to preface this, the first of my “In the Kitchen” posts, by mentioning that I’m a vegetarian and I’m married to an ardent omnivore. But I’ve chosen not to inflict my meatless ways upon him and I enjoy whipping up meat-ful meals for him on a nearly nightly basis, much like a teetotaling bartender (though just to clarify the analogy, I am decidedly not a teetotaler). Much of the time, I’ll make a dish with meat and then invent a meatless version of it for myself.
On January 1, 2010, one of my many New Year’s resolutions was to start cooking more often and to try a new recipe at least once a week. It’s pretty much the only resolution I’ve successfully been able to keep, and my husband is reaping the benefits. And I think our vegetarian/omnivore dynamic has helped me become a more creative cook.
I digress. Back to Mad Men and Beef Wellington.
A quick Google search informed me that this dish involves a fantastically inspired marriage of steak and puff pastry. I knew immediately that the hubs would swoon. But alas, it would require not one, not two, but three pounds of delectable but pricey filet mignon.
A few nights ago, itching to do some dirty work in the kitchen, I was almost prepared to shell out the first-born child such vast quantities of tenderloin beef would cost. And then, on a last-minute whim, I searched for “chicken Wellington” to see if such a recipe might exist. I assure you, Good Reader, it does, and while I can’t rightfully compare it to its bovine brother, I’d like to think it gives it a run for its money.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a recipe snob. I do scour the Food Network website for new meals to try, but I shun all things Paula Deen and Rachel Ray. Don’t even get me started on Guy Fieri. They’re all a little too butter-drenched and simian for my taste. But I do love Giada De Laurentiis — her Chicken Cacciatore revolutionized my stove top — pedestrian though her reputation may be. My biggest chef crush is Anthony Bourdain. I recently purchased his Les Halles Cookbook and I break it out whenever I feel like a challenge. So imagine my surprise when I retrieved this recipe for Chicken Wellington from, of all places, the Pepperidge Farm website:
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp. water
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 2 1/4 oz. sliced mushrooms (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
- 1/3 of an 8 oz. package of cream cheese
- 1 tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
- All-purpose flour
- 1 sheet of puff pastry
To go with the Chicken Wellington, I made red potatoes and green beans.
I always make these potatoes to go with this recipe for Provencal Roasted Chicken. I cut them into roughly half-inch cubes, put them in a glass baking dish, and coat them thoroughly with salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence (that’s what makes them super delicious), a few cloves of minced garlic, and an overly generous helping of olive oil. Then I bake them at 350 degrees for about an hour, stirring them up every 20 minutes, until they start to brown. Here they are in their before pose:
For the green beans, I start by going to the store and buying what at the time seems like a hugely inordinate amount of green beans. Someone will invariably give me a strange look out of the corner of his or her (probably her) eye, wondering if I’m the “20 Kids and Counting” mom because of all those green beans I’m shoveling at breakneck pace. I ignore her and proceed to the register with a plastic bag of vegetables bulging like Santa’s sack the year every kid was on the “Nice” list. When I get home, I spend about seven hours trimming them and picking out the sickly undesirables, yielding this:
Then I throw them in a pot of salted boiling water for a few minutes, drain them, transfer them to a skillet, and wonder in amazed disappointment at how they seem to have lost about three-fourths of their initial volume. After cooking them in olive oil with salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed red pepper over medium heat, I sigh and move on with my life.
OK, now for the pièce de résistance.
I seasoned the chicken with thyme and black pepper and then cooked it in a tablespoon of butter in a skillet for five minutes per side. I could tell the kitchen smelled amazing because my dogs came in to investigate.
Once the chicken was golden and just cooked through, I put it on a plate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Then I cooked the mushrooms and onion and added in the parsley once they’d softened:
Next I made the cream cheese and mustard mixture, which, let’s face it, sounds a little white-trashy, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Let me now just say that I’ve been known to be notoriously unobservant, and quick thinking is not always my strong suit. The next step involved rolling out the puff pastry from a small square into a big square. I don’t own a rolling-pin because I’ve never needed one (I only make the “heaping spoonful” kind of cookie recipes), so this posed a dilemma. Lush that I am, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I have a whole collection of makeshift rolling pins in the form of wine bottles. I chose my empty bottle of Skinnygirl Sangria, which I’d saved because I’m a sucker for cute packaging and hoped to repurpose it in some way. It performed spectacularly in its new incarnation as a puff pastry roller:
Once I estimated I’d rolled out an appropriately sized square, I cut it into four smaller squares. Then I put a fourth of the mushroom mixture, one piece of chicken, and a fourth of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each square. Then I wrapped up the puff pastry, brushed them with egg wash, threw them in the oven, and voila:
(At the last minute, I also made a quick mustard cream sauce based on a Martha Stewart recipe I tried a long time ago — I made it with white wine, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, and a little thyme. It went quite well with the red potatoes, à mon avis!)
The Chicken Wellington was a big hit with the husband and I was totally jealous of his meat-ful meal. Which is why I’m anxious to try out this recipe I found for Vegetables Wellington. I’ll let you know how it goes…