Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce

Dear Noah was home from work yesterday with a pinched nerve in his neck. He tried sitting, laying, moving around. Nothing was comfortable. Sometime in the late afternoon, he finally fell into the deep sleep of someone who has been in pain all day.

He slept and slept and I didn't want to wake him from what would hopefully be a healing rest. It was getting close to dinner time and  I needed to get cooking. The problem was that I was making Chicken Piccata for dinner.

Chicken (or Veal) Piccata consists of thin cutlets of meat, pounded with a mallet, lightly floured, browned in butter, and served with lemon. Sometimes a pan sauce is made with capers, butter, mushrooms, shallot, and more lemon. Considering our bedroom's proximity to the kitchen, going to town on some chicken with a meat mallet would be like, totally uncool. Plus, it was getting late. It had been a long, chaotic day of catching up from my trip to San Francisco, and I didn't really feel like taking the time to deal with cutting and pounding eight or ten pieces of sliced chicken breast.

But could I make whole, pan-seared, Piccata-style chicken breasts that were worth eating? Would they be dry and boring and lacking flavor? Would the floured exterior burn before the breasts were fully cooked?

Turns out the answers are yes, no, and no, in that order.

This is a mallet-free, weeknight version of Piccata-style chicken. Faster, easier, and still delicious enough to serve to company on a Sunday night. You might call it, "Lazy Man's Piccata", or "Piccata for People with Sleeping Spouses." Whatever you call it, just be sure and do one thing: make this dish.

Noah woke up just as I was snapping the last of the photos and getting ready to fill a couple glasses with the leftover white wine. Seeing, smelling, and tasting good food put a smile on his otherwise pained face, and that made the whole meal taste that much better.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce
(Serves 3 to 4)
Adapted from "The Best Recipe," published by Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons of oil and butter might sound like a lot to saute the chicken, but don't be tempted to skimp. The fat, in combination with high heat, is key to a chicken breast with a lightly crisped exterior, and juicy interior. You won't be adding additional fat to make the pan sauce, so this turns out to be a relatively light version of this dish. I served this with some simple roasted squash, but angel hair pasta tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan, and garlic salt would make a simple and lovely accompaniment.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 large clove garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
6 ounces (2 cups) sliced mushrooms, button or cremini
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley
Lemon slices, for garnish

In a medium mixing bowl combine first 5 ingredients, and stir to combine. Add Chicken breasts and toss to coat. Let sit while you slice the mushrooms.

Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate and dredge chicken breasts in flour, coating all sides.

Set oven to 200 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil in a large nonreactive skillet** (see note) over medium-high heat. Butter will foam and then subside. When it begins to turn light golden brown, with a faint nutty aroma, it's time to add the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook breasts 4 to 5 minutes per side. Use tongs to flip as necessary, and lower heat as needed, to prevent scorching.

When chicken feels firm to the touch, remove to an oven-proof plate or serving platter, and place in warm oven. Immediately add white wine or chicken stock to the pan. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce liquid by half. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, a few grinds black pepper, and 1 tablespoon capers. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until mushrooms have released their liquid and the pan is nearly dry.


Add 1 teaspoon flour to mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add 1/2 cup water, bring liquid to a simmer, and reduce by half, or until a light sauce-like consistency is reached. Add chopped parsley and stir to combine.

Taste and adjust seasonings. If you used chicken broth in place of white wine, you may wish to increase the acidity with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.

Spoon mushroom mixture over chicken breasts, garnish with sliced lemon, and serve.

** A Note on Pan Choice: Best choices for creating this kind of pan sauce are stainless steel or enameled cast iron, because they get a nice brown crust, or "fond" on the cooking surface, and are non-reactive. When liquid is added and the fond is scraped up, these brown bits add tons of rich flavor. Nonstick will do just fine if that's all you have, but won't produce much fond, or the same rich, brown flavor. Also, since this dish uses acidic ingredients like lemon juice and white wine, cast iron or aluminum pans are not recommended. These metals will react with the acid, giving the sauce an aluminum taste.


carola said...

I just called Ernie and asked him to take two chicken breasts out of the freezer. Thanks, darling Ginny.

kate said...

you had me at "mallet-free"--- looks awesome...will be trying this weekend! ps-- your final presentations are always so beautiful!

Mary said...

Made this tonight w/o the mushrooms---deelish!

Monica H said...

Your lighting on your plated dish is quite lovely. The chicken looks great too!

Thanks for the pen this weekend at Foodbuzz :-)

~Monica H
Lick The Bowl Good

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks said...

Call it sacrilege or laziness, but I rarely ever mallet my chicken for chicken piccata. I cut the breasts into medium size pieces, about the same thickeness by butterflying the breast. This way, I also get more of the tasty, crispy coating as well.

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