Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? To Be Made into Chicken Piccata, Of Course!

Italy. How I love your food. The simplicity. The bright flavors. The laid-back style. Your cuisine is one that I crave often and also one that I make often.

Your wine rivals that of France and in my opinion, it’s better. Your land produces Super Tuscan’s and Pinot Grigio’s that playfully tickle my palette and so elegantly pair with the food.

Do you ever just crave something in that “gotta-have-it-right-now-kinda” way? That’s my relationship with Italian food. Or maybe it’s my relationship with Italian wine that pairs so wonderfully with Italian food…either way, it doesn’t matter. A craving is a craving and last night I had me a craving. A craving for something crisp and bright. So, I rushed down to the liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine. (The South: It’s like living in the past down here sometimes. In Tennessee, you’re not allowed to sell wine in grocery stores. At least where I’m from. Bummer. So off to the liquor store I go.)

IMG_2262I arrived back at my apartment with two bottles of Pinot Grigio. Sometimes one just isn’t enough…I mean, I have to cook with it and probably share it with the beau. So, in the fridge it goes to chill. Both bottles were a 2013 Santa Margherita from Italy. Not the cheapest bottle of water in the store, but I have always wanted to try it. It was given to me as a gift a few years ago, but, me being me, I left it in the backseat of my car and forgot about it. A couple of days later, I open up the door and the bottle falls and smashes all over my parents driveway. Wine death by driveway, such a tragedy.

But, moving on…

What to make? What to cook that incorporates both using the wine and drinking the wine. (Remember: Always cook with a wine that you would drink. If you won’t drink it, then it has no business being in your dishes). It needs to be something light. Maybe something citrusy. Ah! I have it! Chicken Picatta, a classic Italian dish that will pair beautifully with the Pinot Grigio. Therechicken piccata 1 is also the added bonus of it being a super simple dish to make with a technique that one can apply to other dishes. I’ve really hit the jackpot on this one.

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Chicken breasts, trimmed and thinly pounded (about ¼ inch thick)
  • Olive Oil (for browning the chicken)
  • Salt and Pepper ( to taste)
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • White wine
  • Chicken stock
  • Butter
  • Capers
  • Parsley
  • Angel Hair pasta

Basically, this dish has two parts (like lots of dishes): the chicken and the sauce.

Let’s break it down…

Chicken browning away!

Chicken browning away!

THE CHICKEN. The simple part of the dish. Trim the chicken up if it has any fat or other unwanted attachments. Place it between two pieces of plastic wrap and gently pound it out to ¼ inch thick. You can cut the pieces into a more manageable size if you wish.

  1. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  3. Once the pan is hot*, add the oil to the pan.
  4. Add the chicken.
  5. Flip when it is nicely browned on one side.
  6. Cook until nicely browned on the other side.
  7. Remove from the pan to a plate for later use. (It will finish cooking in the sauce).

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

The fond. Now, that is a good looking pan!

The fond. Now, that is a good looking pan!

THE SAUCE. This isn’t just any ol’ sauce. This is what’s known as a pan sauce, which is a sauce that is created in the pan the protein was cooked in. We do this so that the sauce picks up the fond (the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan), which adds an extra depth of flavor. We’re building layers here. Layers of flavor are very important to a dish.

  1. After the chicken has been removed from the pan, it’s time to get those delicious brown bits off of the bottom. How do we do this? By deglazing, which is the process of using liquid (wine or stock) to loosen and dissolve the fond from the bottom of the pan.
  2. So, take some wine and add about ¼ cup or so to the hot pan. Stir and scrape those bits and incorporate them into the wine. Let the wine reduce by half.
  3. Add some stock and lemon juice** to the pan and allow that to reduce a little bit, too.
  4. Mounting with butter (Monter au beurre)

    Mounting with butter (Monter au beurre)

    You’ll notice that the sauce is very thin and that’s not fun for anyone. It’s time to thicken that baby up so that it coats the chicken. We do this by mounting the sauce with butter (or monter au beurre as the French say). You simply take the pan off of the heat and add small pieces of whole butter while whisking them into the sauce. Not too much at one time so that you can really incorporate each piece into the sauce. We’re creating an emulsion here.

  5. If done correctly, you’ll notice that the sauce begins to thicken and begin to look all glossy and velvety.
  6. To finish, season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the capers and the chicken to the pan.
  7. Right before serving, hit it with some freshly chopped parsley to add an element of freshness.
  8. Serve over buttered angel hair pasta.
chicken bathing away

The chicken bathing away in the sauce. Yes, that is a glass of wine in the background. After all, one can’t cook Italian food without enjoying a nice glass of wine.

ENJOY IT. It’s finally time to enjoy your hard work. Mastering the art of the pan sauce may take more than one attempt, but each time you’ll see progress. The best part is that a pan sauce is a pan sauce, so if you know the technique to make one, you know how to make them all.

 

* If you use a hot pan and cold oil, your food will never stick to the pan. That’s why cooking is all about the technique, people. 

** Cooking good food is all about tasting as you go. If you think it needs more lemon juice, add more lemon juice. If you think it needs more salt, add more salt. A recipe is a guideline, not a list of steadfast rules. Just as every person is different, every palate is different. So, play with the dish. Play with the flavors. Cooking is art, not a science.

