Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pan-Seared Chicken Breast

The game of Chicken is one of very high stakes. Two cars hurdle towards each other at high speed while straddling the white line in the middle of the road. There is no win/win in the game of Chicken. If both cars swerve, both cars lose. If both cars crash, both cars lose. If car A swerves but car B does not, you have a lose/win scenario. If car A does not swerve but car B does, you have a win/lose scenario. The game of Chicken makes for a fascinating study of game theory. Conflict or choose.

I believed that the game of Chicken had only those four outcomes. I believed that until the spring of 1987, when I actually saw a game of Chicken that had a win/win scenario. Here's how it went down. I was working at an ad agency called Bozell at the time. We were about to record a voice over for a new TV commercial we had just shot. We were at the recording studio, the talent walked in and we recorded his first take.

The guy absolutely nailed it on his first try. Normally, you do a bucket load of takes and then piece together the best performance of each individual sentence into the final voice over. But this talent was extraordinary and crushed it like the pro he was. We looked around, everyone agreed we had it...and we called it a day.

We were quite pleased with ourselves as we returned to our offices. We had the voice over on cassette and sent a messenger with the tape in hand to bring it to our client for approval. A short while later we got the call. The client did not like the voice over we sent them. They asked that we send them the outtakes so that they could pick out a version they liked better. Well, now we were really screwed as we only had the one take. If we had to book a recording studio again and bring the talent back in, we were looking at a $10,000 tab that we would have to pick up.

Then our Executive Producer had a brainstorm. He took the one take we had and dubbed it to a cassette ten times. So when the client got the cassette it would look like ten different takes, but in fact it was just a single recording repeated ten times. The tape was sent off to the client and we waited nervously to hear their verdict. The call came just a bit later. They liked takes #2, #3 and #7. They felt those three were the best and we could simply select any one of those for the TV spot. And thus I witnessed my first game of Chicken that had a win/win scenario. Conflict AND conciliation.

Pan-seared chicken breast introduces us to the study of cooking theory. If you pan-sear a skinless, boneless chicken breast, you end up with a dry piece of meat with not much flavor. If you pan-sear a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, you will never get the middle of the meat to cook because of the unwieldy shape. So the solution is actually quite simple. You want a skin-on chicken breast so you can crisp up the skin and take advantage of that spectacular flavor. And we will simply remove the bone and pound the breast flat so that it cooks uniformly in the pan. This recipe serves four.

4 small skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Wondra or all-purpose flour (for dusting)
3 tablespoons clarified butter*


  1. Preheat oven to 400ยบ and put a cast iron or steel pan in the oven. 
  2. Using a thin, flexible knife, cut chicken breasts away from bone, leaving skin intact.
  3. Place chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap (or in a gallon freezer bag) and using a mallet or heavy skillet, pound chicken until each piece is a uniform 1/4" thick.
  4. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dust with flour and shake off excess.
  5. Remove pan from oven and place on burner over medium-high heat. Melt clarified butter in pan. When butter begins to shimmer, place chicken in pan, skin side down. Cook for 6 minutes until skin is brown.
  6. Transfer pan to oven and cook for 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven and turn chicken breasts over in pan (skin side up). Let chicken breasts rest in pan for 1 minute.
  7. Transfer chicken to serving plates and let rest for 5 minutes. Then serve.

*Clarified butter does not burn, which makes it perfect for this high-heat sear. You can find it at most grocery stores or online:

Wine pairing: A nice oaky Chardonnay

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pan-Seared Pork Chops

Pan-searing is my very favorite way to cook a steak. Talk about easy. All you need is a good cast iron pan, five minutes on the stove top, eight minutes in the oven and you have a steak that rivals anything you can buy at Smith & Wollensky. I eat pan-seared steak at least once a week and I am a much better person for it.

So I've taken my love of pan-searing and am expanding on it. Last night I made pan-seared pork chops for my son Sean and I. What a great meal...pan-seared pork chops, garlic hash browns and a Caesar salad made from scratch.

