Chicken Piccata with Asparagus

Chicken piccata

 

Chicken Piccata can seem a daunting dish to new cooks. There are a few steps that may be new to you. Butterflying. Dredging. Searing. Deglazing. But those are just words. Hopefully, this walkthrough removes the fear and helps you unlock some advanced skills to add to your arsenal. Worst case scenario: you burn the food and end up going out for pizza. Sounds like either way you win.

If you’ve never had chicken piccata, it’s a breaded piece of chicken that’s lightly fried. Then the sauce is a rich, thick mix of garlic, lemon, white wine and capers. There are some extra ingredients most recipes call for. They are nice to haves, but not essential. I always hated buying new ingredients for a new dish that now sit in a cabinet.

The key to executing this dish well is prepping your ingredients before your start frying the chicken. As you get more comfortable, you can condense some steps and multi-task. I start heating my pan on low heat before cutting and breading the chicken. If you’ve never made chicken this way, focus on doing one thing at a time. I am fortunate to have a stellar sous chef who assists me with chopping. If you have a friend or date, a lot of meal prep can be done together. This dish is great because we made asparagus as the side dish. So my girlfriend prepped that while I focused on the main dish.

Prep Steps for Chicken Piccata

Depending the size of your chicken breasts, you may need to trim them to a more manageable size. The purpose for this is even cooking and to expedite the nom nom in your mouth. If the chicken is too thick (more than 3/4 inch), it will take longer to cook to temperature (aiming for 165). So what are you going to do if your hormone-filled bird is too big? Place the chicken breast on your cutting board, then, press your flat palm down on the chicken. With a sharp chef’s knife in your other hand, run the knife parallel to the cutting board halfway up the height of the chicken. This will create two thinner fillets of chicken.

Want to skip this step? Cool. To best cook the chicken without burning it on the stove, use an oven-safe pan. After your fry the chicken, pop the pan into a 350 degree oven. Let the chicken cook for 20ish minutes.

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The rest of the steps are pretty straight forward.

The asparagus dish was really good and pretty quick. Again, for new cooks it can seem tough and there are pitfalls to boiling the eggs (optional, but tasty addition) and creating the vinaigrette. If you missed the recipe earlier this week, head over here for the full instructions.
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Chicken piccata
Chicken Piccata with Asparagus
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Servings Prep Time
4 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
30-40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
30-40 minutes
Chicken piccata
Chicken Piccata with Asparagus
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
30-40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
30-40 minutes
Ingredients
The Meat
The Sauce
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Butterfly the chicken breasts if greater than 3/4 inch thick.
  2. Mix flour, salt and pepper in a big dinner plate.
  3. Beat one egg in a shallow bowl.
  4. Dip chicken into egg. Turn to coat the other side.
  5. Place chicken into flour mixture. Press chicken evenly to coat the entire side. Flip chicken to coat the other side. Shake excess flour off chicken and set aside. Repeat for remaining breasts.
  6. Heat a non-stick pan to medium heat. Allow 3-5 minutes. Then add olive oil and butter. Once the butter is melted, add chicken to the pan. You should hear a distinct "TISSS" sizzle.
  7. Leave the chicken alone for about 5 minutes. Then flip and do the same. Be sure not to crowd the pan. To best crisp the chicken, it needs room in the pan. I used a 12-inch pan and worked in two batches.
    chicken piccata
  8. Add garlic as the chicken nears completion (about 15 minutes in)
  9. You can finish the chicken in the oven. The breasts need to reach 165 degrees. Either way, once the chicken is done, set aside on a clean plate or platter.
The Sauce
  1. In the pan you cooked the chicken, add mushrooms and shallot (or onion). Cook for 3-5 minutes/until mushrooms and shallot soften.
  2. Add white wine, lemon juice, capers and chicken stock. If you splurged on fresh thyme, add it now. Scrape the bottom of the pain as the liquids bubble up.
  3. Continue cooking the sauce over medium heat. The sauce will eventually thicken. Continue intermittently scraping the bottom of the pan.
    piccata sauce
  4. Once the sauce is thick, plate the chicken and spoon over the sauce.
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Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette

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The only times I have eaten asparagus have been in a restaurant. That all changed this weekend when I found this simple, yet gourmet recipe on NYTimes Cooking app. Looking back, my ratios were different. My sauce came out heavily dijon since I didn’t add as much olive oil.

