Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Classic Chicken Piccata

I remember my first experience with "piccata" and I'm sad to say that it wasn't a very good one. It was a veal piccata dish, made by an old friend who had invited us to dinner back in the late 70's or very early 80's. It wasn't because it was veal. I like veal. To be totally honest, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I enjoy it immensely (when it's prepared properly) and ground veal also happens to be a very integral ingredient in my meatball recipe. The only "down" side to veal, is that I have to take my emotions completely out of the equation whenever I eat it. It's kind of like the whole venison/Bambi thing. I only get it in certain restaurants and I have to trick my mind into not thinking that I'm eating, well.... you know. Let's just let it go at that, right? I think we'd all have a better rest of the day. 😳

Now,  don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that my friend was a bad cook. On the contrary, I think she did a good job with the meals that I'd had before at her table. This time, however, was a bit of a disaster. The oil and butter that she cooked the meat in, never got up to the proper temperature and whenever you cook with fats or oils, that just isn't a good thing - especially when it's been coated with flour or breadcrumbs. The coating just soaks up the oil like a sponge and unfortunately, I don't think she knew it would continue to do so, because she just kept adding more. The veal became quite tough and chewy and the normally lightly browned outer coating was... well, not.

We were all very polite that night and tried to act like we loved the meal, but I found out from other friends who were dining that night, that I wasn't the only one who was clandestinely spitting each bite into my napkin. I've often wondered if she noticed and just let it go, to avoid embarrassment on all sides.

I suppose I should have thanked her really, because I learned something from that experience about what not to do. The result of that dinner (or maybe I should call it a lesson) ended up being two-fold. A) I learned to never add meat to a pan that hasn't come up to temperature and B) when it comes to piccata, I decided that I'd just stick with chicken.

I promise that my recipe will come out just right every time, because I've made it many, many times over the years and perfected it in the process. It's a very lovely Northern Italian staple and it also happens to be one of our favorites.

*The recipe I'm giving you will serve 4 people, but I had only two chicken breasts in the freezer the day that I decided to photograph the meal for the blog and I cut one rather large breast in half to facilitate even cooking, so you'll see only three pieces in the photos.

Classic Chicken Picatta
Serves 4 - (can easily be doubled)
  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced or pounded
  • 3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tbls Capers, rinsed
  • 4 Tbls Butter, divided
  • 2 Cups Chicken Stock or Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Vermouth
  • 1/4 Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Zest from 1 Lg Lemon (2 Tbls)
  • Light Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • Fresh Chopped Parsley, for garnish

If you're using whole chicken breasts, you'll need to butterfly them, cut them in half or pound them down to about a quarter of an inch thickness so that they'll cook evenly and quickly. *See my note above.

As I say in all of my recipes, it's important to have as much of your "prep work" done before you start to cook. I don't do it just for the photo op. It really makes the entire cooking process go much more smoothly. So, take a few minutes to zest and squeeze your lemon(s). Have all of your seasonings and flour ready to go in a container that will fit the size of the meat you're dredging in it. If there are wet ingredients like the vermouth and chicken stock in this dish, have them all measured out as well. Also rinse things like capers and drain them, so that you can just toss them in when the time comes. You get the drift.

I will often mix my dry seasonings together and put them into a tiny prep bowl or one of the funky little spoons that I collect. (like the one shown in the photo above)

As you can see in the photo, I make sure that the flour or breadcrumbs being used to coat or to dredge meats or vegetables is always seasoned, even when I've seasoned the food itself. Seasoning is all about layers, my friends!

Capers are one of those ingredients that's kind of an acquired taste and if you know from experience that you just don't like them, you can leave them out. That being said, if they're something that you've never tried, please do give them a chance. They're an integral part of piccata and they get a bad rep because many cooks don't take the time to rinse and drain them before adding them to a dish. They usually come packed in jars filled with a salty and/or vinegary brine and that can add a bit too much pungency to a dish if they're just dumped in straight from the jar.

Season both sides of the chicken liberally with the salt, pepper and Italian seasoning mixture.

Add any remaining seasoning to the flour. If you don't have any left after seasoning the meat, you can just add the seasonings one by one or make up another slightly smaller bowl of them and add them into the dredging dish or plate.

Give the flour and seasoning mixture a good stir to incorporate them well. You don't want any small pockets of overly seasoned flour and large areas that are not seasoned a all.

Using your very clean hands or a pair of tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the flour mixture, turning it over as needed until the chicken is nicely coated. Some people like to use a two step, or wet dry process here. This is when you dip or soak the meat in question in an egg wash or buttermilk, etc. before you add it to the dry ingredients, whether that's flour or breadcrumbs. (or both in some cases) I don't feel this is necessary this time, simply because I don't really care for a thick crust on my chicken piccata.

