4 Cooking Secrets from Peter Woolsey, Chef/Owner of Bistrot La Minette

If life doesn't give you lemons, substitute oranges instead.

That's a secret I learned from Chef Peter Woolsey when he cooked his easy Chicken Catalan for my Chef Secrets for Home Cooks series.

In other words:  professional chefs regard recipe ingredients differently than you and I.  Whereas I think of an ingredient as an item on a shopping list, chefs look at in terms of the element it brings to the dish. So when, moments before filming began, Peter discovered his restaurant's produce order had not arrived and no lemons (an item prominent in Chicken Catalan) were on hand, he quickly and confidently substituted an orange.  This gave the finished dish the bright fresh citrus note it needed, and also added an unexpected and delightful flavor, one that lingers on my tongue months after I first tasted it.

In a similar way, as he constructed the dish Peter explained that while it calls for bacon, you could use ham; it calls for chicken stock but you could use water and bouillion cube.  The cooking requirements for this 1-pan, 1-pot meal were loose as well:  it needs to simmer 45 minutes but could go as long as 90, at which point the chicken would melt off the bone.  Not a bad thing.

Chicken Catalan did require a few essential steps.  For those you'll have to watch the video.  But I will share a few more of Peter's Chef Secrets here:

4 Cooking Secrets from Chef Peter Woolsey:

  1. Understand what element an ingredient brings to a dish
  2. then, Substitute confidently
  3. Don't be shy with seasoning Peter seasoned the chicken with what to me was a surprising dose of salt.  Yet the result did not taste salty.  That salt helped the chicken sear well, and flavored the entire pot.
  4. Use the peel As a home cook, if I thought a recipe needed citrus flavor I would have squirted some juice in at the end.  Instead, Peter used the peel.  The essence of the citrus came through so wonderfully in the finished dish, with no harsh acid flavor, and all from a part of the orange I would have thrown away.

Photos by Doreen Creede.  For more on Peter Woolsey, Bistrot La Minette and the delectable dish, read the previous post "Chef Peter Woolsey's Chicken Catalan" and view Episode 2 of Chef Secrets for Home Cooks on Style Maniac's YouTube channel.

"Use the good china for breakfast."