Making a Morel Sauce — Old School!
I have to admit that, like a lot of people, I only like doing what I’m good at. In my case, that means cooking meat over fires, or in a pan, or in an oven. You may have noticed a certain overemphasis on meat starkly seasoned with salt on these pages – so much so that my last column was literally entirely about salt. But gastronomy is a vast vocabulary, and my meaty monosyllables can only go so far.
So I decided to make a sauce for Danit.
Now, I’m not saying there was anything wrong with the chicken, taken by itself. I have been cooking a lot of chickens for Danit, and I believe that my method, take by itself, is about as perfect as a human being can attain. At it’s most stripped down, it amounts to this: 1) get a chicken; 2) put salt on it; 3) roast it; 4) rest it and cut it up on the cutting board. That’s it, and it’s great. The key is not overcooking it, and using a really great chicken, like Bell & Evans. But I wanted to do more. And while walking around at Whole Foods, I found myself in a strange, unfamiliar area to me: the produce section. It’s mystifying and enormous, with hundreds of objects in it that I can’t identify. I did see a mushroom section, though, and they had damn nice looking morels.
I love morels; they’re practically an honorary meat themselves. And given that I was also there to buy the President salted butter I love so much, I thought, why not? Why not try to make a morel sauce for Danit? So instead of cooking the chicken on a rack, as I usually would, I cooked it directly on the enameled cast iron pan. Why? So there would be more stick bits on the bottom.
Pan sauces are all about stickies. The wine or whatever definitely has a lot of flavor, and more importantly a lot of acid, but the real body of the sauce comes from the “black bits.” So when my chicken was done, I did something very intelligent. I poured off the most of the fat in the pan, reserving it for fries later. Then I poured all the hot chicken liquids from the cavity back into the pan, and the pan back in the oven! That sticky, opaque liquid cooked on and became a fondant or glaze. Meanwhile, I sauteed up the morels with some fresh herbs in some good butter, and put them aside. The chicken was meanwhile resting away; there was plenty of time. I added about a cup and a half of dry white wine I had lying around to the pot, and on a hot burner I scraped up all that stuff from the bottom of the pan. I added the morels and a big chunk of butter, and I kept moving my wooden spoon around, and eventually it all reduced to a morel sauce. I poured it over the chicken and just knocked Danit out. Flabbergasted her completely. It was a triumph of old school sauce, remade for the post-modern ape man, and the result no sure bet. That made me even prouder of it, though.