Tag : chicken
Tag : chicken
I occasionally work at a cooking school. By “occasionally,” I mean I used to work in a cooking school, but with a recent promotion (heyyyyy) I work almost exclusively on the retail floor (as a manager) at a store that contains the cooking school.
But this is a story about the cooking school.
There are tons of different classes taught in this kitchen, but the most common themes are French and Italian. It was during my first year at this store that I encountered…nay, heard of chicken piccata for the first time. Less popular this year for some reason, chicken piccata used to be the recipe du jour of the Italian-themed summer classes. I was working in the kitchen during one such class and there was an excess of the entree after the students were done, so I was able to sample a little bit.
Just one bite and I was in love. (Sorry, cardamom, but I’m a capers dude now.)
Such a simple recipe, and yet so intriguingly delicious. No wonder it was all the rage. In fact, until I attempted chicken piccata months later, following Giada’s recipe first, I had never made anything like it. The only meat I had ever seared up until that point was steak, which I always, always followed with garlic, rosemary, butter, and red wine. Never before had I dredged a piece of protein, let alone braised it in its own fat.
My first time making chicken piccata, and admittedly my second, third, and fourth times, I was not quite satisfied, but I was obsessed with figuring out how to make what I had tasted in that cooking class kitchen over the summer. I bothered chefs for advice, read every recipe on the Internet, and watched videos until I fell asleep, and I just kept making chicken piccata.
My mom’s family is from the Midwest, and if we’re talking bloodlines and ethnicity, they’re Portuguese (kind of.) They’re seven-layer-salad Midwest, Swedish meatballs Midwest (hint: I’ve finally perfected my take on Magnus Nilsson’s Swedish meatballs and you can expect a post about that in the new year.) Despite the mix of Scandinavian and Portuguese-ish heritage, it came about that when my mom’s family visits, I make Italian food. Why? The first time they visited after I moved home, I desperately wanted to perfect and show off my focaccia recipe. Subsequent visits involved attempts at chicken piccata, homemade ravioli, and recently, even chicken cacciatore. Basically, timing. Also, they always visit in the summer, which means basil and tomatoes, and thus, all things caprese.
Also also, my aunt owns a farm and an organic bed and breakfast in Spain, where she not only raises her own animals and provides her own ingredients for her B&B kitchen, but she also picks and presses her own olives. About a year and a half ago, she came to us with easily a gallon of first-press Spanish olive oil from her farm, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to make sourdough focaccia, caprese salads (with our own basil and farmer’s market tomatoes), handmade pasta, and my two new favorite chicken dishes with my aunt’s own olive oil.
Thus, in a family with only one Italian person through marriage on my dad’s side, I make Italian food for my mom’s relatives.
And if you ever visit, I’ll make some for you. But for now, here’s a simple, Italian-esque chicken recipe: chicken piccata.
If you peek around on the internet, you’ll find a few different definitions of piccata and even a few different rules about what a real chicken piccata contains, but generally, the word refers to a meat breaded and cooked in a butter sauce. With chicken, the common flavor is lemon, and the favored addition are capers. More commonly, you see veal piccata (and veal marsala, but that’s a post for another year.) With dishes made in the same way as chicken piccata, you don’t need to dredge the meat, but traditionally, piccata is made with breaded cutlets, and the flour from the meat helps indirectly thicken the sauce (like a dissembled roux.)
The most important things I’ve discovered over the past year and some months of making this recipe are:
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3~4 Tbsp canola oil or light, refined olive oil
1/4 c all-purpose flour
extra-virgin olive oil or more light olive oil, as needed
1/3 c (~3 oz) lemon juice
1/4 c (2 oz) dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot, or even white cooking wine
1/2 c (4 oz) unsalted chicken stock
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp capers, drained (NOT rinsed)
Fresh parsley, chopped coarsely, to garnish
An hour or more before you’re ready to start, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Rest the chicken on a plate or cookie sheet between paper towels to dry.
If you’re using chicken breasts, I recommend butterflying them: lay the breast flat on a cutting board, and holding a long, sharp knife with the flat side parallel to the board, slice through the meat and open it flat like a book.
It’s also worth tenderizing the chicken breasts. Chicken thighs are already thin and tender, so you can skip ahead if you’re only using thighs. Wrap the chicken breasts, butterflied or not, in plastic or parchment paper, lay on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, empty wine bottle, meat stamp, or rolling pin, roll or pound the chicken out until it becomes thinner and wider. Let the breasts rest on the paper towels to dry and warm up.
If you’re using chicken thighs, unravel them and lay them flat on the paper towels.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high. For 1 pound of meat, a skillet measuring 10 inches or wider is ideal, but you can cook the chicken in batches, so a smaller skillet or a larger recipe will work just as well.
In a shallow serving dish or plate, combine salt, pepper, and all-purpose flour and whisk with a fork.
