Whether it’s watching him on PBS or thumbing through one of his cookbooks, I never cease to learn something from Jacques Pepin.
A master technician who makes everything look effortless, and a cheerleader who gives the confidence to try any of his recipes handily in your own kitchen, Pepin continues to inspire in his latest cookbook, “Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy.
As the title implies, the book’s 250 recipes are fast and easy, with brief ingredients list. Pepin is not above using frozen pizza dough, canned beans or ready-made sponge cake in some of them, either.
As he states in the introduction, “This book is intended to make your life easier.”
It will, too, with recipes such as “Cream of Pumpkin Soup” that uses canned pumpkin, light cream and curry powder; “Cheese Tart,” made with a frozen pie shell filled with a mixture of eggs, ricotta and Gouda; “Mustard-Broiled Shrimp” that’s coated with honey mustard, dark soy sauce and Sriracha; and “Orange Bavarian Cream” what mimics fancy custard cream but is instead made with instant pudding mix, half-and-half, and melted vanilla ice cream.
The book is also illustrated with some of Pepin’s charming paintings.
His “Chicken in Vinegar with Garlic and Tomato Sauce” taught me a thoroughly new way to cook chicken thighs. Two slits are made on either side of the bone on each thigh. Then, they’re placed skin-side down in a pan with no oil. The pan is covered, and the thighs cook entirely only on one side on medium-low heat.
The steam created cooks the flesh through and through in a gentle manner, leaving it super moist and juicy. The contact with the pan also leaves the skin fairly crispy.
Pepin states to cook the chicken for 18 to 20 minutes. I found mine took closer to 25 minutes, so I noted that in the recipe. A lot will depend on how large your chicken thighs are; and also what you determine to be medium-low heat on your stove. Don’t try to rush this part by turning up the heat more, as that will cause more juices to seep out of the chicken, and make it that more difficult to crisp the skin. The best part about this technique is once you put the lid on, it’s hands-off. No fiddling required.
When the chicken is done, it takes only a couple of minutes to simmer together a pan sauce of garlic, red wine vinegar, diced tomatoes, and a dash of hot sauce. Spoon some of this tangy-sweet, chunky tomato sauce around each thigh to serve. Have some baguette or rustic bread slices alongside to sop up the sauce, too.
This simple dish is a bistro classic in Lyon, Pepin writes. You can almost imagine enjoying it at an outdoor cafe with a carafe of wine and without a care in the world. How good does that sound right about now?
Chicken in Vinegar with Garlic and Tomato Sauce
4 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and chopped finely (1 tablespoon)
1/3 cup best-quality red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
2 teaspoons chopped chives, for garnish
Place the chicken thighs skin side down on your cutting board. Make a 1/2-inch-deep cut along both sides of the bone of each thigh. Sprinkle the thighs with half the salt and pepper.
Place the chicken pieces skin side down in a large nonstick skillet and cook over high heat for a couple of minutes, until sizzling. Turn the heat to medium low, cover tightly, and cook for 18 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken thighs. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.
Add the garlic to the skillet and saute for 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and water and bring to a boil, stirring to melt all the solidified juices. Boil for 1 minute, until the liquid has almost completely reduced. Add the tomatoes, the remaining salt and pepper, and the Tabasco. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken the sauce. (If the sauce separates, whisk in 2 tablespoons warm water.)
Pour the sauce around the chicken, sprinkle with the chives, and serve.
Adapted from “Jacques Pepin Quick & Simple” by Jacques Pepin
More Recipes from Jacques Pepin: Poulet A La Creme