- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Gordon Hamersley is a practical romantic.As chef-owner of the popular Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston, he oversees the annual ritual of Valentine’s Day dinners at the restaurant. As a husband of 25 years, though, he also knows that an intimate meal at home can be equally pleasurable — provided couples don’t get carried away.

“On Valentine’s Day, you know the pressure is tough enough without adding culinary pressure,” Mr. Hamersley says.

To maintain an intimate mood that’s not disrupted by stress, he recommends buying high-quality ingredients and keeping the menu simple.

“Don’t do too much. Think of balance,” says Mr. Hamersley, author of “Bistro Cooking at Home” (Broadway Books). He suggests salad greens for a first course, followed by roast chicken and a rustic fruit tart for dessert.

If you feel confident about handling the cooking basics, you can dress up the dishes. For example, Mr. Hamersley suggests preparing crostini, bite-size pieces of toast topped with flavorings, as a salad garnish.

Split roast chicken with herbed butter

Herbed butter (recipe follows)

1 2- to 3-pound chicken

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 shallot, finely chopped

cup medium to dry sherry

1 cup chicken broth

Prepare herbed butter; chill until firm.

Place chicken, breast side down, on cutting board. Using poultry shears, cut through ribs on either side of backbone; remove bone. Turn chicken over and flatten by pressing down on the breastbone until you hear it snap. Beginning at the wing end of one side of the breast, insert your fingers between skin and breast meat and carefully loosen the skin from the breast. Loosen skin over the thighs, if possible. Slice herbed butter into disks and push between skin and meat where you made the space.

Rub skin side of chicken with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Turn chicken over, and season it again with a little salt and pepper.

Place chicken, skin side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Add cup water to pan. Roast in 425-degree oven for 50 to 55 minutes (see note) or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife and thigh registers 160 to 170 degrees on meat thermometer. Remove chicken from pan and let rest in warm place for 5 to 10 minutes while preparing sauce.

Pour off accumulated fat in roasting pan. Add shallot to roasting pan and cook over medium heat on stove, stirring, 1 minute. Add sherry and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping pan with wooden spoon to release browned bits. Add broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium, and reduce sauce by half, about 10 minutes. Stir in additional butter, if desired, to make a velvety sauce. To serve, cut chicken in half lengthwise down the breastbone. Cut each half into 2 or 4 pieces; serve with sauce on the side. Makes 2 servings.

HERBED BUTTER:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 garlic cloves, minced

teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

In a small bowl, mash together butter, garlic, salt, thyme and rosemary until blended. Place on sheet of plastic wrap. Shape into a log. Cover and refrigerate until firm.

Note: In testing Mr. Hamersley’s recipe, the chicken was done in 40 minutes. Check at that point, then every few minutes, if necessary.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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