Sunday, September 14, 2008

Let Me Begin with the Beginning

Recently someone asked me if I've always been good in the kitchen. I had to admit: it wasn't until college that I really started looking at food as more than sustenance. Yes, there were favorite dishes when I was younger, and sure, some of my fondest memories of childhood involve food. But mostly because the food was cooked by someone I loved, or eaten with people I loved.

When I cooked for myself as a kid, I made pasta with butter and cheese, scrambled eggs, canned soup, "Chinese noodles" (a concoction of ramen noodles, but
ter, and soy sauce...high-brow, I know!), and occasionally, bagel bites.

When I left for college, my sweet freshman-year roommates and I decided to have what we called family dinners...and somehow I got voted to cook the first one. I called my mom asking what I could make that was delicious and easy. Her reply: chicken piccata. It was one of my favorites in high school, and mom claimed it was easy. I wrote her recipe down over the phone, rolled my sleeves up, and dived in.

I burned the butter on my first attempt, but otherwise it was pretty good—and shockingly easy. That did it...I was hooked. It was a slow road to my current obsession with all things edible, but that one dish, that feeling of accomplishment and the look of appreciation from my friends, well...that's all it took.

chicken, after searing

So, for someone who isn't 100% confident in the kitchen, I highly recommend this dish. I mean, what's not to love about lemon and butter? It's impressive and delicious, and couldn't be easier.

Chicken Piccata
serves 4
Sometimes I can't find chicken breast halves, so I just pound out two regular breasts to be super thin, and cut each one in half widthwise. It takes a little more pounding, but it's just fine.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons softened butter, divided
Additional all-purpose flour
Extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers, drained

Place chicken between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. With a rolling pin, mallet, or even a bottle of wine (be careful!), lightly pound each breast half to about 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with salt. (Don't be sjy about it.) Thoroughly mix together 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon butter; set aside. On a plate or shallow baking pan, add additional flour, and coat each breast in flour; shake off excess.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add chicken in 1 layer. If the all 4 breasts don't fit, cook in 2 batches. Cook until chicken is golden brown and mostly cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, and set aside.

In the same skillet over medium-high heat, add the stock, lemon juice, and butter-flour mixture, and whisk to get all the good brown bits (fond in fancy cook-speak) from the bottom of the pan. (If you want to sound impressive, tell someone you're deglazing the pan.) Simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened, about 3 or 4 minutes. If it looks too thick, add a little more stock. Too thin? Keep simmering. Add capers and remaining butter, stir, and taste. Adjust seasoning.

With tongs, place each breast, one at a time, in the sauce to coat, then place on a platter. Pour remaining sauce over top. Serve with couscous or pasta to soak up extra sauce.