Russell Lowell’s first boss taught him everything he needed to know about the restaurant industry.
He was a rambunctious surfer kid in Southern California. But he needed gas money to drive to the surfing beaches, so he paid attention to his boss, a strict, French-trained chef.
“If there was anything I did wrong, he caught it,” said Lowell, who lives in Mill Creek. “He taught me the right way.”
That commitment to classic French cooking technique is expressed in Lowell’s best-seller at his Bothell restaurant, Russell’s Restaurant & Loft: pan-seared chicken breast with rosemary-garlic sauce.
Lowell opened the restaurant in 2004, after establishing a successful Seattle catering business that served luminaries such as Hillary Clinton and Nelson Mandela. The pan-seared chicken breast, served with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables, has been on Russell’s menu from the start.
“It’s my favorite dish to cook out of everything,” said Lowell, the restaurant’s owner and executive chef. “I don’t think I could find a way to make it any better.”
“When you get this at your table, it just hits you hard,” he said of the aromas. “There’s nothing subtle about it.”
The restaurant is housed in a renovated dairy barn built in 1927. The loft, with cedar boards on the walls and a refinished vintage fir floor, accommodates weddings and other events.
As befitting his training from an old-school chef and his years of kitchen experience, Lowell is known for his style of American cuisine with a French flair. “This is the only way I know how to do it,” he said.
Dishes such as grilled salmon with beurre blanc, seared duck breast with roasted shallot demi-glace and grilled filet mignon with mushroom risotto are staples for regular patrons. They all were born out of years of trial and error — including his rosemary-garlic chicken breast.
The chicken breast gets its bold flavor profile from Lowell’s chicken stock, made from roasted chicken and duck bones, and enriched with demi-glace. The breast is an “airline” cut, meaning the wing bone is still attached. Lowell scrapes the bone clean of meat and fat, for an appealing presentation called “frenching.” Ironically, his mother, not the French-trained chef, taught him that technique.
“It takes that one extra step to show that you cared,” he said. “When I cut that, I showed I care. I went a little step further. When the guests see that, they go, ‘Wow.’”
Lowell said the recipe is so precise that he knows it will come out perfect every time he makes it. Still, it might be a challenge for home cooks, because there is room for error.
“If you don’t follow the steps and time it right, you don’t get the awesomeness out of it,” he said. “The timing on it is everything.”
Lowell makes his own chicken stock and demi-glace, but home cooks can use a good-quality store-bought stock and demi-glace.
“The richness is not hard to duplicate,” he said. “It’s just the way we do things here.”
The sauce can be overpowering if you reduce it too much. But a greater danger is overcooking the chicken, Lowell said.
“The harm is it just becomes a piece of rubber or it becomes difficult to chew,” he said. “But it’s OK if you’re learning how to do it and overcook it. If you undercook it, you risk salmonella and foodborne illnesses. Err on the side of overcooking it, and then learn from it.”
And while the frenched wing bone is not a requirement, Lowell said it’s a nice touch. Ask your butcher to cut the breast airline style. For DIY cooks, there are instructional videos online.
“I didn’t learn everything overnight,” he said. “Working in so many different restaurants over the years, you take away the things that made an impact on your life.”
Russell’s pan-seared chicken breast with rosemary-garlic sauce
4 (8-ounce) airline chicken breasts, skin on
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon veal demi-glace
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Season the chicken on all sides with the salt and pepper. In a large skillet, add oil and heat until it shimmers. Place the seasoned chicken in the pan, skin side down. Once the skin starts to brown and the chicken releases from the pan, flip the breast over and cook for 1 minute. Turn the chicken back over to skin side down and place the skillet in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.
Remove from the oven and turn the chicken back over so the crispy skin is showing. Add the minced garlic and rosemary to the pan and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Combine the chicken stock and demi-glace and add to the pan. Cook over high heat to reduce the stock by half or more. The liquid should look thick and not watery. Turn off the heat and add the butter. Plate the chicken and pour the sauce over it. Serve immediately.
If you go
Russell’s Restaurant & Loft, 3305 Monte Villa Parkway, Bothell, is open 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday. Call 425-892-8492 or go to russelllowell.com.
More of Russell Lowell’s culinary creations can be found in his 2014 cookbook, “In Search of Duende: Life Adventures of a Chef,” which also includes anecdotes, such as one about a casual cookout with movie star John Cusack, musician Kid Rock and tennis legend John McEnroe.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.