Asparagus doesn’t have a ton of flavor, so pairing it with soft-boiled eggs and a dijon vinaigrette make the healthy trees extremely tasty.

We used this side dish to complement chicken piccata. Check back later this week for that recipe.

asparagus
Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette
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Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
asparagus
Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: people
Instructions
Asparagus and Eggs
  1. Bring a small sauce pan and a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Add eggs to small sauce pan once it begins boiling. Start a timer for 5-6 minutes. Remove eggs to a bowl after the timer sounds. Remove the shell from the eggs once they have cooled.
  3. Trim and rinse the asparagus. Add to boiling and salted water.
  4. Cook for about 5-7 minutes or until they are still slightly firm.
Viniagrette
  1. Whisk vinegar, mustard, onion, salt and pepper.
    asparagus
  2. Slowly drizzle in olive oil.
  3. Slice eggs in half. Add to platter. Drizzle vinaigrette over asparagus and eggs.
    dijon asparagus
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Beer-Braised Barbacoa Tacos

We are nearly a week and a day out from the showdown of showdowns. The stakes are higher than ever. I am putting my best taco against offerings from home cooks in Chicago to see if years of visits to taqueria’s were worth it. This will be my third attempt in a cooking competition, but this time I have a different strategy on how to win.

Here is the approach I’ll be going with next Sunday. Having eaten my way through most cities, these barbacoa tacos stand up to my favorite taqueria’s tacos. They have a nice amount of heat, moist and tender meat.

The secret to keeping the meat moist is all in the braise, especially for barbacoa. I used most of a 16 oz bottle of Sapporo Premium (a few ounces for myself). Cooking with alcohol is a pro tip to add flavor complexity to whatever you’re making, whether a sauce or a braise. The booze cooks out and imparts its own zip to a dish. Plus, you might as well sample some before putting it in the pot. I have their Reserve beer set aside to take this dish to the next level.

If I don’t win, I will forego eating tacos for an entire month.

If you’re in the Chicago area on April 19, come see if my barbacoa has what it takes to be the best. My stomach and pride depend on it.

barbacoa-recipe
Beer-Braised Barbacoa
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You got the time? I got the recipe for you for barbacoa that may top your favorite taqueria.
Servings Prep Time
6 people 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
3-4 hours 3-4 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 people 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
3-4 hours 3-4 hours
barbacoa-recipe
Beer-Braised Barbacoa
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Print Recipe
You got the time? I got the recipe for you for barbacoa that may top your favorite taqueria.
Servings Prep Time
6 people 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
3-4 hours 3-4 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 people 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
3-4 hours 3-4 hours
Ingredients
Meat & Spice Rub
Braising goods
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Mix all the spices in a bowl for the spice rub with a fork. These are the approximate increments I used.
    barbacoa-spice-rub
  2. Generously rub the pork shoulder with the spice rub. Ideally, do this overnight to let the flavors penetrate the meat. I didn't plan ahead and did this day of. The flavors were still sensational.
  3. Whether you let the spice rub sit over night in the fridge or for 15 minutes, let the pork get closer to room temp before searing.
  4. Heat dutch oven on medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add olive oil in dutch oven.
  5. Add 1/8 tsp chile de arbol peppers to the oil (15-20 seconds).
  6. Add onions to dutch oven. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add chopped chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Stir.
  8. Add spice-rubbed pork shoulder to dutch oven.
    barbacoa
  9. Sear on all 4-6 sides.
  10. Pour in beer, scraping up fawn on the bottom of the pot. Add water.
  11. Bring to a simmer, cover and place into 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours. The meat will get to the desired temperature in this span of time, so you are really looking for the meat to be fall apart tender.
  12. Let the meat rest for 10-20 minutes. Then, with two forks, start pulling apart the meat. Pork shoulder is fatty. Most of the fat will have melted away. Discard the remaining fatty chunks.
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6 Secrets to Win Cooking Competitions

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Short of “Free puppies,” few things guarantee that I’ll open an email faster than the promise of tacos. The email was an invite to bring my best to a competition in April. My relationship with cooking competitions is strained. I love the opportunity to win gadgetry and appliances that I have flagged on my TBD wedding registry, but I hate losing.

