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Archive for August 24th, 2007

There is nothing like boneless chicken breasts for convenience. Someone else dispatches the poor bird, plucks it and guts it – all those unpleasant chores required by us carnivores. Then, Chicken Little is dismembered and its breasts are de-skinned and de-boned for our convenience. All that for a price, I might remind you.

Gone are the days when most people had a little coop in the backyard, with a few hens and a rooster to keep the families intact, the chopping block and hatchet at the ready. This was the source of the expressions I heard as a child from my mother and grandmother from their days on the farm. “He’s running around like a chicken without its head!” “Quit that or I’ll wring your neck!” We knew that there was no way our necks were in danger but the message got across very well.

Today, we go to the grocery, pick up a plastic pack of nicely skinned and boned breasts for five or six dollars and head home to prepare a quick meal without all the struggles previously mentioned. Properly prepared, the breasts can be cooked in 6 minutes, bathed in a sauce made in another 3 minutes and devoured in five. You can’t beat that for efficiency.

With that in mind, I looked yesterday for a recipe for the three boneless breasts I had in the refrigerator. I wanted a relatively simple dish, but one with a tangy flavor to go with the succotash that I was planning to fix as a vegetable side dish. When I think of “tangy flavor” I usually think of lemons or mustard. In this case I decided to go with the mustard.

I rinsed and dried the chicken pieces and set them aside on a plate. I mixed 1/3 cup Dijon mustard and 1/3 cup mayonnaise in a small bowl with a little salt and black pepper. I picked a small sprig of rosemary, stripped the leaves and chopped them to get about 1/2 teaspoon and added that to the bowl. I slathered that on both sides of the chicken, covered them with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator until I was ready to cook them a few hours later. (It isn’t necessary to let them rest for a while. They can be cooked right away.)

I started cooking the succotash, a recipe that I will give you below, and preheated the broiler. (I could have cooked the chicken outside on the grill, but it was just too darn hot!) I transferred the breasts to a broiler pan and broiled them about 4 inches from the heat for 3 minutes per side, then I turned the broiler to low (you could move the rack down one level if you only have one broiler setting) flipped the chicken back to the first side again and sprinkled them with Parmesan cheese. I continued cooking them for another three minutes until the cheese was starting to turn golden brown. They were ready to eat.

(Note: These breasts were pretty evenly thick, but when putting then on the broiler pan, I did make sure to fold the thinner edge under to even them out a little more. I didn’t have to pound them to an even thickness which is advisable if one end is thicker than the other. Pounding them not only prevents one end from being too dry it also shortens the time necessary for cooking. Always cut into the thickest part to make sure that any juices released are clear and not pink. If pink, return to the heat for another minute and recheck.)

I’ve been making this dish, or variations of it, for years. Some recipes call for bread crumbs and garlic; some for yogurt instead of mayonnaise; some for Worcestershire sauce, for a deeper flavor, or cayenne pepper for some heat. The one I used today is just about the simplest. Don’t have any rosemary? Don’t let that stop you. The chicken will be delicious without it.

We had a few slices of fresh no-knead bread and succotash for the rest of the meal. The succotash is a recipe from the Fine Cooking website. It is a little different from the frozen box of corn and lima beans that I personally hated as a child. It has a lot more vegetables in it and would go a long way to furnishing the variety of vegetables that we are urged to eat daily. It is quick to prepare, despite the relatively long list of ingredients, but benefits from advance preparation, cutting up the vegetables and lining them up on the counter in the order to be added to the pot. It takes about fifteen minutes of cooking, and about fifteen minutes of chopping the vegetables. I used custard cups to hold the individual vegetables and had everything ready about an hour before I wanted to cook. They just sat there on the kitchen counter, the fragrant onion and garlic making my mouth water in anticipation. Here’s the recipe, again, thanks to Fine Cooking.

SUMMER SUCCOTASH

2 T., plus 1/2 t. olive oil
1 small red onion, in 1/4″ dice
1/8 t. dried red chile flakes
Kosher salt
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/4″ dice (note: I did 1/2″)
1/4 lb. fresh green beans, 1/4″ pieces (note: I did 1/2″)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (I used a garlic press)
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/4″ dice (I did 1/2″)
Kernels from 2 large ears corn (about 1 1/2 c.) (I used thawed frozen corn)
1/4 lb. thawed frozen baby lima beans (I used fordhook)
1 small ripe tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4″
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely
2-3 T. chopped fresh basil

Heat 2 T. oil in a deep 10″ saute pan of a large shallow pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, chile flakes, and a generoud pinch of salt and cook until the onion is soft and has started to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the bell pepper and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans; cook for 2 minutes.

Push some of the ingredients aside to make room to saute the garlic. Heat the remaining 1/2 t. oil in this spot, add the garlic, cook until you smell it, and then stir it into the vegetables.

Add the zucchini and a pinch of salt to draw out some moisture and cook for 2 minutes. Add the corn; cook for 2 minutes. Add the lima beans and tomato and cook until all the vegetables are perfectly tender, about 2 minutes more. Stir in the butter, parseley, and basil and season with more salt, if necessary.

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This is a very colorful group of vegetables and tasted great with the tangy chicken. Give it a try. And lets hear it for the chicken neck wringers, plucker, de-boners and grocers!

Morgana

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