Once the skillet has been heating for about 10-15 minutes, add a few tablespoons of canola or light olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. There are a few ways to determine when your oil is hot: if you tilt the pan and the oil runs like water (the viscosity is thin); if you tilt the pan so the oil pools on one side, and then stick the end of a wooden utensil in the pool and see bubbles like you’re deep-frying the utensil; or if the oil is starting to smoke. Additionally, you can flick a little bit of the all-purpose flour into the pan and see if it bubbles and fries.
Dredge each piece of chicken, covering it in a light coating of seasoned flour on every side, edge, and in the nooks and crannies, then gently lay the chicken in the smoking oil. If you don’t immediately hear a sizzle, turn up the heat a bit and wait a few minutes before proceeding. You can do the chicken in multiple batches: keep the raw chicken between the paper towels until you’re ready to dredge and fry it.
Sear each piece of chicken on both sides*, until nicely bronzed. Once seared on both sides, remove each piece of chicken and set aside on a clean plate or in a clean bowl. Repeat with all of the chicken.
*When searing, I use the mantra, “set it and forget it…for a few minutes.” Don’t mess with the protein! Set it gently into the hot oil, let it sizzle, and let it brown for a few minutes. The meat will stick to the pan at first, and then gradually release as it sears up. Additionally, “golden brown” is the common phrase, but darker than gold is ideal, hence “nicely bronzed.” A bronze/copper color is the way to go.
You can do both thighs and breasts simultaneously.
Once all the chicken is seared off, lower the heat on the pan to medium-low and add the extra virgin olive oil (or light olive oil.) Let the oil heat for a few minutes, then pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits along the bottom. Simmer and reduce the wine a little bit, cooking for about 10-15 minutes.
Whisk in the lemon juice and chicken stock, and let simmer and thicken for about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, wine, lemon juice, or stock. The sauce should be tart and flavorful but not purely lemon-y.
Add the chicken back to the pan, then add the butter and capers. Cover and let the chicken simmer in the sauce for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through and ready to serve. Taste occasionally for seasoning. The sauce should end up lemon-y and buttery but not painfully acidic.
Serve the chicken and sauce over pasta or on its own.
I used to be picky about meat. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it. I don’t know if I just got bored with what was on offer, or if I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet, but it was a rare meat that made me smile.
They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and that’s exactly what happened.
One week in middle school, my best friend said he didn’t believe I had the will to be a vegetarian, and that it was stupid to try. I showed him…for exactly one week. Then I caved. One meat I did like was Chinese beef, or beef in “Chinese” food. The chow fun did me in, y’all.
I was ashamed but also prideful, “I realized there was no point in being vegetarian. You were still wrong, even though I did give up. So…hah!”
Then in high school, I decided to try again, and really try. For me, it was like a challenge: could I challenge myself to expand my non-meat experiences? By eliminating “cheeseburger” from my options at restaurants, I figured it would make choosing an entree easier, something I still struggle with. I also figured it would be the healthy choice (Present Me is rolling his eyes at Teenaged Me), and that it made sense because I still wasn’t super thrilled about meat as a concept.
The first year was rocky. My family would (perhaps unintentionally, or perhaps cunningly) leave halves of Panera sandwiches that they had bought in the fridge. They would be halves of the very panini that I enjoyed the most…and I, though I probably could, would not restrain myself from sneaking bites of the chicken bacon whatever that belonged to my sister.
I was a bad vegetarian. Once, I wanted to try a friend’s nachos, which had ground beef on them. I wiped the beef off, and shrugged, “meh.” They all looked at me and said, “you’re a really bad vegetarian.”
The summer before that, I had spent a month in Ireland, gorged on bacon and Irish sausage (Irish sausage is a godsend, unless it dark and called “pudding.” That is a not-godsend.)
I was ashamed. So I doubled down and said, “no more of this nonsense!” I went to homeroom a changed dude.
For about two years after that I was a good vegetarian. I was super discerning. I was also a little nag-y, maybe (my college friends can confirm or refute.)
I once went out for Korean barbecue with friends, just because I didn’t want to be the only one not going, and ate all the pickles and condiments. And then I ate dinner when I got home. That was sort of a low, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Early on in my second year at university, when I was starting to think about studying abroad in Japan, and also just living in Japan in general, a friend convinced me to exchange my vegetarianism for pescetarianism (is there a standard spelling for that yet?!) It didn’t take a lot of convincing. Before she could even get the “sc” out of her mouth, I was all in. “Please, teach me the ways of the fish!” We went out for a sushi dinner that night.
I loved all of it. That’s huge: as much as I disliked meat, I used to like seafood even less. But that night, I was in love. The lust has since plateaued into a balanced and prominent enjoyment of seafood.
I assumed I should get into seafood because Japan, and obviously, and duh. I later discovered I was misguided: Japan loves meat. The second step towards my carnal rebirth was ramen, an unavoidable and unforgettable thing…made with pork bone broth. I caved a little more: “I’ll only eat meat if it’s in ramen. Just that one exception.”
