chicken

Confession time: a couple weeks ago, when a reader requested that I make this dish, I had to look it up because I had never heard of it. Somehow, I had inadvertently avoided Chicken Piccata my whole life. Although truth be told, I rarely visit Italian restaurants any longer since bread, pasta, and pizza all contain that pesky (but delicious) protein, gluten. And after that, what’s left at your typical Italian-American restaurant – salad? Regardless, I did a bit of research on the dish, and here we are.

The origin of this dish isn’t confirmed, but most believe it to be of American design, most likely by Italian-American immigrants during the 1930s. In Italy, Piccatas today are commonly made with veal, but here in the US, chicken prevails. The cutlets are breaded and pan-fried, and then a sauce is made with the drippings. It’s a simple technique made remarkable by its combination of flavors – wine, broth, lemon juice, and capers.

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Mole is a term used for a number of sauces in Mexico. On its own, the word usually implies Mole Poblano, a dark red sauce made with poblano peppers. This sauce, Mole Verde, is a lighter, fresher version of the sauce, made with pepitas, blended herbs, and tomatillos.

A traditional herb used in this dish is epazote, which is a pungent, weed-like herb. It’s also commonly added while cooking black beans, because it reduces the gassiness that follows after eating those magical fruits. If you can’t find espazote where you live, never fear – flat-leaf parsley will work in a pinch.

Many variations of this dish call for stewing the chicken in the sauce. But I started thinking about the fact that this sauce can be put together in about 20 minutes, and it’s a tragedy that you’d have to delay the cooking time by so much in order to stew the chicken (and lose some of the sauce’s fresh taste along the way). Instead, I figure that there’s a better way to get dinner on your table; you can roast a chicken (or buy a rotisserie chicken) separately and combine it with the sauce to serve. I particularly like the contrasting flavors of the bold, refreshing sauce and the tender roast chicken. It’s making me hungry all over again just typing this. Enough talk; let’s get cooking.

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Parmigiana is a method of Italian cooking wherein breaded, fried cutlets are layered in cheese and tomato sauce. Originally made with eggplant (Melanzane alla Parmigiana), breaded chicken and veal cutlets are popular as well. There is some dispute as to where this dish came from; logic would dictate that the Northern city of Parma started the craze, but Southern regions Campania and Sicily also stake a claim in this dish. A common misconception is that the dish got its name from its inclusion of Parmesan cheese (despite the fact that mozzarella is the most common cheese used in this dish); but like Chicken Parmesan, Parmesan cheese got its name from the fact that it is produced in the city of Parma.

While Chicken Parmesan is fairly well-known in the US, it’s of monstrous popularity in Australia, where it is called Chicken Parm, Chicken Parma, or even Chicken Parmy. Their take on the dish usually includes french fries, and was named the #37 best food in the world by CNN Traveler a few years back.

My take on the dish is surprisingly similar to the way I made it while working as a line chef many years ago; the only thing that’s changed is the breading ingredients. While plain tapioca or arrowroot starch works well for its first dusting layer, mixing the starch with some potato starch for the outer breading layer gives the outside a crisp texture. If you’re looking for a really authentic, slightly rough texture that only breadcrumbs can provide, you could toast your favorite gluten-free bread, cool it, then blend to make breadcrumbs. But as you’ll see from the pictures below, this simple preparation is pretty awesome, too.

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Although I consider Butter Chicken to be the ultimate Indian chicken curry (I saved that recipe for my cookbook), Chicken Tikka Masala takes a close second. In fact, there is little difference in the dishes – both are usually made by adding roasted chicken pieces to a tomato-based curry sauce. Butter Chicken has more, well, butter.

The origin of Chicken Tikka Masala is disputed. It’s commonly believed that it was first whipped up in Indian restaurants in the UK (Glasgow in particular is often cited), but many argue that it was first influenced by dishes from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan well before it appeared in UK restaurants.

Putting the curry together is actually pretty simple – start to finish in under an hour. It gets a little complicated when the chicken comes into play, since it should be marinated for at least 6 hours beforehand (overnight preferred). But with a little forethought, this is an excellent weeknight meal.

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Last month I visited my parents in the Pacific Northwest (they live in a small town in Washington called Yelm). Along the way I stopped by and toured a few health-minded food producers in the area. First on the list: Salt, Fire & Time, a traditional healing foods kitchen in Portland, Oregon.

As expected, they had a variety of tasty and healthy food items (more on that later), but what stood out to me about Salt, Fire & Time is their journey to find the best way to bring health to its customers. It got me thinking about how businesses have to find a common ground between themselves and their community, so we’ll talk a bit about that, too.

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Yassa Poulet (sometimes called Chicken Yassa) is a West African dish originally from Senegal, characterized by its spicy marinade of peppers, lemon, and onions. I was initially drawn to this dish because the marinade uses a crazy amount of onions, and they’re not wasted; instead, they are recombined with the chicken during cooking.

Many traditional recipes call for the chicken to be browned in a skillet and then braised with the marinade until tender. That sounds good, but our nice summer weather always compels me to grill, which left me with a conundrum; how do I reincorporate the onions into this dish after grilling? The answer turned out to be simple – caramelize the onions while the chicken is on the grill. Combining the sweet, delicate flavor of the caramelized onions and the bright, crispy grilled chicken was a pretty awesome move.

