I have learned a lot along the way about recovering from penalties and almost all of the time I had to find the information myself as Webmaster Central was packed full of angry Contributors and mid level people sick of answering questions to whining people that had made mistakes. Granted there are lots of people that seem to have also tried to manipulate the system. But there were genuine people like myself who needed help and were confronted with very rude people who really did not know what they were talking about either.
Important things to know
Matt Cutts comes out with a lot of information that is not correct and can waste enormous amounts of your time. There are clear examples of this across this website. I have no reason to think that he is lying, but I think he is given lots of information that is simply miscommunicated. He is a messenger not a hands on developer.
Google+ Hangouts are the greatest hidden secret to recovering from a penalty, people like John Mueller make it possible to recover by hosting these question times most Mondays and Fridays.
Reconsideration Requests are for manual penalties, not Panda & Penguin penalties & devaluations.
Webmaster Central is likely to be a unpleasent experience, do not take anything they have to say too seriously as they are NOT Google employees, they do not have the facts, just what they have learnt and are learning along the way. Some people on there can be incredibly helpful and spend hours of their own personal time to help which really is a nice thing.
Over the next few days/weeks I will be adding information that will be crucial to recovering from penalties, if you follow them you WILL have a very high percentage chance of recovery!