Monday, April 19, 2010

Mustard Chicken

If there is one recipe I am famous for, at least around my house, it is mustard chicken. I have made this recipe at least fifty times, which has helped me perfect it, and which has also made it my husband's first guess at what's for dinner. This is the ideal weeknight main dish. It is quick, easy, and actually healthy. I developed this recipe when I had a health problem that caused me to have to remove "fatty foods" from my diet for six months. This was a challenge, but out of it came the famous mustard chicken, and it stayed on the menu even after I could eat fat; meaning it's worth taking a shot at even if you scoff at "health foods."

Mustard chicken is essentially chicken cutlets (I mean, who doesn't love cutlets, right?) with mustard acting as the sealing agent rather than your typical flour/eggs routine. This not only makes the dish healthier, but gives it a lighter more flavorful taste that can go well with a variety of side dishes. Depending on how much you like mustard, or which type you like, you can mix it up. I like to use a pretty strong dijion or grainy mustard, because I like the mustard taste to be prominent. If you are a little afraid of mustard, try a honey mustard, and you'll get a pleasantly sweet tasting cutlet, and the mustard will be your secret.

Here is what you will need (serves 3-4):

Mustard Chicken

3-4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced in half through the middle of the breast, and pounded thin (you can use a saucepan if you don't have a mallet)*
1 cup of breadcrumbs (both regular and panko work fine, but panko gives a good crunch)
3-4 Tbsps of dijon or grain mustard
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Toasted Sesame seeds (optional)
*you can also brine the chicken breasts in salt water beforehand, to bring out more flavor


The first step is to have all your materials ready. I use a kitchen brush and a fork, and this way, I never have to touch the chicken, and I don't get my hands all covered in breadcrumby mess. See sample "station" here.

Now, the first thing you'll want to do is spread your mustard onto the chicken with the brush. You want a nice coating, but you don't want globs of it on one part and barely anything on another part. If you don't have a brush and are using a knife to spread it, that is fine, but just be sure not to put too much. It's a coating; the mustard should not be dripping off at any point. See photo.

Now, take one cutlet and set it mustard side down in a plate of breadcrumbs (put your toasted sesame seeds in the breadcrumbs if you are using them). Press it into the crumbs with the back of the fork. While it is still in the breadcrumbs, use your brush to coat the other side with mustard. Try your best not to touch the breadcrumbs. You will want to keep your ingredients as separate as possible to avoid mess. Once finished, use the fork to pick it up, and put the side you just coated down into the bread crumbs. You may have to use the fork to push the breadcrumbs onto the sides of the chicken if your cutlet is large.

Repeat this for all cutlets, and put aside on a plate. Once they are all finished being coated, get a frying pan ready with some olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your pan, but not too much (the chicken shouldn't sink into it). Wait, can you leave the coated cutlets while you are busy tending to your side dishes? Why yes you can. These cutlets cook in about 5-7 minutes, so if you have other things you want to prepare, go for it. These cutlets can stay breaded for a while and not lose their texture because there is no flour. With a flour coating, you want to cook your cutlets right away or the flour will congeal, yielding a weirdly textured product. Here, there is no worry about that. Just don't leave it out for too long (more than 20 minutes or so); if it's going to be longer, put them in the fridge.

Ok, so you've got your pan with olive oil. Set this on medium high, and when the oil starts to shimmer, it means it is good and hot (if it starts to smoke, it's too hot!) Then take your cutlets and put them right down in the pan with enough space between them so they are not touching.

The goal here is to only flip these once, kind of like fish. The reason for that is that there are no eggs holding these breadcrumbs. They will stay on, but you don't want to be constantly turning them because then they will fall off. Keep that one side down for a few minutes--the oil will be very hot, so be careful of spatters! I wear long sleeves for this because I really hate getting hot oil on me. Then, when you think it's ready, just peek at the underside. It should be golden brown. You should also start to see the edges of your chicken turn white from the raw side. Then, flip them. Using a flat spatula works, but I like to just use a fork, that way I don't scrape any of the crumbs off accidentally.

After this side is cooked, you are done! You should serve them right away to ensure crispiness.

Here are the tips to remember:
1. Pound chicken so it's thin; you only want to flip the chicken once and thin cuts will ensure that the chicken is cooked through after one flip.
2. When spreading the mustard on the chicken make the layer thin; you want the flavor but if you put too much, it will overwhelm the breadcrumbs.
3. Don't let the oil get too hot; if you see smoke or if all the oil gets soaked up, replace it fast, and turn down the heat. You want crispy cutlets, but not burned ones!

Now mustard chicken can become famous in your house, too. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scallops and Spaghetti

I am always looking for ways to incorporate more seafood into my diet. Not only is it good for you, but it tastes great. The only problem is that it can be very expensive, and in some places not very tasty. Because I live in the city I shop pretty much solely at Trader Joes--even they have a so-so fish showing. Virtually all of it is frozen, and much of the good quality stuff costs more than the steak they have. However, I have found good use for their frozen bay scallops. These are really great to have handy, especially to throw in for a quick saute, or pasta dish, like the one I'll be showing you today.

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, who is known for his simplistic recipes that taste great. It is a great quick meal, one that you can make any night (especially those nights when you forgot to take something out of the freezer that morning.) The best part about this recipe is that it has a delightful "creamy" taste, but it requires no cream or cheese (though feel free to add a sprinkle of parmesan). It is good for you, good tasting, and quick. What could be better for dinner on a night when you really don't have the time to cook?

You will need:

1 pound of spaghetti (or linguine)
20-25 bay scallops, thawed (these are the tiny ones; if you have big ones, cut them into quarters)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsps of butter
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs
1 tsp of parsley
1/2 a can of diced tomatoes, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

To thaw the scallops quickly, you may want to use a trick that I learned a while back. A metal frying pan conducts the heat from the air more rapidly to the frozen food, so put the scallops in one layer in the pan. After a few minutes, turn them over, and you'll notice that the underside is already thawed. It should only be a few minutes before the other side is all set.

Heat up a pot of water with salt for the spaghetti, and add it once the water boils. Meanwhile, add the olive oil into a medium sauce pan, and put it over medium heat. Once it is warm, add the garlic. Cook it for about three minutes, or until it turns a tan color. Then add your butter in, and mix it around until it melts. Turn up the heat to medium high, and add your tomatoes and scallops. The scallops need to cook for about 3 minutes. You'll know they are done when they turn opaque. Once they are cooked, take the sauce pan off the heat.

This is the trickiest part of this recipe, but it's actually not bad, you just have to be patient. Once the pan is off of the heat, mix in the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and parsley. You want this mixture to be evenly incorporated, and then let it sit, and allow the breadcrumbs to absorb the mixture. You don't want to see any extra oil or liquid in the sauce pan, otherwise it is not ready. If you've waited more than 5 minutes and there is still oil, try to drain it out. You should look for this type of consistency below, and you'll know it's ready.

You will need to warm up the scallop mixture just a bit before adding it to the pasta. Drain the pasta, and reserve a half a cup of pasta water. Put the pasta back in the pan and add the scallop mixture. Then add the pasta water, and stir until the pasta is evenly coated. And you're done! You'll be so surprised that breadcrumbs have made this pasta have such a delicious creamy texture; it is hard to believe.

Now if that wasn't quick, I don't know what is.

Just remember:

1. To thaw the scallops quickly, lay them on a metal frying pan.
2. Wait for the breadcrumbs to soak up the liquid of the scallop mixture before adding it to the pasta.

And there you have it! Another quick meal to add to your weeknight arsenal.