Poaching is a crime. If it’s not yours, don’t swipe it. And if it is yours, and it’s a plump chicken breast, and you’re craving the clean flavor and moist bite you attribute to a boiling bath, please: Consider the consequences.
Dropped in hot water, the egg turns tender. But poaching leaves chicken bouncy and bad. See? Crime doesn’t pay.
Try a dry braise, a crime against logic (braise calls for liquid, dry does not), but a rewarding technique. Settle the chicken in a heavy pot alongside carrot, celery and garlic; cover and slide into a hot oven. The vegetables release enough moisture to steam the meat moist and flavor it savory.
Slice over scape pesto, and you’ve got an escape from bland — one that’s well within the limits of the law.
Garlic scapes, stems of the garlic plant, have a friendly viper look, vibrant green color and intense fresh garlic flavor. Look for them at the farmers market and some grocery stores.
2 teaspoons plus 6 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1¾ pounds total)
2 carrots, peeled, cut in large chunks
2 ribs celery, cut in large chunks
1 bay leaf
10 garlic scapes, tender green portion only, bulbs trimmed away (about 4 ounces total)
1 ounce (1 loosely packed cup) basil leaves
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse chicken and pat dry.
Choose a large, heavy, oven-safe pot with a lid (cast-iron would do nicely) that can fit the chicken in a single layer. Coat the bottom of the pan with 2 teaspoons oil. Rub a little of the oil on the chicken breasts, sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon salt, and fit them into the pot. Add carrots, celery, bay leaf and one of the garlic scapes, cut in half. Cover pot, slide into oven and cook until chicken reaches an internal temp of 165 degrees, about 22 minutes.
Meanwhile, make scape pesto. Cut the remaining scapes into 2-inch lengths. Pile 1 cup scapes and all remaining ingredients — the 6 tablespoons oil, the basil, zest, juice and Parmesan into the food processor. Sprinkle in ½ teaspoon salt. Swirl completely smooth — 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl. Taste and add salt if needed. (Makes about 1 cup pesto.)
When chicken is done, remove it to a cutting board and slice thinly. Spread each of 4 plates with 2 to 3 tablespoons brilliant green pesto. Arrange chicken slices on top. Scrape remaining pesto into a bowl to serve alongside.
Makes 4 servings.