My first foray into the world of competitive cooking was a few years ago for a sausage battle royale. One of my best dishes at the time was arrabbiata sauce with hot Italian sausage. I made 3-4 batches of sauce, boiled 4 pounds of mezzi rigatoni, loaded up catering trays and headed to the city. I met some other bloggers/home cooks and presented my dish to three judges. They asked a few questions and shared that it was really good. “I have a shot!” I thought. Cooking for friends and family never gives you an objective perspective like a cooking competition. Unless your friends are in the business, they’ll likely tell you the food is good. Whether they go back for seconds is your best indicator of how good something truly is.

Emboldened by the positive remarks from the judges, I thought I had a chance to take home one of the many glamorous prizes. Names were called. Mine was not. Sullenly, I took the remaining sheet pan of good, but not good enough arrabbiata to my trunk.

I hung up my apron and swore off competitions.

A few years later, I received an email for a bacon takedown. They supplied the bacon. You did the rest. Again, the glamorous prizes were stacked high, taunting me. OK. I’ll do it. But just for fun. I opted for a new creation and made an elote-inspired dip/soup. Again, the people praised it. Many came back several times to get more. My former boss came with her husband, so I knew I should have two votes. Maybe. I promised myself I wouldn’t set any expectations to win. Getting the validation and trying something new were the motives, not winning.

Plus, free bacon is right up there with free puppies as an incentive.

All the competitors were called on stage for the dramatic award presentation. Winning names were announced.

And this time, my name was also not announced. BUT, I didn’t have any leftovers to pack up with my tears. Everything my girlfriend and I made was consumed, which made clean up incredibly easy.

And this time, my name was also not announced. BUT, I didn’t have any leftovers to pack up with my tears. Everything my girlfriend and I made was consumed, which made clean up incredibly easy.

I sulked all the way home.

Always a bridesmaid. Will my dream kitchen registry ever be fulfilled?!

With spring comes another opportunity to win (or cry in my car for 45 minutes). This time the competition is for tacos. I’ve strategized and come with a stellar taco. But will it be good enough? Is it different? Will the judges and people like it? Can it rival a traditional pork taco?

As part of my game plan, I’ve come up with 6 tips on:

How to Win a Cooking Competition

(from a guy who has never won)

  1. Mobilize your friends. Lots of these competitions are dependent on a crowd vote. If you get a bunch of your friends to attend, you boost you shot of winning.
  2. Stand out. What makes your dish any different from the others? At the sausage fest, people who made their own sausage were awarded ahead of people who made a dish with store-bought. Whatever the ingredient/theme is, how can you elevate it beyond the normal expectation?
  3. Differentiate your table. I’ve yet to do this and I have seen other competitors with matching outfits or a theme. It can be gimmicky and I hope good food trumps a theme. But there’s nothing to lose helping people distinguish you from the other entrants.
  4. Lower your expectations. These are meant to be fun. I tell myself this every time. Have some side goals like meeting the competitors or sponsors.
  5. Prepare a speech. You want to be prepared. Whether your speech is an acceptance speech worthy of the Oscars or just telling people who come to your table what you made, be ready to sell your creation. If possible, work in puppies or bacon.
  6. Raise the stakes. This will be my third attempt. I don’t want to be the Susan Lucci of cooking competitions. If I don’t win, I will forego eating tacos for an entire month. If you follow me on Instagram, you know how frequently I eat Mexican food.

If you’re in the Chicago area on April 19, come see if my tacos have what it takes to be the best. My stomach and pride depend on it.

Coq au Vin

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God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
-Voltaire


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Stop. I know what you’re going to ask.

French food, Andrew? How are you going to use tortillas avec la cuisine française? I’ve opted to take a break from my paramour, at least for one meal.