For pan-searing, a steak needs no extra attention. Not so for pork. Today's pork ("The Other White Meat"...thank you Bert) is very lean and can dry out quickly when pan-seared. Accordingly, we are going to brine our chops before pan-searing them so that they turn out moist and delicious...just like the one in the picture you see above.

Now a word about the pan you are going to use. I prefer cast iron as no other metal holds heat like cast iron. Cast iron goes from stove top to oven without breaking a sweat and it is completely non-stick. If you don't have one, a good steel pan will do. Do not, under any circumstances, use a coated non-stick pan. You can't get a good sear with a coated non-stick pan. This recipe serves four.

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup table salt
10 garlic cloves, crushed
4 bay leaves
8 whole cloves
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, crushed
4 bone-in rib loin pork chops, 12 ounces each, 1 1/2  to 2 inches thick
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. In gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag, dissolve sugar and salt in 2 cups hot water. Add garlic, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and 4 cups cold water; cool mixture to room temperature. Add pork chops, then seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible; refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 1 hour, turning bag once. Remove chops from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. 
  2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, place cast iron pan on oven rack, and heat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. When oven reaches 450 degrees, wait five minutes, then remove pan and place on burner over high heat (yes, you'll need an oven mitt, you frigtard). Add oil and heat until shimmering, but not smoking.
  4. Place pork chops in pan and cook for 4 minutes without touching pork chops.
  5. After 4 minutes, flip pork chops and slide pan into oven. Cook for 8 minutes.
  6. Remove pan from oven and remove chops from pan. Tent chops with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Divide among serving plates and enjoy!

Wine pairing: A nice fruity Zinfandel

Bert Gardner, my Bozell co-worker who
created the line "Pork. The Other White Meat."
RIP, Bert.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Slow Cooker Buffalo Wings

I am blessed with a small group of really good friends. Most of them are from my school days, from elementary school through college. One of my closest friends is Scott Drill...we go all the way back to 3rd grade.

Scott is an amazing individual. Former Minnesota State Wrestling Champion. Harvard degree in economics plus an MBA in the same. Successful entrepreneur. Longtime CEO of two Minnesota companies. World-class poker player, aided considerably by a photographic memory and a knack for numbers like you have never seen. (After winning one tournament, he was given $64,000 in cash. He threw it in a paper bag, plopped it in his trunk and made the two-hour drive home...which I am reasonably certain is not a safety protocol they taught him at Harvard.) And to top it off, he looks like Glen Campbell's little brother.

But like all people, Scott has faults. While they are numerous, I would like to spend a moment on the most egregious one. Scott's biggest fault is that he likes telling jokes. All kinds of jokes. While some are funny, it is incredibly painful listening to him tell a joke. It takes him for frigging ever to tell a joke. Why? He finds his jokes so incredibly funny that he has to pause every ten seconds to laugh at just how funny he is. Let me give you an example. Here's one of Scott's favorite jokes, one he latched onto back in the early 70's:

Two guys are walking down the street when they
come across a giant, male German Shepherd lying in the
middle of the road, licking his privates in earnest. The 
first guy turns to the other and says "Gee, I wish I could 
do that". His friend turns to him and says "You better
 pat him on the head first. He looks kind of mean". 

Now I like that joke. It's quite funny when it is told quickly....a good joke teller could execute that joke in less than ten seconds. The problem with Scott is that he stretches that joke out to about five minutes. He finds it so incredibly funny that he keeps breaking into fits of uncontrollable laughter after just a few words. This laughter goes on for so long that Scott feels compelled to start the joke over from the beginning. So every time he starts to tell a joke, I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I'm caught in an excruciating time loop, one that unfolds in slow motion, torturing me beyond belief.

I have spoken to his wife about this ad nauseam. While she agrees with me, she has been powerless to reign him in. And the real problem is if we are out in a group and someone laughs at one of his jokes, he feels compelled to share his entire repertoire. That is my idea of a slow and painful death.

If Scott were a cook, his kitchen would be incredibly simple. How complex does it need to be if the cook only has two speeds...."slow" and "stop"? If I were designing a kitchen for Scott, it would only need to be about four square feet. And there would only be two things in that kitchen: a sink and a slow cooker. Just as he does with his joke telling, all of his meals would be done low and slow.

