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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Think Like A Chef - Saving Chicken Parm

Before I move on to artichokes, I wanted to make something a bit more familiar on my own.  I decided to make chicken parm.  Needless to say, I hadn’t intended on making this a Think Like A Chef post, but I made a HUGE culinary mistake, but I managed to save the dish!

First, I had a few questions I needed to answer.  The first was: breadcrumbs or no breadcrumbs?  This meal can be somewhat high in fat anyway, and since I want to cut down the fat, I decided to go without breadcrumbs.  If you panfry correctly, not much oil should be absorbed, however, I want to try to make this as low in calories as I could.  Making that decision then brings up a different question:  If I’m not getting texture from the breadcrumbs, where am I going to get it?

After looking through various recipes to try to get some ideas, I ended up with a hybrid of different recipes that ended up being my own. 

The first thing I did was to start on my own sauce.  I used 15 plum tomatoes and, working in batches, cut an “X” into the end, put them in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, and then put them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  The tomatoes that boiled for 20 seconds peeled in about 10 seconds.  The ones that boiled for 15 seconds actually took a couple of minutes.  The trick here apparently is to take them out before they start cooking.  So it took longer than I had anticipated to get this done.

Peeled Plum Tomatoes

The next step was to seed the now-peeled tomatoes, and then cut them into a large dice. 

To cook this sauce, in a pan heated to medium-high with some extra virgin olive oil, I put an onion that was finely diced in, and then seasoned it with salt.  Then I put in two pinches of crushed red pepper.  Then, after about seven minutes, I added two cloves of minced garlic and cooked that for two minutes.  Then, I added the tomatoes, and brought it to a boil.  This didn’t take very long, as a lot of the “visible” tomato liquid was lost during the seeding process.  After it boiled, I brought it down to a simmer.  It needed to cook for about twenty minutes or so.

The idea behind this type of sauce was that I felt having chucks of tomatoes would be one of the ways I would add texture to the dish.

As for the chicken, I used a few tricks that I read from Giada De Laurentis.  First, I used chicken tenders, so it would cook fairly quickly.  Second, the key to giving the chicken a “crunchy” exterior was to get the pan screaming hot, and cook them until they were actually browned.  Of course the trick here is not to overcook the chicken in the pan, because the chicken is finished in the oven, so getting them off the heat was going to be crucial.  The third trick is how to flavor the chicken since seasoned breadcrumbs won’t be used.  She used a very simple but great idea.

Put some extra virgin olive oil in a bowl.  To the bowl, add some freshly chopped rosemary, freshly chopped thyme, and some freshly chopped Italian parsley.  (As an aside, I think it’s interesting how many recipes call for thyme as an ingredient.  I have come to love the smell of it!)  Mix that together, and then season with salt and pepper.  Then take a brush, and brush the mixture on both sides of the chicken.

Then, into the very hot pan went the chicken.  I added just a tiny bit more oil to the pan, then I started to brown the chicken on both sides.  So far, so good.

Here’s where I made the mistake:

It was time to check on the sauce.  It looked great and when I tasted it, it was pretty good, but it was kind of acidic.  So I added a sweetener.  It is here that I made a Culinary 101 mistake:  Instead of adding a little bit at a time, and tasting until it was right, I added WAY too much all at once.  So much, in fact, that it was sickeningly sweet!

Time to go into Think Like A Chef mode:  How am I going to save the sauce and not forget about the chicken?????

First thing I did was to add some salt to the sauce.  Not sure if that was right, but it seemed like a good thing to do.  The main thing is, it seemed to me that I needed to add back in some acidity.  Luckily, I had some tomato juice left over when I was working with tomatoes from a few recipes ago.  In went approx. 24 ounces of tomato juice.  This time, I tasted as I went along, while at the same time, turning the chicken that had now been nicely browned on one side.  After the last bit of tomato juice went in, I thought…”Hmm…not bad!”  Then I brought it up to a boil so I could get some heat back into the sauce, and at the last second, added some basil.

Now, the chicken had browned on the other side, so I took it off the heat, and put the sauce on top of the chicken, sprinkled on a bit of low fat mozzarella cheese, grated a small amount of parmesan reggiano on top of that, then put a small amount of butter-olive oil product on top of each piece, and then put the whole thing into a pre-heated 500 degree oven.

As for a side dish, I went with my new favorite gluten free pasta, which is made by Rustichella D’Abruzzo.  It is corn based, and it is the first gluten free pasta not made by Mario Batali that Cathy can actually eat with me.

Time for plating.

So, anyone that has read the Think Like A Chef posts has seen that I have had an issue with plating.  One of my readers has been very helpful in that area and I used one of his/her ideas.  

First, I put the chicken in the center of the plate.  I surrounded it with sauce (though maybe I should have covered the whole plate), and then used the stems from the thyme and the rosemary on top as garnish.  Not great, but certainly a step in the right direction.

The ideas for texture worked.  While I did miss the crunch from the breadcrumbs, the chunkiness of the sauce and the well-browned chicken were a good substitute.  The chicken was not over cooked, and still quite juicy inside.

As for nutrition, including the pasta, the calories are approximately 494 per serving, with 11 grams of fat, or about 20%.  Not bad.  The key was no breadcrumbs, using a minimal amount of oil, using the low fat mozzarella, not going overboard on the parmesan reggiano, and making my own sauce instead of using canned.

So overall, despite the mistake, I somehow managed to save the dish, make the plating better (I think) and have a good tasting meal.

Now to learn about artichokes.

1 comment:

  1. I thought I had posted here yesterday but it looks like I didn't! Anyway...I just wanted to congratulate you on this great dish---it has all the pieces fitting together: good lower cal substitutions, quick thinking on toning down the sweetness, and the things that I preach about over and over (and over and over!) the use of herbs in the dish AND the plating! A lot to be proud of (*not to mention the sometimes painful steps of the tomatoes)! Good luck with the artichokes (talk about painful steps!), and Keep on Cooking!