Saturday, August 14, 2010

0 Recipe #162: Chicken with Lemon-Caper Sauce (Pollo con Salsa di Capperi e Limone)

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A simple but elegant preparation, this dish is light, tangy, & extremely flavorful! White wine, lemon, shallots, fresh herbs, & a dab of butter.... These ingredients can make almost anything taste good. :)

This recipe is also quick & easy to make: It can be completed in less than 30 minutes! It's a dish that hits all the right notes, particularly for those who want a healthy, tasty meal, but don't have all night to spend cooking it. :)

This recipe's particular style of caper sauce originated in Sicily. Capers grow wild all over the Mediterranean, & so, not surprisingly, are a common ingredient in this region's cuisine. The caper berries that we commonly recognize in dishes are actually the unripened flower buds of this plant, which have since been dried in the sun & pickled in vinegar, wine, or brine. Capers prepared in this form are naturally rather salty, so that should explain why the below recipe doesn't require any additional salt. :)

Chicken with Lemon-Caper Sauce (Pollo con Salsa di Capperi e Limone)

8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, well-rinsed, defatted & patted dry
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c. semi-dry (i.e., demisec/abboccato) white wine (I used Orvieto.)
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 Tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. shallots, peeled & finely diced (about 1 large shallot)
1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 Tbsp. distilled white wine (or champagne) vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced
1/8 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. large capers, drained, rinsed, & chopped
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)

Directions: After washing, defatting, & drying chicken cutlets, lay them onto a non-porous (i.e., silicone) cutting board or other smooth, clean surface. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, and tenderize by pounding flat with the bumpy (i.e., waffle-patterned) side of meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about 1/4". After chicken has been tenderized, cut each piece crosswise into halves (or thirds, if you prefer).

In a large 12-13" nonstick sauté pan, sauté chicken in 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil on medium-low heat until golden brown & slightly crispy around the edges (but still moist & tender on the inside), about 2-3 minutes per side. (Tenderized chicken cooks much faster because it's thinner & has more exposed surface area after it's been tenderized.) With about a minute of cooking to go, squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken. Transfer to two plates & set aside. Keep chicken warm by covering with foil or using some other method (i.e., a chafing dish, warm/heated plates, etc.).

Reduce heat to low. In the same pan, melt butter & stir in flour to form a light & frothy paste (i.e., a "roux"). Add remaining 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil & sauté shallots for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add garlic & cook for an additional 2 minutes, until tender. (Shallots should be soft and the garlic should be on the verge of turning a light golden brown.) Then deglaze pan with wine & vinegar, scraping off the fond from the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates. Quickly stir in thyme, oregano, parsley, & ground black pepper, & reduce the sauce to about 1/2 of its original volume, continuing to stir & simmer until thickened. In the final 30 seconds of cooking, add capers & lemon zest (if using), & then remove from heat. (This will basically just heat the capers through without drying them out.) Transfer to plates & pour sauce over each serving of chicken. Garnish each portion with additional fresh chopped parsley & lemon slices, & serve.

Yield: 2 servings.

Variations: Caper sauce can also be served over pasta, steak (i.e., filet mignon), fish (red snapper, halibut, cod, sole, tuna, etc.), or other seafood like shrimp or scallops; it can even be served as a dressing for salads. Alternatively, to further enhance the flavor & preparation of this dish, you could also serve this dish atop a bed of salad, pasta, basmati rice, or fresh grilled/steamed vegetables (i.e., asparagus, green beans, spinach, potatoes, etc.).

For the caper sauce itself, other possible additions include sliced, cured black olives (i.e., Kalamata, Gaeta, etc.), mushrooms, &/or artichokes. To make Tuscan-style caper sauce, just add 1 Tbsp. minced & deboned anchovies and a handful of chopped cornichons (i.e., mini, sour pickled gherkins).

Alternate garnishes include watercress, basil, or mint. You could also season this dish with a pinch of nutmeg, or, if you're serving it with pasta, sprinkle it with some freshly shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese.

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