Cooking 101

Learning to cook led chef apprentice Matt Cramer to his comfort zone

“Once I learned how to cook, I found out how amazing it was,” says Matt Cramer, a third-year student in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College. The 29-year-old is an apprentice at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence.
“Once I learned how to cook, I found out how amazing it was,” says Matt Cramer, a third-year student in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College. The 29-year-old is an apprentice at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence. Johnson County Community College

Matt Cramer grew up with parents who were not all that interested in cooking, so Cramer took an interest in cooking in hopes of eating food that was tasty.

“Once I learned how to cook,” Cramer says, “I found out how amazing it was.”

All of the ingredients for his chicken saute are easily available: beets, fingerling potatoes and skin-on chicken breasts. You can find rosemary among those little packages of herbs in grocery stores. Look for beets of uniform size so they all roast evenly.

“This dish is more like a fall-time or winter night comfort food,” he says.

When the beets are done, and the potatoes are roasting in the oven, quarter the beets and toss them in a heated pan with the shallots. Once the shallots are soft, add white wine and reduce the sauce. Then toss those ingredients into a blender to puree.

While a hot pan would work, Cramer chose to start the chicken in a cold pan because it allows better control over the crispiness of the skin. When the skin crisps and releases easily from the bottom of the ovenproof pan, flip the chicken and put the pan into the oven to finish.

About the chef

Matt Cramer is a third-year student in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College. The 29-year-old is an apprentice at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence.

About the column

Cooking 101 is an occasional column exclusive to The Star designed to introduce home cooks to basic cooking techniques. The recipe, food styling and photography are a joint project between culinary students and instructors at Johnson County Community College’s Hospitality Management Program.

About the food stylist

Kaarin Nelson works with the chef and photographer to prop and arrange the shot. She is a fourth-semester interior design student at JCCC.

Chicken With Fingerling Potatoes, Beet Puree and Pan Sauce

Makes 4 servings

For the beet puree:

5 medium beets

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 medium shallot chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1/4 cup dry white wine such as Chablis

Salt and pepper to taste

For the potatoes:

1 pound fingerling potatoes

1/2 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 cup washed baby spinach

For the chicken:

4 (6-ounce) skin-on chicken breasts

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

For the sauce:

2 teaspoons minced shallots

1 ounce dry white wine, such as Chablis

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoon butter, cubed

Salt and pepper to taste

2 sprigs rosemary, for garnish

1/2 head roasted garlic

To make the beet puree: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrub the beets of all soil and dry them with a paper towel. Lightly coat the beets with canola oil and individually wrap loosely in aluminum foil. Roast in the oven until beets are just soft enough for a small knife to poke through, about 45 minutes.

Remove beets from oven and allow them to cool, about 10 minutes. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip them from the skin using a sharp paring knife. (The use of gloves helps keep from dying your hands magenta.) Cut each peeled beet into quarters.

In a saute pan, heat 1 teaspoon canola oil until it is wisping, then add beets and shallots. Lightly sauté them on high heat — roughly 10 to 20 seconds; take care that the shallots don’t burn. Add the tarragon and white wine and reduce by half, about 15 minutes. Take the beets off the heat and allow to cool slightly before placing in a blender. Add water a tablespoon at a time until the puree becomes a smooth, saucy consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To roast potatoes: Toss the fingerling potatoes in canola oil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Remove from oven, toss with spinach and set aside.

To saute the chicken: Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place skin-side down in a large, ovenproof sauté pan. Add just enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Turn heat to medium-high and cook until skin crisps and releases easily from the bottom of the pan. Flip the chicken with a spatula and place pan in a 350-degree oven to finish; about 10 minutes.

To make a pan-cream sauce: Once chicken is cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, remove breasts and set aside. Add shallots to the hot pan and cook for 10 seconds before deglazing the pan with 1 ounce dry white wine; make sure to whisk up all the tasty bits of drippings and incorporate into the sauce. Continue cooking over medium-low heat. Reduce wine until almost dry then add cream and reduce by half, about 4 to 5 minutes. Finish by whisking the butter into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Place a breast on the a plate, serve potatoes on the side with beet puree and pan cream sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and roasted garlic.

Per serving: 905 calories (70 percent from fat), 71 grams total fat (34 grams saturated), 241 milligrams cholesterol, 38 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 1,859 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.

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