Try not to have any "bald patches" on the meat, so if you're making a larger batch and you run out of your dredge, just add an appropriate amount of flour and your seasonings to the dish and continue the dredging process. Put the coated chicken pieces onto a plate or sheet of waxed paper until you're done with all of them and your pan is ready to start cooking. You also want to make sure to hang onto any leftover flour mixture for later use in this dish. (**this is specific to this recipe, because it will be used in a way that it will continue to be cooked for a while after it's second use.)

**If you aren't going to be using a dredge mixture in a way that it will be cooked longer during the course of the recipe, do not ever save a mixture that raw meat has touched for later use. It has been "cross contaminated" at this point and would cause illness to anyone who ate food that was prepared with it.

Add about two teaspoons of light olive or vegetable oil to a large skillet that is preheating over a medium high flame.

Once the oil is distributed well in the skillet and is heated to the point where it is sizzling, you can start adding your chicken to it.

Cook the chicken, turning it frequently until it is nicely browned on each side and cooked all the way through. This shouldn't take more than about 3 (maybe 4) minutes per side when the chicken breasts are this thin.

If it looks like the flour is starting to get too dark, too quickly or it starts to smoke, turn the heat down a couple of notches to medium or even medium low for the remainder of the cooking time.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a clean plate and cover lightly with foil to keep it warm. Maintaining (or returning to) a medium to medium high heat, add in the lemon juice and stir it around with a spatula, scraping up any browned bits and thickened juices (called fond by the French) from the bottom of the skillet.

You'll see that the bottom of the skillet is "clear" of pretty much all of the fond.

Continue cooking and stirring occasionally, until the lemon juice has reduced slightly.

Add in the dry vermouth (or white wine) and reduce that by about 1/3rd.

Add in the 1/2 of the lemon zest...

...and the capers. Stir or gently swirl the pan to incorporate both.

If you aren't seeing small bubbles around the edges of the skillet, you'll need to turn the heat up a tiny bit until you do.

Take about a tablespoon of the reserved seasoned flour mixture and add it to the skillet.

Stir the flour into the liquid in the pan until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Keep stirring it for about a minute to cook out any "raw" flour taste.

At this point, slowly pour in about 2/3 of the chicken stock.

Set the remaining stock aside for a few minutes.

Return the chicken pieces to the skillet.

Make sure to get any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Those juices are pretty much "liquid gold" because they have a lot of flavor in them!

Continue to cook the chicken, turning it over from time to time to coat it in the sauce and heat it back through. (no more than 2 to 3 minutes)

The liquid in the skillet is going to continue to reduce and thicken during this time, so that's why you'll need that reserved 1/3rd of the stock.

Add the rest of the stock and continue cooking and turning the chicken in the sauce that's forming.

Next, add the second 1/2 of the lemon zest and stir well. This will add a nice kick of fresh lemon to the sauce that will have dissipated while it's cooked for a while.

After cooking for a about 2 more minutes and once the chicken is heated back through, remove it from the pan to a warm platter or individual plates and serve right away.

We love to have long cooking jasmati rice with this dish, but you can serve it with your own favorite type of rice, buttered noodles, potatoes - or whatever you like best. If you're avoiding or cutting back on carb intake, serve it over a bed of sauteed spinach or alongside your favorite veggies. No matter what you decide to serve it with, once you've tried it, I think you'll want to make it again and again. It's a bit addictive. 😊



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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Grilled Churrasco Skirt Steak With Chimichurri (Plus BONUS VIDEO!)

It's not likely that skirt steak would really be on the same tenderness scale as say, filet mignon... But, ask people who've had it (cooked properly, of course) to rate it's flavor on a scale from 1 to 10 and I'd bet you plenty that 99.9% of the card carrying carnivores on the planet would happily answer that it's an absolute 10. (or maybe even higher!)

We've made this particular steak recipe from Daisy Martinez many times since we first tried it last Summer and I have to say that it's one of the most delicious cuts of beef I've ever tasted. I won't lie...because it comes from a more muscular part of the cow, it does have a texture that's a tiny bit chewy, but not at all in a bad way. Just imagine the texture of perfectly smoked ribs... yeah, it's something like that. It's definitely the type of steak that has to be sliced against the grain, similar to a flank steak or a tri-tip, but it's not too expensive and the incredible flavor will satisfy even the pickiest of "steak connoisseurs".

...And then there's the Chimichurri sauce that tops this steak. It's the perfect compliment to a rich cut of beef like skirt steak. And Daisy uses an amazing little trick that I'd never seen before, that is meant to add extra tenderness to the meat and I kid you not... it works like a charm!

As a little bonus, especially for all of my very dear friends who've stuck around and have never given up on me through all of my unannounced (and often extra long) absences from the blogosphere, I've faced one of my biggest fears - making my own demonstration video) included a bonus video showing you how, after years of trial and error, I figured out the way to saute the perfect mushrooms to serve alongside steak or other dishes.

