If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, you know that my family’s cooking traditions have been present here – perhaps not as often as culinary adventures away from home, but no diplomat would be worth her salt without faithfully representing home. The Culinary Diplomat owes its appreciation for food — and food adventures — from my family, in particular, my grandmother, mother, and her siblings. Growing up, my mother and aunts forced me out of my picky eater comfort zone, while my grandmother catered to my need for traditional, familiar, and predictable home cooking. Together, they taught me the value of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to taste and cook the unfamiliar.
To say that my mother’s cooking was unpredictable is an understatement. I’ve said it on the blog before, but it’s worth saying again. My mother takes a mad scientist approach to cooking: She has little fear in attempting something new, based on some idea in her head. Perhaps only glancing at a recipe in passing, she omits any ingredient she doesn’t have on hand, or, more often, ingredients she does not want to use. Her ‘don’t use’ list of her ingredients is kind of my worst culinary nightmare: it’s like pulling teeth to get her to cook with fresh herbs instead of her 2-20 year old dried herbs. And don’t ask her ever about garlic. She would leave garlic out of basil pesto (travesty!). Our complicated mother-daughter relationship is often fraught in the kitchen, where her techniques (no sharp knives on hand, omitting key ingredients, flouting the laws of chemistry and physics in baking) drive me crazy.
But like a mad scientist, every now and again, my mother has a new creation that is truly wonderful. When she invents a recipe that is truly fabulous and worth repeating, I take notice. My mother’s honey dijon chicken is one of those dishes.
I don’t recall when she first made the dish, but it was probably when I was high school or college, after my tastes had matured and expanded, and as I began to seek out food adventures. But the first bite of this chicken dish over rice exceeded expectation. The creamy, tangy, and slightly sweet sauce is comforting and familiar – yet its elegance is unexpected. And without a lot of ingredients required (only four main ingredients are needed; three are optional), it’s a great meal for #quarantinecuisine cooking constraints, and my adapted recipe includes several options to customize it – including dairy and gluten-free options, as well as an option to kick up the flavor with fresh garlic or shallots and/or white wine. The sauce is best when thickened with a roux, but keep it gluten-free by leaving out that step.
I made the dish a few weeks ago, and it was as delicious as I remembered it. When my mother made it, she typically served it with rice or egg noodles, and broccoli or another green. In this instance, I made a lovely spring pea and mushroom risotto, adapted from this New York Times recipe. Whether you go fancy or simple, this recipe is easy to adapt to your family’s palate or pantry.
Easy Honey Dijon Chicken
- 1 lb. (3-4) boneless/skinless chicken breasts
- 1/4 c. Dijon mustard
- 2-3 Tbsp. honey (to taste)
- 1 c. milk or cream (substitute coconut milk for non-dairy)
- 2 minced garlic cloves or 1/4 cup minced shallots (optional)
- 1/4 c. dry white wine (optional)
- 1 Tbsp. flour (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Brown the chicken. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Pat chicken breasts dry and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken breasts and brown (3-4 minutes per side). Remove chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate. Do not wipe out the skillet.
Step 2: Make the sauce in the same skillet used to brown the chicken. Option #1 If using onions or garlic, heat another 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat and saute garlic/shallots until golden. Option #2: If using wine, add wine to skillet. Whisk mustard and cream over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium low. Add honey.
Step 3: Stew the chicken. Return the chicken to the skillet; simmer on medium-low in the sauce for 10-20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through, but tender, and the sauce is golden and slightly reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4a (Optional – dish will not be gluten-free if added): Thicken the sauce by making a roux. In a small ramekin or bowl, add 1 Tbsp. flour. Add a small amount of sauce to the bowl and whisk into the flour to form a paste. Slowly add 1/4 c. more sauce to the bowl and continue to whisk until the roux is free of lumps and smooth. Remove the skillet with the chicken from the heat and remove the chicken onto a clean plate. Whisk the roux into the skillet with the sauce; you can return the skillet to low heat and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
Serve chicken with sauce over vegetables or your preferred starch.