Chicken Enchiladas

There are hundreds of food blogs on the Internet so why should you read mine? Why should you follow mine? Why should you learn from mine? Sure, I’ll be sharing recipes, but probably nothing you haven’t seen before whilst perusing Pinterest, Food Gawker, or WordPress. I’m not here to teach you new recipes (although, I might share a few along the way that you haven’t seen before). I’m not here to entertain you with my witty banter even though there will be lots of that. Or at least I hope you find the banter witty.

I’m here to teach you techniques. I’m here to teach you vocabulary. I’m here to teach you how to cook so that, one day, you don’t need that “too-tempting-not-to-pin” recipe. You’ll be able to create your own dishes because you’ll understand the process, not just memorizing the recipe. Bonus: You’ll be able to impress your friends and family with your newfound culinary knowledge!

Chicken EnchiladasDon’t get me wrong. I love Pinterest and I have quite a few recipes pinned. I have also cooked some of those recipes and they are delicious. I’m not here to tell you that they aren’t.

Now, I’m sure some of you have seen the Chicken Enchiladas with Sour Cream Sauce that’s been floating around Pinterest for the last year or so. I love it. My boyfriend loves it. It’s easy and it’s delicious. I will never bash something that has those qualities, but I create it without following the recipe. It comes out a little bit different each time, but different isn’t always bad.

For those of you who have made the dish or something similar, did you know that you make a roux while making the sauce? Or that the base of the sauce is a veloutè with other elements added to it? At the end of this post you will. I’m going to break down the recipe and explain the technique and the science behind why it works.

Let’s get started, shall we?

WHAT YOU NEED*

  • Chicken, cooked, shredded **shredded chicken
  • Cheese (whatever kind you like, I’m using a Monterrey Jack and Colby Mix)
  • Green chiles, canned (add as much as you like, they aren’t too spicy so go crazy)
  • Onion, small dice
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Chicken Stock
  • Sour Cream
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Corn Tortillas (You can use flour here if you’d like, but I prefer the taste of corn)

Basically, there are two parts to this recipe: the sauce and the enchilada.

THE SAUCE. Like I said before, the base of this sauce is a veloutè, which is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. It consists of a light colored stock (like chicken or fish) that is thickened with a blond (or lightly colored) roux. It’s really just a gravy, but that isn’t a very fancy word and we chefs like to make things super fancy.

We've reached the proper consistency. Do you see how the sauce coats the back of the spoon?

We’ve reached the proper consistency. Do you see how the sauce coats the back of the spoon?

Traditionally, there is a correct method to make this sauce, but traditional isn’t always the quickest way to go about things. So, we’re going to rearrange some steps to make things move a little faster.

  1. Take 2 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté until translucent (3-5 minutes)
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and fully incorporate it into the onions/butter. This step is making your roux, which acts as a thickening agent. A roux is equal parts fat and flour. If you remember that, you can make 1 cup of sauce or 10 cups of sauce. Going for technique here, not recipe memorization. (Rule of thumb: 4 ounces of roux to 1 quart of liquid).
  4. Cook this for 3-5 minutes. This will give you a blond roux, which is great because it’s what we are going for.
  5. Add chicken stock and stir. We’ll start with a cup. Let it come to a boil. Why? The roux isn’t activated until the temperature reaches that of a boil (212 F). No activation = no thickening. So wait for the boil before panicking.
  6. Once the thickening begins, you can gauge whether or not you need more stock, which you probably will since we just started with a cup. Slowly incorporate more until you reach the consistency you desire. Ideally, the sauce should just coat the back of the spoon.
  7. Cook 10 minutes at a simmer to cook out the flour taste. Flour alone tastes awful. Don’t believe me? Eat a spoonful of flour and let me know how you liked the experience.
  8. Turn down the heat to low to add the sour cream. Dairy curdles at high temperatures and
    The finished sauce.

    The finished sauce.

    that’s not really what we’re going for here. We are going for a smooth, velvety sauce. (Fun Fact: Veloutè comes from the French word for “velvet”).

  9. Add the chiles.
  10. Season to taste with salt, paprika, and pepper. (I don’t know how much salt you like, only you know that. All of my posts will say “season to taste” for this very reason).

And the sauce is finished. Not too difficult, was it? The more you cook, the better you will get at the process. Like anything else, you just gotta keep at it.

THE ENCHILADA. This part is a no-brainer. Take shredded chicken and cheese and place slightlyfilling enchiladas off-center on a warm, corn tortilla (the microwave is fine for the warming). Roll it up. Place in a lightly greased baking dish. Continue the process until you’ve got a full dish.

THE FINISH. Cover with as much sauce as you want. I’m a sauce-lover so I go sauce crazy, especially with this one because I find it delicious. Bake at 350 F until it looks all bubbly. Each oven is different so all cooking times will vary. Not once was a time given in culinary school (except in the pastry classes because that’s a science). If you asked the Chef how long something baked for, you got “until it’s done” as the response. Annoying, right?

ENJOY IT. There is no point in cooking if you don’t get to sit down and indulge in what you just created. It might not always turn out the way you wanted it to, but that’s the fun of cooking. Sometimes you get something even better than you imagined.

* You’ll notice that there are no measurements next to the ingredients. I haven’t measured anything in years. I use the “eye-ball” method. If you want the measurements, check out the original recipe from Raining Hot Coupons. Just a reminder that mine is slightly different. 

**For my chicken, I seasoned it with olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. I baked it until it was cooked all the way through.