People often ask what my most-used kitchen tool is (a high-speed blender). But if you were to ask my mom that same question 30 years ago, I am sure she would have answered her Pyrex baking dish.
When I was growing up, probably 75 percent of my meals were made in that thing. Baked fish. Baked chicken. Baked pasta. Baked rice casserole.
Baked dinner figured big in my childhood. As I got older and moved into my own apartment, I wondered why my mom didn't explore other techniques a little more. She could have been searing that fish. And why not saute that chicken?
Now that I'm a mom, I understand the appeal of baked dishes. Baked stuff is easy. And as a mom of four busy girls, I need something easy to make on a Tuesday night, because between dance class and lacrosse practice, I only have a short window during which to make dinner happen. And since the healthiest dinners are the ones we make ourselves, baked chicken is on frequent repeat in my family meal repertoire.
But I've learned a few lessons during the past 40 years, improving significantly upon Mom's version.
First, I use bone-in dark meat chicken. This widens the window of cooking time forgiveness. Plus, dark meat chicken has more flavor, and the little extra fat means it's more filling. Second, I go heavy with the aromatics.
Upgrading from white wine to vermouth also is a great flavor-booster. Lastly, I start the chicken with just enough of a saute to get a tasty, golden crust.