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Quick chicken cutlet cookery saves the day

March 9. 2015

Artichokes, olives and tomatoes top quickly-cooked chicken cutlets.

The speed of life never ceases to amaze. Thank goodness I have an arsenal of fast-cooking dinner recipes to keep pace. Favorites such as pasta, pork tenderloin, skirt steak, even the occasional omelet.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts rarely make the list too dry, boring, predictable. That is, until my cutlet epiphany. Sliced or pounded thin, cutlets made from the aforementioned chicken saves the day. Theyll cook quickly and evenly so dryness can be avoided. Their mild flavor means theyre ripe for additions readily on hand such as briny olives, garlic or lemon.

One of my favorite combinations is a chicken riff on veal saltimbocca the classic Italian dish of thin veal cutlets topped with prosciutto and sage leaves. Cookbook writer Claudia Roden, in her now-classic "The Good Food of Italy" (Knopf, 1989), uses a wooden pick to hold the components together before a fast sear in a hot pan. Then she tosses wine and butter into a pan for a quick sauce. Brilliant. The recipe never ceases to impress.

Saltimbocca literally means "jump in the mouth." Im not sure if the combination received this moniker from its flavor or the superfast transition from pan to mouth. No matter, I now make it with thin slices of boneless skinless chicken breast so its super accessible.

To make life easy, I look for chicken cutlets in the meat case at the grocery store. Alternatively, use a very sharp knife to carefully slice breasts horizontally in half. A medium chicken breast should yield a slice about 1/2- to 1/3-inch thick in the middle. Then place a piece of plastic wrap over the breast and very lightly pound it so the whole slice is about 1/4-inch thick. You can do this all in advance, simply wrap every slice individually in plastic and tuck the slices into a container for up to two days.

I like to lightly dredge the cutlets in seasoned flour to promote browning and to aid in moisture retention. This step should be done before you prepare the other ingredients or start heating the pan.

The secret to cooking the cutlets is two-fold: Hot and fast. A large nonstick skillet works wonders and keeps the need for fat to a minimum. Heat the pan over high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium, add some oil, then the cutlets in a single, uncrowded layer. It only takes two minutes to develop a golden sear so the cutlet can be flipped and finished, usually two minutes more. Remove them from the pan, tent with foil and keep them warm while you make a pan sauce from the drippings.

Once you nail the chicken cutlet browning technique, use it for turkey and veal cutlets. Both of the following recipes also taste great made with boneless skinless chicken thighs (pounded slightly to even them out).

For the chicken saltimbocca, cheese over the cutlets adds a rich, salty complexity. Choose provolone for the cheesiest dish or fresh mozzarella for milky goodness. The pan sauce simply uses white wine, butter, a spritz of lemon and fresh sage. Pile baby arugula over the cooked cutlets, then pour the pan sauce over everything to gently wilt the greens. Serve cooked egg noodles alongside or wedges of crusty bread to mop up everything.

The second recipe combines briny olives with artichokes and canned tomatoes for an attractive dish that knows no season. Perfect for this time of year. I like to serve it with a pile of orzo.

Advice for the cook: This is fast cooking have everything ready by the stove. Have someone else set the table. Dont let anyone interrupt. Then enjoy the process.

CHICKEN CUTLETS SALTIMBOCCA-STYLE WITH SAGE BUTTER PAN SAUCE AND ARUGULA

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

4 pieces (about 1 pound total) chicken breast cutlets (1/4-inch thick) or 4 small boneless, skinless chicken breast halves pounded to uniform 1/4-inch thick

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 thin slices (3 ounces total) provolone cheese (or fresh mozzarella)

4 paper thin slices (2 ounces total) prosciutto

1 small lemon

8 small sage leaves, plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth (or chicken broth)

1 small clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft

About 3 cups baby arugula

1. Pat chicken dry. Mix flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge chicken in flour mixture to lightly coat it; shake off excess. Arrange it on a rack set over a pan for up to 1 hour (or refrigerate for several hours uncovered).

2. Cut or fold cheese slices and prosciutto so they will fit atop the chicken pieces. Finely grate 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and then squeeze the juice from the lemon so you have 2 or 3 tablespoons. Prepare the sage leaves. Set all the ingredients near the stove.

3. Heat a very large (or 2 medium) nonstick skillet(s) over high heat. Reduce heat to medium; add oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook without turning until underside is golden, about 2 minutes.

4. Flip chicken. Working quickly, top each chicken piece with 2 small sage leaves, then a slice of cheese and then a slice of prosciutto. Cook until bottom is golden, about 1 minute. (This will depend on how long it takes to top the chicken with the sage, cheese and prosciutto.) If desired, use a wide spatula to carefully flip chicken again so prosciutto side is down and cook 30 seconds to warm the prosciutto and soften the cheese. Transfer chicken to a warm serving platter arranging the pieces prosciutto side up; tent loosely with foil.

5. Turn heat under pan to medium-high. Add wine; boil to reduce wine by half while scraping up all the browned bits. Stir in garlic, lemon zest and juice. Whisk in butter until its almost melted. Add the sliced sage; remove from heat. Season with salt.

6. Arrange arugula over chicken. Pour pan sauce over everything. Serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 376 calories, 23 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 104 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 34 g protein, 773 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

CHICKEN CUTLETS WITH OLIVES AND ARTICHOKE HEARTS

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Look for interesting olives at the olive bar in supermarkets, then use a small knife to slice the flesh off the pits.

4 pieces (about 1 pound total) chicken breast cutlets (1/4-inch thick) or 4 small boneless, skinless chicken breast halves pounded to 1/4-inch thick

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large shallots or 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 cup chopped ripe or drained canned tomatoes

1 can (14 ounces) extra small artichoke hearts, drained, halved

3 to 4 tablespoons sliced pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano or Manzanilla

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth (or chicken broth)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons butter

Several tablespoons finely sliced Italian parsley

1. Pat chicken dry. Mix flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge chicken in flour mixture to lightly coat it; shake off excess. Arrange it on a rack set over a pan for up to 1 hour (or refrigerate for several hours uncovered).

2. Have all the remaining ingredients ready near the stove.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; saute until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes; cook, 1 minute. Stir in artichokes, olives and garlic; cook, 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; keep warm.

4. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add chicken in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook without turning, until underside is golden, about 2 minutes. Flip; brown the other side, about 2 minutes.

5. Arrange chicken on a warm serving platter. Tent with foil. Turn heat under pan to medium-high. Add wine and boil to reduce wine by half while scraping up all the browned bits. Stir in lemon juice. Whisk in butter until its almost melted. Season with salt.

6. Spoon artichoke mixture over chicken. Top with pan sauce. Sprinkle everything with parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 324 calories, 16 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 553 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

 

 


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