So for Scott's first day in his new kitchen, I am going to teach him how to make Buffalo Wings the slow way. Thanks to the slow cooker, we're going to end up with incredibly juicy and tender wings with a fiery, crisp outer coating. And I must pause here to make a very important point. For the hot sauce, I emphatically recommend "Frank's RedHot". Frank's has a mellow heat and incredibly deep won't scorch the oral cavity of those you love and cherish.

6 tablespoons butter
1 cup Frank's RedHot (or other hot sauce)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne paper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 pounds chicken wings
Vegetable oil spray

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in hot sauce, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and vinegar. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to slow cooker: reserve remaining sauce.
  2. Mix paprika, chili powder, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Add chicken wings to bowl and toss wings so that they are coated with the mixture.
  3. Transfer wings to slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
  4. Position oven rack 10 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place wire rack in aluminum-foil lined baking rack and coat with vegetable spray. Transfer wings to baking rack.
  5. Brush wings with reserved sauce and broil until lightly charred and crisp, 10-15 minutes. Flip wings, brush with remaining reserved sauce until charred and crisp on the other side, about 5-10 minutes. Serve.

Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc or an ice-cold Pilsner

Scott Drill

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Garlic Shrimp with Peanut-Lime Marinade

I have been remiss in my blogging. While I wanted to keep posting about my cooking, I am involved in a somewhat messy divorce that has become distracting.

Last spring, it became apparent that only one of us still embraced our marriage vows. The day after Thanksgiving, my wife moved out to pursue other interests. The boys and I are adjusting well to the bachelor life. So while I still get my daily joy out of cooking for a crowd, it's just a little smaller but, thankfully, much more loyal crowd.

This past week, Patrick turned 16. He scored 98 points out of 100 on his drivers test and is experiencing the ecstasy of wheels and freedom. I remember the that day that I got my license in 1968 like it was yesterday. My mom handed me the keys to the family's 1968 Cutlass Supreme and I drove to the Hub Shopping Center in Richfield to buy myself a new pair of white golfing shoes. There's no cure for bad taste when you are 16.

Sean, who turns 18 in February, has been driving for almost 2 years. Our poodle, Zorro, who faithfully monitors the front driveway, watches silently as Sean comes and goes. He's used to Sean and his Audi heading off to school, CrossFit and to visit his friends. But Zorro is not used to seeing Patrick drive up in his Rav 4. Zorro barks like a crazy man every time Patrick arrives home and parks in his garage stall.  I go to the door to see what all of the ruckus is about, and even I am startled to see the baby of the family flying solo behind the wheel of his truck.

As is tradition in the Gruggen household, on your birthday you get to pick any dinner you want and Dad prepares it to the birthday boy's exacting specifications. Patrick has never met a carb he does not love. Accordingly, he ordered up "Fried Pasta" for his birthday. While this is indeed a delicious meal, it is not what one would call a healthy meal.

I spend 5 days a week doing Wendler Strength Training and CrossFit. Thanks to Damian Hirtz, I've lost 35 pounds. I weigh 175 pounds....exactly the same weight I was as a college freshman. I am fanatical about eating Paleo, but when it comes to Patrick's birthday, I sucked it up and wolfed down the Fried Pasta. So for my penance, I am offering up this delicious shrimp recipe.

Shrimp is a remarkable food, extremely high in protein and very low in fat. So you can eat this meal day in and day out, knowing full well that it is contributing to growing your muscle mass. This recipe from Jamie Purviance can be executed in less than 30 minutes and serves 4-6 adults.

Marinade Ingredients
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted peanuts
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Shrimp Ingredients
 1 1/2 pounds fresh shrimp (21/30 count)
1 lime, cut into wedges


  1. In a food processor combine the marinade ingredients. Process until fairly smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. Pour into a medium, nonreactive bowl. Add the shrimp and turn to coat. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 20 minutes but no longer than 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
  3. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the shrimp with the lid closed, until the shrimp are firm to the touch, lightly charred, and just turning opaque in the center, 2 to 4 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and serve right away with a squeeze of lime.

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc