This pan sauce frees my cooking
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In her second year For a year at college, Melissa d’Arabian studied abroad in France and lived with a visiting couple in a town in the Loire Valley. Madame Gabillet cooked dinner every night, and a common dish was fried chicken with pan gravy. “She wasn’t very extroverted,” d’Arabian recalls. “A little shy.” But as she watched her hostess cook with confidence in everyday ways, d’Arabian, now 53 and a cookbook author, began to understand that the chicken was less a recipe and more a powerful technique. It was, she guessed, “real French cuisine.”
Years later, in 2009, I was sitting on my parents’ couch in Atlanta when d’Arabian on TV cooked a dish inspired by Madame Gabillet’s chicken, which earned her the crowning glory of The Next Food Network Star’s fifth season. brought in. I was 18 and counting down the days until I might be able to deglaze a pan (and say the word “deglaze”) on TV while fighting for a shot at my own show. But what was my culinary point of view? Who was “Eric” on a plate? When I wasn’t baking crate cakes, I was practicing my presentation skills in front of the bathroom mirror.
It took me several years to realize the impact these TV shows had on my life, my taste buds, and most importantly, my cooking. “Food Network opened the door,” says d’Arabian, “and made it wider for people to come into the kitchen.” And I swung through, dusted with flour. I actually worked there years ago, albeit on the editorial staff of the website—my first food job out of college.
So many of the instincts I now possess as a chef can be attributed to shows that ran in the late 1990s and early ’90s. And there were other kids like me. We were Food Network babies, a generation that came home from school to watch cooking shows before dinner. But if I found my after-school cooking teachers in Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence, and Rachael Ray, late-night episodes of “Unwrapped” and “$40 a Day” were my bedtime ritual. When I was 13, I lit up Baked Alaskas because I saw Gale Gand do it on Sweet Dreams. (I can still hear her closing catchphrase: “And remember, there’s always room for dessert.”)
Food Network babies were scattered across the nation. Thy Ho-Pham, a 32-year-old community health and wellness manager in Houston, says hosts like Giada De Laurentiis taught her to cook beyond her parents’ Vietnamese food when she was a kid in New Orleans. But Iron Chef was the show that got her hooked. An episode of the English-dubbed Japanese competition show made her realize that people outside of her immigrant family ate squid. “Squid was glorified as a delicacy,” she says, “while I remember my school friends made faces of disgust when I told them I ate squid.”
It took me several years to realize the impact it had on my life, on my taste buds and most importantly on my cooking.
Andrea Solorzano, who is now a software engineer, was a 12-year-old in Houston when she watched a late-night episode of “Good Eats,” in which Alton Brown explains the science of making the perfect omelet. The next morning, Solorzano made an omelette for her mother, using everything she had learned the night before – her first attempt at cooking. Maximilíano Durón grew up in Los Angeles and loved watching Sunny Anderson because, he says, she was one of the few black people at the time to have an afternoon show. “Their interstate chili was one of the first recipes I ever tried to make myself,” says Durón, editor at ARTnews, “and it really taught me how to build flavor.” A complex-flavored chuck-and-chorizo chili , the recipe calls for 26 ingredients. Durón asked for a Dutch oven that Christmas.
Watching these shows now reminds me how much slower cooking programs used to be, the antithesis of the flashy antics of today’s YouTube videos or the sped-up ephemera of TikTok. A host would go to the pantry, take out an onion, cut the onion, and peel the onion, all in real time with minimal slicing; Today’s food videos and TV shows cut all of that out. D’Arabian says she is nostalgic for the old style of cooking show, which was all about teaching the audience how to cook. “The information is kind of still out there,” she says. “What it isn’t is a relaxing, fast-paced 22-minute show on a network.”
For those moments when you want to slow down, Madame Gabillet’s Chicken is a good place to start. I first made it after watching d’Arabian’s big Food Network Star win years ago, but it was the day I loved the chicken breasts vs. trout, the lemons vs. limes, and the combination of white wine and Swapped chicken broth for white wine that I realized the power of this pan sauce. It freed me from a culinary point of view.
D’Arabian likes to joke that Madame Gabillet’s chicken is less about the chicken and more about the process. It’s true that you can use any protein. It could be tofu or a piece of fish, or you could use a vegetable — something that benefits from the hard searing of a dry pan, like Brussels sprouts. Ivory scallops acquire an almost butterscotch-like crust when seared in a hot pan and taste like sea slippery in burnt sugar.
The next part is crucial and most satisfying, not least because I get to say the word “deglaze”: deglaze the pan. Squirt in some liquid and scrape off the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Simmer the liquid until reduced, then stir in cold butter over the heat off for a velvety emulsion — a pan sauce with panache and real cooking.
Recipe: Seared scallops with glazed Brussels sprouts
Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro.