Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Friday Dinner: Chicken Piccata, Fettucine con Burro e Formaggio and the Ham Sandwich Salad

...okay, we didn't serve a ham sandwich as a salad, but the inspiration for the salad started out as a ham sandwich, according to Nancy Silverton, in her book "A Twist of the Wrist". It's also not called "The Ham Sandwich Salad", but "Crispy Hearts of Romaine with Ham, Pickled Jalapeno Peppers and Creamy Avocado Dressing". My older sister served the salad to me the last time I was visiting and I knew I had to make it for Lynn at one of our Friday dinners. The dressing alone just makes me want to weep with happiness. Everything in this salad goes together beautifully.

I've eaten Lynn's Chicken Piccata, and pasta with butter and cheese (closer to the original Fettuccine Alfredo than what you eat in restaurants) for years and Friday's incarnation was delicious.  We were talking about when she first made the pasta dish (and whatever pasta you have on hand will work - she most often uses linguine or fettuccine) and she pulled out one of her favorite Italian cookbooks to show me some recipes, "Adventures in Italian Cooking", © 1980, published by Ortho Publishing - a subsidiary of Chevron Chemical at that time. Seriously? Why yes, Chevron had a publishing arm and its subsidiary, Ortho, put out cookbooks. In a way, it's kind of creepy if you think about it too much, but don't. It's a strange source, but one with really good, solid recipes. 

Many recipes call for pounding out the whole half-breast but if your half-breasts are large, making a scalloppine (thin slice of meat) by butterflying the half-breast and just slicing it into two pieces makes a more manageable piece of chicken and takes less pounding time. I've embedded a video that shows how to butterfly a chicken breast. It also helps if your chicken isn't straight out of the refrigerator when you pound it.

Many recipes also call for egg dips and breading which, after sauteing, makes more of a "chicken-fried steak chicken breast",  but Lynn just dusts the pieces with seasoned flour and lets them air dry on a rack before cooking them and I'm in favor of this method, too.

Many moons ago, Lynn lived in the Outer Richmond and her favorite restaurant was Ernesto's (on Clement St.) - back when Ernesto was in the kitchen. Lynn was delighted to be able to recreate many of her favorite dishes from Ernesto's using, amongst other sources, this book. 

Alfredo di Lelio.is credited with the dish "Fettuccine Alfredo" but you know that some form of pasta dressed with creamed butter and cheese has been served since somebody in Italy had water, fire and those three ingredients, but Alfredo has the official credit. Lynn's version includes a healthy dose of fresh ground black pepper and minced parsley. Parmigiana Regiana - at least two years old, is traditional but we used a pecorino romano (sheep's milk) cheese. Don't sweat over the fine details, this remains: pasta dressed with butter and cheese. The only thing about which you must be precise is to wait to dress the pasta until right  before you're ready to serve it. Too soon and the sauce will break (separate). That fact is why the Fettuccine Alfredo we know from most Italian restaurants - at least in the U.S., is a sauce that includes cream as it helps 'hold' the sauce during the restaurant's service period.

Harold McGee has successfully de-bunked the common practice that you need a bunch of water to cook pasta but make no mistake - you need salt. Two tablespoons in the water to cook a pound of pasta in 4-6 quarts of water and if you use the less-water method, two teaspoons to two quarts water.

 - Chicken Piccata;
 - Fettucine con Burro e Formaggio; and
 - Crispy Hearts of Romaine with Ham, Pickled Jalapenos and Creamy Avocado Dressing

Serves 6-8 as a as a main dish.

Lynn doesn't pound out the entire half breast, she butterflies it, separating it at the 'hinge'  and pounds those out to 1/4".  I think the smaller pieces are easier to handle, take less pounding and look really nice. There will be splatter when you cook this. Use a splatter screen if you have one and are so inclined, or just be ready to clean-up after you cook the chicken pieces.

  • 5 chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup flour seasoned with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola or refined grape seed oil) (plus more if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more if necessary)
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter sliced into 3 pats
  • Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup capers (the small, non-pareil) drained (if in brined) or rinsed and drained (if in salt)
  • 3-4 tablespoons finely minced flat-leaf parsley
  • Additional lemon wedges to squeeze over the chicken (optional)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Pre
  • While you're flouring the chicken, heat a 12" heavy skillet (not non-stick - you want the fond from cooking the chicken when you make the sauce) on medium for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola or refined grape seed) plus two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to the pan. Add 2 chicken pieces to the pan (gently - you don't want a hot oil incident!) and fry for approximately 3 minutes per side and the chicken is golden brown. Remove to the baking sheet and cooling rack you have in the oven and cook the next pair. 
  • When you are done cooking the chicken pieces and they are warming in the oven, pour out the oil and return the pan to the heat, adjusting it down to medium and add the white wine, deglazing the pan by scraping up the fond (brown bits) with a wooden spoon or spatula while the wine is reducing by about half. Whisk in the chicken stock and simmer for a minute. Whisk in the three pats of cold butter, one at a time until the butter is incorporated. Add the capers and simmer for a minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir in the parsley and turn the heat to low, to keep the sauce warm while you are plating.
  • Place 1 or 2 of the chicken pieces on a plate and spoon some sauce over top - don't forget to make sure there are capers with each serving. Add a lemon wedge to each plate and serve.

(Fettuccine with butter and cheese)
Serves 6-8 as a side
Make sure you don't dress the pasta until you're ready to serve the dish. For this dish, we used the "more water" method to cook the pasta.

  • 1 lb dry fettucine noodles
  • 2/3 stick butter, softened
  • 4 - 6 oz grated pecorino romano (or parmigiana), grated on a fine grater
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Parsley, finely minced to taste, start with 2 tablespoons 
  • Fill a large pot (8 quarts) with 4-6 quarts of cold water. Turn the heat up to medium high and cover. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down and partially uncover the pot so that it remains at a fast simmer while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  • Cream the butter and cheese together thoroughly until the mixture is entirely homogeneous and set aside.
  • Bring the pasta water to a full boil and add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. stir the water and salt. Add the pasta all at once, moving it around gently with a wooden spoon until it all fits in the pan. Cook at a boil until al dente - taste it at about 9 minutes and again at 10. When it is done to your satisfaction, drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup and return that to the pan with the pasta.
  • Add the creamed butter and cheese to the pan in 3 additions and working very quickly with each addition, thoroughly dress the pasta. Add the minced parsley and fresh ground pepper to taste and serve immediately. Pass additional grated cheese at the table.

Adapted from Nancy Silverton's recipe in the book, "A Twist of the Wrist".
Serves: 6

We used 1 head of romaine and included some of the smaller outside leaves in addition to the leaves in the heart. I also used less than 1 of the 2 additional avocados called for in the salad because it seemed like overkill along with everything else and a few cubes strewn on each leaf was perfect. The salad is best eaten by picking up a leaf at the core end. This dressing is so good, you will want to marry it.

Dressing Ingredients:
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, including the tender stems
  • 1 large ripe Hass or Gwen avocado - should be 7 ounces, cut in half, pit removed and scooped out of the shell
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 small garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 small shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil (grape seed or canola)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salad Ingredients:
  • 2 romaine hearts, washed, thoroughly dried with the leaves removed from the core. Wrap these loosely in barely damp paper towels, place in a plastic produce bag and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the salad.
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ripe Hass or Gwen avocado
  • 6-8 pickled jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stemmed, seeded and juilienned
  • 7 ounces thinly sliced cured ham
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (leaves only)
  • To make the dressing: Puree the cilantro, avocado, elmon juice, garlic, shallots and kosher salt with a small food processor (or in the blender). With the processor running, add the canola and olive oil in a thin and steady stream through the feed tube until the dressing is emulsified and thoroughly homogeneous in appearance. It should look kind of fluffy. You can store this in the refrigerator by placing it in a bowl of an airtight container (one with a lid), pressing plastic wrap over the entire surface of the dressing and covering it tightly. It held beautifully for about 45 minute for us. (*Update* My sister told me that it held for her for three days)
  • To assemble and dress the salad: Remove the prepared romaine heart leaves from the refrigerator and place them in a large bowl. Lightly season the leaves with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle the leaves with 1 cup of the dressing and massage the dressing into the leaves with your (impeccably clean) hands. 
  • Halve the avocado, remove the pit and cut through the flesh with a knife, down to but not through the skin in a crosshatch pattern - about 1/3" x 1/3" inch. Use a soup spoon to carefully scoop out the avocado flesh - it will be diced.. Season the diced avocado with a little sea or kosher salt and pepper.
  • Divide the lettuce leaves evenly among the 6 plates. Top the leaves with a few cubes of avocado, a few strips of jalapeno peppers, a few strips of ham and a sprinkling of cilantro. Repeat this, building one more layer in the same way.


Chris said...

That dressing is not only delicious, but amazingly, it held for me for 3 days after we used a portion of it! I guess it's because the citrus is emulsified with the avocado, the avocado doesn't oxidize. I love the recipe as written, with lemon juice, but think I love it even better with lime juice. In any case, it's a wonderful recipe, surprising and lip smackin' good.

Ms. Divina Loca said...

I wondered why the original didn't call for lime juice. I'm definitely going to use lime juice the next time I make it, too. I'm going to update my head notes on the amount of time it can be held - thanks for the info!

Chris said...

The dressing might even last longer than three days; I don't know, though, because I ate it!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Love, older sister Chris