Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 27: Chicken Piccata with Fried Capers

Chicken piccata is one of my favorite things to order in a restaurant. When done well, it is balanced, fresh-tasting, simple, and bright. When done badly, it is gooey, sour, and unpleasant.

It's a lot of effort to put in at home, I have to admit. Cutting chicken breasts into cutlets, pounding them, prepping a long list of ingredients, and carrying out the excessively precise timing that's required is a hassle, more hassle than I like to put in at home, unless it's a special occasion.

This recipe minimizes the fuss, as does the fact that you can now buy decent-quality chicken cutlets in the grocery store. It's a sauteed chicken breast with a pan sauce, which is not a complicated thing to make, really. If you can't find a decent cutlet--one that's not irregularly-sized or chewed up by the machinery that cuts them--you can slice the chicken breast in half horizontally yourself. Put the chicken breast on a cutting board, and holding a very sharp knife parallel to the board, slice through the breast. Keep your hand flat on top of the breast to hold it in place. I would serve this with a simple side of spaghetti with some kind of very uncomplicated sauce, or mashed potatoes, and some steamed broccoli.

Serves 2-3.

Chicken Piccata with Fried Capers

2 tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chicken breast cutlets, pounded to 1/3-1/4-inch thickness
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed though a garlic press
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Rinse the capers and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the capers and stir-fry until most of them open like flowers and become crisp and slightly brown, 30-60 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer the capers to a dry paper towel with a soup spoon, tilting each spoonful against the side of the pan to let the excess oil drain back into the pan.

Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Heat the skillet over medium high heat, saute the cutlets in batches until golden and just cooked through, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.

With the pan still over medium-high heat, add the garlic and saute until lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits. Simmer until reduced by about half. Stir in the lemon juice and honey, turn off the heat, add the butter, and swirl the pan until the butter melts and thickens the saucfe. Stir in the parsley and about half the capers. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, scatter the remaining capers over it, and serve.

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