At home with: Chef Derik Watson

MAY 15, 2014 | Detroit News

As the executive chef of the recently opened Bistro 82 in Royal Oak, Derik Watson spends from 12 to 15 hours a day working at the restaurant.

“So when it comes to my home cooking, finding the time to do it is the hardest part,” he says.

Yet the chef still manages to prepare meals at home once or twice a week for his fiancée, Tara, and their two daughters, Marley, 4, and Adria, 2. (By the way, Adria was named after iconic Spanish chef Ferran Adria, owner of the world-renowned El Bulli restaurant, which recently closed in Spain.)

“I cook simple at home,” he says. “I don’t do a lot of spices or marinades. What I do is season properly with kosher salt, white pepper, use a nice Spanish olive oil and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Each of those is featured in the Roasted Airline Chicken Breast with Haricots Verts and Potato Mousseline he shared with us here, along with gentle herbs and wine to highlight the dish.

Though he doesn’t recall cooking growing up, Watson says he started reading cookbooks from the age of 8 or 9 and that his mother recalls that whenever on vacation, he would always order something crazy.

“I had an adventurous palate from a very young age. And I always knew I wanted to be in the restaurant industry. So as soon as I could get a permit, I worked at a Kroger store, first bagging groceries, then stocking shelves and eventually slicing meats in the deli,” he says.

Then, in 1999, while busing, serving and doing a little cooking for a few local restaurants, Watson discovered “The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller, the chef and proprietor of the revered French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley, California.

“That book really opened my eyes to what was out there and sparked a search to find that kind of refined contemporary cuisine that just wasn’t available in this area,” he says.

So, that same year, at the age of 19, Watson moved to Florida to attend The International Culinary School of the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and to work at the Himmarshee Bar and Grill, “a hip and happening place that kicked off my serious culinary career,” he says.

Since leaving Florida in 2001, Watson has worked at several prestigious restaurants including (in the Metro Detroit area) the now-closed Tribute (where he started off making hot appetizers and ended up as executive sous chef under Takashi Yagihashi) and at MotorCity Casino Hotel’s Iridescence, where he was chef Don Yamauchi’s chef de cuisine.

The Detroit native says he first had this airline chicken recipe at the Himmarshee Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, but has made some changes.

“The restaurant’s sauce for the chicken was made from a classic stock reduction that they would continue to use for several days,” he says. “But, instead, I do a classic pan sauce that is made with an oaky Chardonnay, pan drippings, fresh shallots, garlic and thyme.”

Another difference? Watson uses a small-batch process.

“When you’re cooking in a restaurant that feeds a lot of people and has a limited staff, for convenience you would put your potatoes in a mixer. But that overworks the starch and makes the potatoes gummy, while at home you have the luxury of producing small batches (using a ricer), which result in a silkier, smoother texture,” he says.

To complete the meal, Watson suggests serving the chicken, green beans and potatoes along with the same Chardonnay wine you use in the recipe. But when it comes to dessert, “I would probably take the kids out for ice cream, most likely to Ray’s Ice Cream in Royal Oak,” he says.

Roasted Airline Chicken Breast with Haricots Verts and Potato Mousseline

An airline chicken breast is a breast that has the front portion of the wing left in. They can be special-ordered from Papa Joe’s Gourmet Market or from Westborn Market. Or you can use regular chicken breasts instead.

3 large Yukon Gold potatoes
1 pound fresh green beans or fresh haricots verts (French-style green beans)
2 whole airline or regular skin-on chicken breasts
1 ounce vegetable or olive oil
4 peeled garlic cloves, divided (2 left whole, 2 minced)
8 fresh thyme sprigs
8 ounces of unsalted butter, divided
4 ounces of heavy cream, divided
1 shallot (minced)
2 ounces Chardonnay wine
1 tablespoon of Italian flat leaf parsley (chopped fine)
Juice from ¼ lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper (divided, to taste)

Peel the Yukon potatoes and place in a pot of water with a heavy pinch of kosher salt and boil over high heat until fork tender. (If they finish before the chicken is in the oven, you can drain and set them aside.)

Place another medium size pot of water on high heat and season with a heavy pinch of kosher salt. Meanwhile, trim the stem ends of the green beans.

Once the water has come to a rapid boil, place the beans in the water and cook until tender, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and place in a bowl to stop the cooking process. Remove and reserve.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and freshly ground white pepper. In a medium-size skillet, add the vegetable oil and turn heat to medium high. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken breasts skin side down in the skillet and cook for approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Once golden brown, flip the chicken breasts over and cook for 1 minute. Then flip the chicken back to the skin side, add the two whole cloves of garlic, the thyme sprigs and two ounces of butter and place in a 400 degree oven. Cook for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, making sure the chicken is cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the potato mousseline. Return the drained potatoes back to the pot. Cook over low heat to dry the potatoes slightly. Then add the potatoes to a potato ricer and add 4 ounces of butter (cut into cubes and still slightly chilled). Rice the potatoes into a clean pot and add 3 ounces of heavy cream. Season with kosher salt and ground white pepper to taste.

Remove the chicken from the oven, flip the breasts onto a plate and allow them to rest skin side up. Remove the thyme sprigs and whole garlic cloves from the pan and discard. Add the minced garlic and minced shallots to that same pan along with the wine. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove any particles left from the chicken. Add the remaining 1 ounce of heavy cream and bring to a boil. Then add the beans to the pan along with the remaining butter and the chopped parsley. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Serves 3.

Per serving: 1,281 calories; 95 g fat (50 g saturated fat; 67 percent calories from fat); 64 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 320 mg cholesterol; 294 mg sodium; 45 g protein; 9 g fiber.

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