Earlier this week, I joined a friend for dinner at Bistro Voltaire, a French restaurant in River North. After practicing my French while reading the wine list and menu in my head, I decided on getting coq au vin. I don’t think I have ever had it at a restaurant, largely because taquerias don’t offer it. Previously I attempted to wing it by cooking chicken in half a bottle of red wine. While that was tasty, it was far from the elegant and tender chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes I got at Bistro Voltaire.

Similar to when I was first exposed to arrabiatta sauce at an Italian restaurant, I decided I would master coq au vin. I read a few recipes to see if there were any extra ingredients I didn’t spot in my inspiration dish–mushrooms, pearl onions, carrot, thyme. The ingredients are straight forward. This dish necessitates some basic kitchen competencies: sauteing, knife skills, and patience. Most of my kitchen creations are great for after work when you don’t have a lot of time. This dish will take about 90 minutes to make, but it’s worth tout les temps.

les ingrédients

  • 6 chicken thighs (you could also use chicken breasts, but I’d suggest bone-in chicken)
  • 3 strips bacon, cut into lardons (large chunks)
  • 1/2 package mushrooms (I used baby bellas. The restaurant used button and oyster ‘shrooms.)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, medium dice
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups red wine (Pinot noir worked well, and be sure to pour some for the chef.)
  • 1 cup beef stock/broth
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/8 cup of flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme

préparation

In an effort to be as French as possible, I started cooking this at 8PM and attempted to get all my mise en place out of the way like a real chef. If you’re cooking with a date, congratulations. You’ve managed to either get someone into your home or invite yourself to their home. If you have an extra set of hands to help, chopping duties can be split up. Additionally, your sous chef can help wash, peel, cut potatoes for mashed tatters or take care of making pasta.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Heat a dutch oven to super hot. I let mine heat over medium-high for about minutes while I chopped up my ingredients.20131117-083529.jpg
  2. Brown the bacon until all the fat renders. Then remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the artery-clogging bacon fat.20131117-083537.jpg
  3. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Drying the chicken ensures that it will sear better, forming a crisper exterior. If there is moisture on the skin or meat, it has to cook off before the meat can sear. Sear for 5 minutes on each side. I had to work in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate with a paper towel, then cook the remaining chicken. Don’t crowd the pan. It prevents you from properly searing the meat.20131117-083519.jpg
  4. Once all the chicken is seared, remove all but a few tablespoons of fat in the pan. I poured out about half the fat. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions and carrots, stirring occasionally. We aren’t looking to brown the veg, merely soften them. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the mushrooms and garlic clove. Cook those 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste, then flour. These only need to cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor. The tomato paste adds a meatiness to the sauce, while the flour will aid in thickening the sauce.
  6. Combine 1 1/2 cups wine and 3/4 cup of beef stock in a measuring cup. This is also a good time to pour yourself another verre de vin. Add the wine/stock combo to the pot, stir to mix. Then return the chicken and most of the bacon to the pot. You can’t make bacon and not have a piece. Add the thyme and bay leaf.20131117-083550.jpg
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil. Put on the lid. Then put the put in the oven for 30-40 minutes. I checked the temperature after 35, and it displayed 170. Parfait!
  8. Serve with mashed potatoes (I added bacon to mine). For round 2, I’ll be serving this with egg noodles.

So, the dish takes some work, but is definitely doable and amazingly worth it. The sauce is phenomenal. I’ll be using up the thyme for some other dishes this week. If your date doesn’t profess their love for you after eating this, either you messed up OR you need to find someone else.

Ain’t No Party Like an Al Pastor Party

20130713-193943.jpgHow do you kickstart a conversation?

Person #1: Hi. I’m Mr. So-and-So.

Me:  Hi, I’m Andrew.

Person #1: Where’d you go to school? What do you do?

After everyone in the small group answers, an awkward silence results. We have all been in one of these dead end conversations. It’s painful. You look down at your glass, wishing the libation were stronger or that there were more of it. I tried unsuccessfully to spark the conversation asking about upcoming summer travel, passions, and any recent good reads.

You can read all the books and blogs about networking or developing your inner extrovert, but I discovered a secret yet to be enumerated. And it goes against all conventional wisdom. Continue reading Ain’t No Party Like an Al Pastor Party