I’ve also found that this makes a perfect weeknight dinner – throw together the marinade before work (or the night before), then finish the dish in less than an hour when you get home. Since both the chicken and onions are relatively hands-off, it gives you plenty of time to prepare other accompaniments along the way. Sure, it’s a bit more work than something like my Simple Grilled Chicken Drumsticks recipe, but it’s totally worth it in terms of flavor.

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Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to take my blog in a new direction by visiting and writing about food producers around the world, in order to better understand how the food we eat gets onto our plates. Off the bat, I knew that one of my first destinations needed to be where the whole “food” thing starts. At a farm.

Choosing a farm to visit was easy. Last summer I met David Maren, founding farmer and general manager of Tendergrass Farms, and we quickly became friends through our mutual love of languages and our mutual disdain for our country’s rampant, negligent farming practices. We’ve also been working together over this past year; he sends me samples of food to cook and eat, and I take pictures of that same food for his website. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties, hearkening back to humanity’s bartering days: he gets free photography and my family gets free food.

David’s small farm is located near Floyd, VA (about 4 hours from us), so we made the drive down a couple weekends ago to check out and talk about his company. Here is what I found out.

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Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Chicken Kiev is a Ukrainian dish, possibly influenced by the French roulade (I’m a big fan of roulades – check out my German Rouladen recipe). This dish is characterized by rolling herbed butter into chicken cutlets. To me, this is an ideal meal; chicken breasts tend to be bland without some added fat or spices, and Chicken Kiev has both in spades. To make the butter easier to roll, my recipe calls for freezing the butter for 30 minutes before rolling – it makes a huge difference.

As a Russian linguist and teacher in my day job, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the spelling of the word “Kiev” in my recipe. The Ukrainian government officially changed the romanized spelling of their capital city’s name to Kyiv in 1995, mostly due to the fact that Kiev is the Russian pronunciation of the word. But in truth, Kiev is the original, Old East Slavic pronunciation of the city (technically it’d be spelled Kyev today). I think it’ll be interesting to see how the world spells and pronounces the word for this important city in the future – especially given the amount of attention this corner of the world has received recently. Personally, I like Kiev, but not as a slight to the Ukrainian people or government; I’m just a fan of Old East Slavic.

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Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

It’s hard to believe, but my cookbook, The Ancestral Table, has been out for nearly four months. I keep finding myself surprised whenever someone tells me they have and enjoy my book; for some reason I keep assuming that only our little family regularly uses it as a reference. So I thought it would be fun to take a week off from my regular recipes and share one from The Ancestral Table, as a gentle reminder to myself that there are other people out there who could use these recipes.

Deciding on a dish to share was really easy; we make this roasted chicken recipe at least once every two weeks. Simply put, it’s one of the easiest chicken recipes you’ll find, and it’s deliciously crispy and juicy. Cooking the bird directly in a skillet also makes it a cinch to whip the drippings into a flavorful gravy. Finally, we like to throw the bones and carcass into our electric pressure cooker for a couple hours to make some tasty and calcium-rich broth.

I’m also giving away a copy of my book this week, signed by me and Paul Jaminet (who wrote the foreword of my book). There are only a few copies like this one, so be sure to enter to win (instructions at the bottom of this post).

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Let’s talk about Sweet and Sour Chicken for a second. It is probably not surprising to read that while this dish is served in Chinese restaurants in many Western countries, it doesn’t really exist in China. There are several sauces in China that incorporate both sweet and sour tastes, the most common being from the Hunan province, but they’re still a far cry from what you can get at your local Chinese-American restaurant. The reality is that this dish is now nearly more of an American dish than Chinese. On the flip side, the Chinese have their own interpretation of Western tastes – like flying fish roe and salmon cream cheese stuffed crust pizza (Hong Kong Pizza Hut).

But at the end of the day, it’s still a unique and comforting meal, and I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it using Paleo-friendly ingredients. My first order of business was figuring out how to make the sauce without resorting to ketchup as a base; instead, I used a combination of chicken stock, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, tamari, honey, and spices. For the chicken, I used my new breading technique highlighted in Tuesday’s chicken nugget recipe. Lastly, I found that gently simmering the sauce while I cooked the chicken helped the sauce ingredients to perfectly marry, resulting in a balanced, delicious flavor.

For this recipe in particular, I teamed up with the folks at Vitacost; they offered to have me experiment with their online store and see what I could come up with. I had been thinking of trying out this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe for a while now so it seemed like a good fit. I was surprised at how easy and cost-effective it was to use their shop; many of the items in their store were comparable or even cheaper than what I can find locally. Not only that, they had many of the brands we already buy. It was a lot of fun to conceive an entire meal using only their store items (minus the produce and meat). I think Vitacost would be a great resource for three types of people: (1) those who don’t live near a gourmet or international market, (2) those who have a high cost of living (big cities, for example), and (3) those who don’t have time to rummage through the aisles of several stores to find the right ingredients.

Okay, let’s get cooking.

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