You can check out that post, complete with the bonus video (made by yours truly!) by clicking ➞HERE.

Churrasco Skirt Steak
By: Daisy Martinez
(Serves 4)

  • 2 skirt steaks (about 1Lb each), trimmed of fat and cut in half, crosswise
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (I prefer red)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1) Rub a generous amount of salt and pepper into both sides of the steaks. Rub the onion powder into the steaks, dividing it evenly. Put the steaks into a baking dish or container that holds them comfortably.

(Now for Daisy's awesome tenderness trick!)
2) Placing your thumb over the top of the bottle to control the flow, sprinkle the (approx) 2 tablespoons of vinegar over the steaks and brush lightly with the olive oil. Allow the steaks to marinate for up to 30 minutes at room temperature, or refrigerate in a tightly covered dish for up to 2 days. I won't go into the science behind doing this step, but trust me, it's amazing what a difference it makes with your tougher cuts of meat!

3) Heat your grill to medium-high, or if cooking your steaks indoors on the top of the stove, place a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the steaks, turning only once, to desired doneness. Remove from the grill and let rest 5 to 10 minutes, loosely covered with some foil. Slice the steaks thinly against the grain just before serving. Drizzle some of the chimichurri over the steaks and pass the rest separately.

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 4 cups flat-leaf parsley (from about 1 large bunch)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, pulse the parsley and garlic until finely chopped.

Scrape them into a bowl and stir in the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. You can add some red pepper flakes, for a spicy chimichurri. (We didn't because unlike my beloved, I have very wimpy taste buds)

Set this aside until you're ready to serve. (this can be kept at room temperature for an hour or two - or refrigerated for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container)

Place the steaks in a flat dish that is large enough to keep them in a single layer. Season them generously on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Using the bottle itself, place your thumb over the top and drizzle 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (give or take) over each of the steaks, turning them over so that they're coated on each side.

Then, drizzle about the same amount of a nice light olive or vegetable oil over the steaks in the same manner.

Allow them to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes while your grill (or grill pan) is heating up.

I don't have photos of the grilling process, but it's pretty simple. You can use a gas grill, a charcoal grill (which I recommend, because it gives the meat even more amazing flavor - see *Note a bit closer to the end of the post) or if the weather just isn't conducive to outdoor grilling, you can always use a heavy grill pan on your stove top.

First, prepare your grill, cleaning off the grates with a wire brush or crumpled foil and tongs, if necessary. You'll be grilling the steaks over direct heat.

Next, using long grilling tongs, oil the grill grates with a clean rag or a couple of sheets of folded paper towel coated in a little light olive or vegetable oil to help keep the meat from sticking. (Keep in mind that all meats when being grilled will sear onto the grates for a bit at first. You actually want this to happen because when it releases naturally from the grill, the meat itself is telling you that it's time to turn it.)

Using tongs (or your very clean fingers), place the room temperature steaks on the grill, directly over the prepared coals.

The standard times for grilling, depend on how you like your beef done. (All cooking times are approximate)

For medium rare: About 3 minutes per side, **turning them about 90 degrees on each side once half way during each 3 minute period, to give them those great looking crosshatched grill marks. :)

For medium: About 4 minutes per side, repeating the steps above.

For well done: I'm going to be honest here... when it comes to well done beef, I wouldn't know how long to tell you to cook it because in our house, well done steak has never actually happened. lol

**Please don't use a fork or anything pointed to pick up or move meat around as it's cooking. Piercing the meat, allows all of the delicious juices to escape and that will leave you with dry, tough meat.

Once the meat is cooked to the doneness/temperature that you prefer, place it on a clean plate, cover it with foil and allow it to rest for about 5 to 8 minutes. This helps any juices that naturally want to run out after cooking, to absorb back into the meat fully - and that keeps it moist and flavorful.

When the steak has rested, place it on a cutting board and slice on the diagonal, cutting against the grain of the meat. With skirt steak, you'll usually find that you have to turn the meat slightly as you're slicing it, because the grain in this cut of beef tends to change directions a little bit from one end of the steak to the other.

*Note - We don't use charcoal lighter fluid - or the charcoal briquettes that come already infused with it. If you like it or find it convenient, that's fine. It all comes down to personal choice. It's just that we feel that it adds an unpleasant chemical flavor to the foods that are cooked when using it.

We use a charcoal chimney instead. They aren't expensive and you can find them at just about any retailer that sells barbecue grills and equipment.

As a side note: In case you're afraid it might take longer to get the coals going, the truth is... it really doesn't. As a matter of fact, we've found that to get from fresh out of the bag briquettes to the point where they're just right for cooking, takes the same amount of time!

PS ~ Don't forget to check out my post and video on how to saute mushrooms like a boss! Just click right HERE!



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