Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms

I have had this dish at least one bagillion times in my life.  I just never really knew that it had a name.  It has been a constant at work lunches, banquets, etc.  It was only recently while I was staying in a Little Italy part of the city for a convention that I learned what the name was.  We wandered into a quaint little Italian market with a restaurant attached, and I looked at the menu.  I was sold at "caper, lemon, butter sauce."  Yes please.

Well, I had to get through the salad and spaghetti first (this place was a legit Italian eatery, let me tell you).  And then came a beautifully golden, thinly-sliced chicken breast topped with capers and mushrooms.  In my mind I said "Eureka!" which is the perfectly normal thing to say in situaitons such as this.  I just spared my dinner guest the inevitable awkwardness of my running through the streets naked yelling it, as legend says it originally was.

I have removed the breading from the version I had, thinking that a pan-seared chicken breast has a better consistency to it, and a little less weight to it.  Cooking the capers in the oil first distributes their distinctive taste throughout the entire dish, giving it a little more briny kick.

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms
  • 4 thinly-sliced chicken breasts (or 2 breasts, butterfly-cut in half)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • about 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese, to garnish
  • salt and pepper
Place the chicken breasts between sheets of aluminum foil and pound with a mallet until evenly thin throughout.  Salt and pepper both sides generously.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the capers and stir for about 2 minutes.  You don't want them mushy--just a little seared.  Remove the capers, retaining as much of the oil as you can.

To the same pan, add the butter.  When melted, add the chicken breasts (you can do 2 at a time: don't crowd the pan).  Sear until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove, and keep close.  Retain as much butter and oil in the pan as possible.

To the drippings and butter in the pan, add the garlic and saute for about a minute.  Then add the lemon juice, zest, and chicken broth.  Let simmer for a few minutes, until reduced by about a third.  Add back the capers, as well as the mushrooms and parsley.  Stir until the mushrooms are slightly soft.  Place the chicken breasts back in the pan, and spoon over the sauce for a minute or two, until heated through. 

Serve on top of your favorite pasta with Parmesan cheese. 

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Do the prep first. That's why they call it "prep."

    Life lesson learned: make sure all your ingredients are ready to go.  I have a great big band-aid on my finder right now reminding me that when the onions and garlic are sizzling on the stove, the moment for chopping tomatoes is past.  A very brief glance to the pan in the midst of my frantic, last-minute tomato dicing led to my beautifully sharp Wusthof knife slicing a nice little gash into my left pointer finger.

    Seriously, people.  Just chop the tomatoes, then put the pan on the stove.  Your fingers will thank you. 

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Caramelized Cipollini Onions

    I know people who say that they don't like onions. I don't understand this philosophy. I mean, let's be serious here, I'm not going to just go eat a great big Vidalia like an apple anytime soon, but can you make such a sweeping, general statement? Do you really want to banish onions from cooking entirely? Onions are in just about everything, people. Let's open our minds. Wikipedia states that evidences of onion use can be found dating back to 5000 BC. Are you gonna' fight with 7000 years of human culture? I thought not.

    More often than not, people say it's the texture of the onions that they don't like. I think that's where cipollini onions can help us. These are not regular onions, people. They caramelize beautifully with a soft texture, they're sweet without the strong bite of other onions, and frankly, they look really cool. However, they are nasty little buggers to peel, so they're not quite perfect. But they're probably pretty close.

    I love them, and I'm pretty sure that you will, too (yes you, the onion-hating people who are reading this who know who you are). I was cooking a few of these up the other day for some people who had ever heard of this concept before, and they just kind of looked at the pan and asked, "Are those onions?" Yes, they are. "Do we just eat them whole?" Yes, you do. Oh boy, do you.

    Caramelized Cipollini Onions
    • 1 pound cipollini onions, peeled and hard roots carefully cut off, leaving as much onion as possible
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • About 1/4 cup beef stock
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • salt and pepper
    • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 2-3 large basil leaves, thinly sliced.
    In a heavy-bottomed skillet, eat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and stir frequently until browned, a few minutes on each side. Don't overcook, or they'll get kind of mushy, and that's a shame.

    Remove the onions from the pan, and keep them close. Add the beef stock and vinegar, and stir, deglaze the bottom of the pan as much as possible. If there are any browned bits on the pan, dissolve them back into the liquid, because you don't want any of that sweet, oniony goodness to go to waste. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the onions back, allowing them to reheat. Top with salt and pepper, Parmesan cheese, and basil.