[89] Roasted Chicken Breast with Creamy Butternut Squash and Chile

cover of Cook With Jamie

I don’t think it’s possible to relate to you, in writing, how much I love butternut squash. I think you’d understand if you were to eat some with me, or if you’d been here as our CSA shares kept coming in with squash. I was utterly delighted.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect knack for storing these guys. We’ve lost about two from the CSA to mushy areas that I’ve read make them inappropriate to eat. I wonder if my Grandma Ella would have said otherwise; I wish I could ask her.

Even with those losses, though, I have several squashes in my pantry to make into new and delightful food creations. The tricky part is finding ways to use them up without making enough to feed an army. Otherwise, Bill and I are left feeling besieged by leftovers.

Thus, I was delighted when I found a recipe “for one” in Jamie Oliver’s cookbook that called for butternut squash. I was, I admit, less thrilled that it called for a quarter of a medium squash. That was only going to make finding more squash recipes even more pressing a need.

However, I decided that it made perfect sense that a quarter of a medium squash was equivalent to half of a small one. With that, it was easy to turn this “for one” recipe into dinner for two.

h2. Ingredients

Note: This is the list for the doubled recipe. Halve the ingredients to get the “official” recipe.

Two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
One red chile pepper, deseeded and sliced (I actually used about 1 tsp of our New Mexico red chile powder.)
The leaves from a few sprigs of oregano or marjoram (I used oregano.)
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
One rather small butternut squash, sliced as thinly as you can (I should have used our mandoline.)
Heavy cream
Grated nutmeg
Olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a bowl, toss together the chicken breasts with the chile pepper slices or powder, oregano leaves and salt and pepper. Put the chicken breasts and flavorings in a pan, then snugly fit in the squash slices around the chicken. Carefully pour some heavy cream around the squash; avoid pouring it on the chicken. Season with grated nutmeg, some more salt and pepper, then drizzle the whole thing with some olive oil and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.

Cooking and Consumption Notes.

Cooking

Okay, there’s not a lot of direction in this recipe on “how much of X ingredient” to use at any given time. This is basically Jamie Oliver’s method in this book. It drives me a little crazy, but it probably helps improve my cooking skills more than any other book I own.

The salt and pepper are, unsurprisingly, “to taste”. So is everything else, really. However, for the curious, I’ll say that I think I used about 1 tsp of nutmeg (err on the side of less, if you’re trying to copy exactly), 1/8 c of heavy cream (err on the side of more) and roughly 1/2 tbsp olive oil for drizzling.

I used bone-in chicken breasts, which may not actually be what Mr. Oliver had in mind. All he actually specifies is “chicken breast, with its skin left on”. I can’t tell you why I read that as also bone-in; probably because I don’t really see a lot of boneless, skin-on chicken breasts in my food shopping travels. Whether he intended it or not, I think it was a good choice. It did mean the cooking time was on the longer side, possibly a little over, I feel that the cooking was more even. I don’t know it, but I suspect the “bone-in” helped retain moisture in the chicken breast just as the “skin on” did.

As for the butternut squash, note that the directions never ask you to peel it. Indeed, Oliver’s original direction is:

“Very carefully cut a medium butternut squash into quarters. Remove the seeds and slice one quarter of the squash as finely as you can.”

This indicates he doesn’t expect you to peel the squash. I was quite surprised by this, and reread the directions about four times as I was working to confirm. Not only do the directions confirm it, the photograph that accompanies it pretty clearly shows squash peel. I took this, at the time, to be a lovely thing. No matter how much I love butternut squash, I really hate peeling them. If someone has an easy way to peel a raw butternut squash that doesn’t waste a pile of lovely squash, please let me and Mr. Mark Bittman know. Thank you.

Consumption

How many of you noticed the similarities between this recipe and Mr. Oliver’s last butternut squash recipe?

I certainly did when I looked at the recipe; it only made me more eager to make this one. Bill did too, after watching me pour some cream all over the squash; he asked about it when we sat down to eat.

This was much better than that. For one thing, it was clearly a main dish. A “one pot” meal, even. I love one pot meals1. This was also better because it was significantly less powerfully rich than the last dish. The last dish certainly knocked my socks off, but partially in an overwhelming way. This dish was lovely and simple and somewhat decadent without that sensation of being overwhelmed by flavor.

However, just peel the darn squash. Yes, it sucks. Yes, I hate it. Yes, the peel is edible (in that it won’t kill you and doesn’t taste vile). It’s just that “edible” doesn’t mean “nice to eat”. If the squash slices are appropriately thin, maybe it’s not a big deal. But with any thickness at all, the peel ends up as this extra chewy piece with an almost sharp texture. Eating it sucks more than peeling, I think.

No, I’m sure of it. Eating butternut squash peel sucks far more than peeling butternut squash. And I hate peeling those bastards.

So make this dish, especially if you’re alone for dinner, or just want a mostly easy one pot meal for two. It could also be good date material, if you’re impressing your date with your cooking skills. Note: in case of date, REALLY peel the squash. Your date will not be impressed with how awesomely you can chew, I’m certain. Just suck it up and peel the squash in the name of dating.

Your date WILL be impressed with how delicious a meal you can make while minimizing kitchen mess. Or you will be at least.


1 This is undoubtedly part of why side-dishes end up as the main dish so often in my house.

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