Monday: Leftover Chicken and Roast Potatoes with Lucali Salad
Tuesday: Pasta alla Amatriciana, Raspberry-Blueberry Crostata
Wednesday: Chicken Paillard, Broccoli
Thursday: Calabrian Tomato Soup with Cheese Toast
Friday: Crispy-Skinned Salmon
Saturday: Margherita Pizza, Salad
Sunday: Chicken Chili with Corn Chips, Cheddar and Sour Cream
I know that I am often a little too quick to display my knowledge and my vocabulary. But you cannot accuse me of thinking I’m too smart to learn anything.
Over the past twenty years, among other things, I have spent time learning languages, studying the history of philosophy, developing a terrible game of golf and learning how to cook. And I’m still doing all of these things.
And for anyone driven by the same ambition (or demons), let me suggest two excellent resources: The Great Courses Plus (available on-line and via smart tv) and Master Class (available on-line). There are a variety of courses offered on both of these apps from philosophy to history to journalism to math to acting. But, since this is a food blog, I’ll name just two. Master Class offers two series of courses by Thomas Keller, and both are worth the price of admission. Keller is a great teacher, but he also a virtuoso, so don’t imagine that you can do what he does without a lot of practice. The Great Courses Plus offers Bill Briwa, from the CIA at Greystone in Napa walking you through the various cuisines of the Mediterranean (“Mediterranean Cooking”). Again, you’ll need some practice. In both courses, each lesson is built around wonderful recipes that you’ll want to cook.
And I’m sending you back to school to learn one of those recipes. It involves your standard chicken breast served with some arugula, and a simple sauce of fresh tomatoes. I know, that sounds boring. But the technique which Thomas Keller uses to cook this chicken gives it a crispy crust that will, I promise, make it one of your favorites.
Please note – this is real cooking, involving preparing everything you’ll need in advance, paying a lot of attention to what is happening in various pots and pans, and calling for a little manual dexterity and a small amount of courage in dealing with hot oil. But not to worry – anyone who can tie shoelaces can handle this with a little care.
(adapted, very slightly, from Thomas Keller, Master Class)
As you read through this, it will seem like there are a lot of moving parts, but the recipes are simple and the centerpiece, the chicken, takes under 20 minutes to prepare and cook. Pickling the onions is simple, though it must be done ahead of time so that they can be cooled. You can make the arugula salad in your sleep. And the fresh tomato dressing takes just a few minutes.
Timing: 20 minutes to cook the chicken, 2 minutes to dress the arugula*
*Pickle the onions by noon of the same day you cook this – or a week before
Ingredients: Serves 2
(you can add any number of servings – add 10 minutes to cook each set of two half-breasts)
For the chicken
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast (you will cut this apart to get two half-breasts) Note: you may find some extra fat or some cartilage and sinew that you’ll want to trim from each half-breast.
For the Arugula Salad
Arugula (we used a salad of mixed greens – GE was out of arugula!)
Pickled Red Onions (recipe, below)
Marcona Almonds (I simply toasted some slivered almonds)
For the Tomato Dressing (Sauce Vierge)
Tomatoes, peeled, cored and diced (you could use well-drained, diced tomatoes from a can)
1 shallot, minced
Balsamic vinegar or Lemon juice
For the Pickled Red Onions
Red Onions, sliced
White wine vinegar (you could substitute any vinegar you like)
I’m going to give you the recipes in the order you should prepare them, with the Chicken Paillard last, since you’ll want to have everything else ready.
Make the pickled red onions:
Slice the onions – I like them between 1/8 – 1/4 inch – and place in a jar (an old pickle jar which you’ve rinsed out is perfect). For the onions in one 16 oz. jar use 2 cups of water and 1 cup each of sugar and vinegar.
You can multiply the recipe to infinity – but always use 2 parts water to 1 part each of sugar and vinegar. Combine these in a saucepot and bring to a simmer. Once all of the sugar has dissolved (you can help this process by whisking), pour the hot pickling liquid over the red onions to submerge them and cap the jar. Put the jar in a bowl or pan and run cold water over it, if you are pickling the onions the same day as you plan to cook the chicken, since you need to cool them down and then to refrigerate and cool them. If you’re cooking a day or week ahead, simply let the jar cool and then refrigerate.
Make the Tomato Dressing (Sauce Vierge)
For two half-breasts:
4 Roma Tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and diced or the equivalent of ripe standard tomatoes, peeled and cored.
(Note: to peel a tomato easily, bring a pot of water to a boil, slice an “X” into the non-stem end of each tomato and drop into the boiling water and turn off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, take the tomatoes out of the water in a few seconds, run them under cold water until they cool a bit, and then peel.)
Place the tomatoes and shallots in a mixing bowl and coat with olive oil (enough to soak the tomatoes).
Sprinkle with Maldon salt and add a drop of balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Mix gently. You’re finished.
Make the Arugula Salad
You can wait to do this, until you’ve cooked the chicken.
Lightly dress the arugula with olive oil – just enough to put a sheen on all the leaves. Toss. Sprinkle with salt. Garnish with almonds, pickled red onions and toss with balsamic vinegar.
Cook the Chicken
“Paillard” is French for a boneless piece of meat that has been pounded thin or butterflied to thinness. The thinness allows the meat to cook quickly and pounding also tenderizes it.
Place one half breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the flat side of a meat mallet. Don’t whack it like a nail or you’ll tear the meat. Pound it firmly, but gently and, in a moment or two, the chicken will begin to flatten and spread. Your goal is to pound it to an even thickness equal to the thickness at the thin point of the breast.
Season both sides with salt.
Pour canola oil into a sauté pan to a depth of maybe ¼ inch (don’t worry about the oil – you’ll be cooking over high heat and it will not get into the meat)
Heat the pan over high.
When the oil is very hot and begins to shimmer, lay the chicken breasts in the pan away from you (i.e., place the nearest end of the breast in the pan nearest to you and then gently lay – don’t toss or splash – the rest in).
Give the pan a shake to make sure the chicken doesn’t stick. Now turn down the heat to medium-high* and cook for about 3 minutes – until the underside is browned. Gently lift each breast with tongs or kitchen tweezers and gently turn over, laying them back into the pan away from you. Cook until done and the second side is browned – 5 or 6 minutes. When the chicken feels slightly firm to your touch, it’s done.
*You need to keep the sizzling going, but you don’t want to burn the chicken. I don’t know how hot your burners are. Pay attention – listen to the sizzling – if you smell burning, well, it won’t be a total disaster. Good luck.
Remove chicken from pan and lay on paper towels.
Plate each breast, spoon some of the sauce vierge (tomato dressing) over the middle of each and pile the arugula salad on the side (and maybe on 1/3 of the breast in a lengthwise manner).
Enjoy – you deserve it after all that paying-of-attention.