People were, understandably, flummoxed. I survived that way for a good three years, enjoying Los Angeles’s sushi and seafood scene, getting into Korean food (I can have KBBQ now!), and paradoxically eating ramen.
Fate, however, had different plans. Not only did Japan love meat, Japanese public schools loooooooove serving meat for school lunch, and the whole “how do I maintain my pescetarianism (sp?) at school without compromising my relationship with the staff” dance was exhausting. I successfully got them to stop serving me meat at my junior high school, but my elementary school was a more difficult task, and I gave up. I decided to eat the meat, but only at school (or in ramen, or if it comes from the sea, or if I can’t see it…and so on, and so on.) One of my favorite dishes was, morbidly, orange chicken.
One evening, while enjoying my daily hazelnut latte across from the McDonald’s near my apartment, I could feel my willpower leaving my body through the foot area, and I caved one last time. I told everyone I had started eating meat again. Nearly everyone I had ever known was elated.
My heart had grown fond, but my tastebuds and stomach acids had grown lusty.
When I first started officially eating meat again, I had to take it slowly, to ease my stomach back into the process, but I was like a caffeinated baby: ready and raring to go. Once I felt like my stomach could handle the red, I went crazy. I jumped so far off of the no-meat bandwagon, I couldn’t even see the car anymore. I ate so much meat, my mom commented when I moved home, “Well, I guess you really aren’t a vegetarian/pescetarian anymore.”
And if you asked me three years ago what my favorite meat was, I would have said “chicken.” I would still say “chicken,” though steak, cooked right, is pretty damn good, too.
That’s where this bird comes in: beer braised chicken. In my quest to learn cooking techniques (poaching, braising, grilling, roasting, and so on), I found a recipe for braised chicken and immediately fell in love…with the end result, but not so much with the recipe itself. It was inordinately complicated, so over the last fifteen-ish months, I’ve simplified it a lot. It’s a franken-braise, hardly reminiscent of the original recipe at all. I don’t even remember where I found the recipe.
Braising is one of those things that feels complicated because people make it complicated. You can find multiples of dozens of braising recipes and styles and techniques and tips online. It’s enough to make your chicken thigh spin (pun.) Since starting this recipe, I’ve tried a few others (coq au vin, braised pork belly, pot roast, to name a few), and every time, I was overwhelmed by the deluge of braising styles. To make things more palatable, I like to think of braising as Six Simple Steps:
Every recipe is just a variation on this. Some recipes use starch, others don’t. Some use a lot of liquid, others only use a little. Different meats take different lengths of time to braise. Some people boil the hell out of the meat (don’t do that.) Others, smartly, don’t let it get above a simmer. Some people pour off the fat, while others (me. it’s me), love the fat. They embrace the fat. You can make gravy with the braising liquid, or serve it as is, or even serve it soupy.
beer braised chicken
2 lbs chicken breast and/or thigh with skin and bone
~4 Tbsp canola or coconut oil (for searing and sautéing)
kosher or sea salt
crushed black pepper
1 large yellow onion
1/4 lb carrots
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (or other starch, such as corn, potato, or tapioca)
1/2 a bottle of beer (dark beers, lagers, Pilsners, etc., work best, as opposed to IPAs or flavored beers.)
1 c chicken stock
1 long sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp dried rosemary)
Place chicken, skin side up, on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and cover with paper towels to dry. Let the chicken come to room temperature, sitting out of the fridge for about an hour before you’re ready to sear.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Chop carrots into thumb-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the onion.
Heat a large, wide sauté pan, braiser, or Dutch oven on medium heat for a few minutes. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the oil and heat.
Make sure the oil covers the entire bottom of the pan/pot. It’s ready when it runs as thin as water or starts to smoke. You can also test the oil by tilting the pan so the oil pools on side, and sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the pool. If it bubbles, it’s ready.
While the pot/pan and oil are heating, peel and mince the garlic cloves and set aside. Measure out and prepare the rest of the ingredients, each ingredient in its own bowl or measuring cup.
Liberally salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken, and when the oil is hot enough, gently place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Place chicken in one layer with some space in between each piece. Liberally salt and pepper the opposite side.
Flip the chicken after a few minutes, when the skin is nicely bronzed, and continue to sear the opposite side.
Remove chicken, reduce heat to low, and add another 1-2 Tbsp of oil. Set the chicken aside in a bowl, and let the oil heat.
Add the onion and carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender and fragrant, then add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until you can smell it.
Add the flour and cook for another minute or two, stirring/whisking constantly.
If you’re using dried rosemary instead of fresh, add the chopped, dried rosemary at this point and cook another minute or two.
Pour in the half bottle of beer and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the beer reduce by about half.
Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken back in, skin side up, and cover the pot/pan.
Braise/simmer for about 45 minutes, making sure the liquid doesn’t boil, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and falls apart easily.
If using fresh rosemary, mince the rosemary and add it to the chicken after about 40 minutes.
Serve the chicken with the gravy, reducing the sauce after you remove the chicken, if necessary.
See ya on the flip side,