One chicken. Two people. Three gourmet meals.

FEAST: Cheap, easy recipes from star chefs
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Alice Waters, Gary Danko, and Traci Des Jardins
Waters photo by David Liittschwager

culture@sfbg.com

It's hard enough to eat well when the economy's good, when time and commitments and plain old laziness getting in the way. But when there's hardly enough money in your wallet for Cup O' Noodle and a Coors Light, cooking gourmet food can seem damn near impossible. But fear not, Bay Area penny-pinchers. With only one chicken, a few additional simple ingredients, and some time, you can make three whole meals for two people.

But how? That's exactly what I asked three Bay Area star chefs — Alice Waters, Gary Danko, and Traci Des Jardins. I challenged each of these SF heavy-hitters to come up with one mouthwatering, gourmet meal for two people using only one-third of a chicken plus a few low-cost ingredients.

And oh, how they delivered! Alice Waters offered a recipe for chicken breasts, Gary Danko turned in a chicken leg recipe, and Traci Des Jardin thought up a delicious soup, made from the previous the leftover chicken bones of the two previous meals.

Below are their simple, savory recipes. (But first, some advice from Danko: When you're planning to make a few meals out of a whole chicken, always eat the breast first. The longer the breast is refrigerated, the more it will dry out. The legs, on the other hand, will retain their moisture and flavor even after refrigeration and reheating.)

ALICE WATERS' CHICKEN BREASTS ESCOFFIER

1 whole large chicken breast, about 3/4 pound

salt and pepper to taste

12 tablespoons clarified unsalted butter

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs

1/2 box cherry tomatoes

Skin and bone the chicken breast, and cut it in half. Remove the tendons and any fat from the two single breasts. Salt and pepper the breasts and fold the tenderloins to the side of each breast so the meat is evenly thick.

Dip the breasts in a flat dish with 6 tablespoons of the clarified butter to coat both sides. Pat the breasts in the bread crumbs to form a crust. Let the breasts stand for 10 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons clarified butter in a heavy cast-iron pan over medium heat. When the butter is hot, put the breasts in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sauté gently for 5 minutes, turn, and sauté on the other side for 5 minutes. The crust should be a rich golden brown.

Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons clarified butter in a small saucepan. Put the chicken breast on two warm serving places and pour some of the butter over each chicken breast. Serve with briefly sautéed cherry tomatoes.

GARY DANKO'S BAKED MUSTARD CHICKEN LEGS

2 chicken legs, thigh and drumstick attached (depending on the size of the chicken, you may need two more)

1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs or panko

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon chopped tarragon, optional

(you may substitute 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs with 1/4 cups chopped nuts of choice)

Trim excess skin from thigh end of chicken. On parchment paper, combine breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the mustard on chicken legs. Coat legs with the breadcrumb mixture. Place single layer on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until completely cooked.

This dish may be served hot or cold.

TRACI DES JARDINS' CHICKEN STOCK AND CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP

Chicken Stock

leftover chicken bones

1/2 cup each chopped carrot, onion, celery

1 sprig thyme

Pick off and set aside any remaining morsels of meat from the bones, place the bones and skin into a pot, and barely cover with water. Add carrot, celery, onion, thyme, and cook at a simmer for about 3 hours. Keep adding small amounts of water as necessary to keep the level just above the bones.

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