Life used to be so sweet and we didn’t even know it then. Before the recession (which one?). Before the newspaper industry took a nosedive. Back when there was such a thing as an expense account. Which is how I got acquainted with a sassy little dish at Merchant’s restaurant in Nashville called Five Pepper Chicken.
Merchant’s was actually in the middle rung of the expense account ladder. At the tippy top was The Wild Boar, sadly no longer with us. Dinner at The Wild Boar took a minimum of four hours and cost, oh, approximately $500 for a party of four – excluding wine (which was never excluded). Of course, I never paid that. Our kindly Uncle Gan Nett took care of the bill. He had deep pockets back in the day. He once rented out the entire property of Blackberry Farm, a very pricy resort in East Tennessee, for a management retreat. At which, of course, nothing was accomplished but at which we could fish for our own trout in their stocked pond and have them served to us for breakfast. Oh, yes. Those were the days.
Most of the luxury dinners involved job candidates. In the hinterlands, Uncle Gan Nett squeezed every nickel from the poor wretches who toiled in the shabby small-town newsrooms. But should they get a call from the Mother Ship for a job interview, they saw the promised land – complete with an expensive bottle of French wine and jumbo crab claws.
Even with all the filet mignon, lobster tails and truffle-studded mashed potatoes, my favorite expense account meal was the Five Pepper Chicken at Merchant’s. The chicken was studded with a combination of sweet and fiery peppers and bathed in a luxurious lemon cream sauce. It never occurred to me to ask for the recipe because A. I assumed my expense account joy ride would last forever and B. I thought they would never take it off the menu.
I was wrong on both counts. So I have recreated it here. But it’s not exact. I am missing a pepper and I can’t figure out which one. So here is my four pepper version of Five Pepper Chicken. It’s still utterly delicious and even I can afford to make it.
- 4 chicken breasts
- BBQ rub
- Vegetable oil
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- ⅓ cup chicken stock
- 8 ounces heavy cream
- Juice of one lemon
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Trim the chicken breasts of any fat and season them with the BBQ rub (use your favorite). Heat the vegetable oil on medium high in a large heavy skillet and sauté the chicken breasts on both sides until browned and cooked through (160 degrees internal temperature using a digital probe thermometer). Reserve.
- Slice the four peppers into thin strips, removing the seeds and veins. Add a little more oil to the pan and add the peppers. Saute over medium heat until they are tender and beginning to brown. Reserve.
- Add the chicken stock to the skillet and boil, reducing it by half. Add the cream and continue to boil until the sauce is reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly. Add the chicken and peppers back to the pan to warm them through and serve.