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‘This Is the Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had’

Most pan sauces rely on stock or wine for deglazing, but this one has a twist. “If someone were to stand over a pan of sautéing chicken holding an ice-cold martini and happen to slosh it into the pan, you would have this sauce,” Thielen writes. The gin idea came from her time cooking on the line at the French restaurant Bouley, which closed in 2017. But that version used duck, and the broth was a concentrate that took forever to make. (Thielen’s chicken is a little more streamlined, though still detailed.) The dish is, as she learned in restaurant kitchens like Bouley, a culmination of all the minute details that make something good great.

As with any recipe, this golden, crispy-skinned chicken — complete with killer pan sauce — could be considered more of a general technique than a strict formula, one you can adapt to your own kitchen. But there’s one caveat: The breast should still have its skin. In most supermarkets in the United States, chicken breasts are sold either boneless and skinless or bone-in and skin-on. Boneless works, but “if there’s no skin, there’s no recipe,” she told me. That’s because the chicken cooks almost entirely on the skin side, relying on the insulation, and fat, to keep the meat moist, not to mention that you end up with the most crackly crust. To achieve this, Thielen advises carving the meat off the rib cage of a bone-in breast, or do as she does in the remote woods of northern Minnesota, where she lives with her family: Remove the breasts from a whole bird yourself. If we want nice things, sometimes we have to work for them a bit.

When I made this chicken for the first time, for my boyfriend and me, he sat at the kitchen island talking to me while I cooked. I’m a terrible multitasker, but I can listen. Like a good true-crime podcast on a long road trip, his chitchat helps me maintain my focus, and when I don’t have a third or fourth hand to dry the sage leaves before I fry them in the butter or to pound the breasts into an even thickness, I know I can turn to him. Every cook needs a gabber, someone to keep you company in the kitchen, but even better and more useful are their taste buds. When he took a bite, he said, “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had.” I agreed. The perfectly cooked white meat with the savory, juniper-pierced jus, in between chomps of crispy sage leaves, is full of delights and surprises you can achieve only by paying close attention.

This is, for me, the chicken dinner of chicken dinners, comforting and familiar but fancy enough to cook for company, or for Valentine’s Day. Even better if your date is sitting at the kitchen island gabbing.

Recipe: Crispy Smashed Chicken Breasts With Gin and Sage

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