Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Slightly Nutty

Good evening everyone! Christmas is growing closer and closer. It just hit me today that the holiday was only three days away! It's hard to believe? Where has the year gone? If you live in the greater Iowa region - your holiday has the potential to be not so great, however, thanks to mother nature. That frosty ***** has another round of winter weather lined up for the 23rd and 24th and it has left all of our great meteorological minds befuddled on exactly what is going to happen. This leaves the holiday traveler (Maggie and myself) left wondering what exactly is going to happen to their holiday plans. I think Maggie and I are operating on a few contingency plans - just in case. In fact, tonight we're making the rounds to the stores buying up some supplies for the 'it snowed so much we're stuck at the apartment for Christmas' plan. Hopefully we won't have to use that plan - but you never know.

When your mind is bogged with weather patterns, travel itinerary and just why people are so absolutely rude this time of year - (Seriously, if this is some people's 'Christmas spirit' I'd hate to see their Grinch!) - it always helps to have a little comfort food or spend some time with your favorite hobby. Luckily for me, my favorite hobby directly leads to creating my favorite comfort food - breaded chicken.

I've tried multiple breaded chicken recipes in the past, all with varying degrees of success or failures (mostly failures). In fact, in my last breaded chicken recipe, I declared that if I did not succeed, I would never make the dish again. Thankfully, the fine folks at America's Test Kitchen delivered a great breaded chicken recipe and the dish (finally) turned out fabulously. Tonight, armed with another breaded chicken recipe (once again from America's Test Kitchen) I am ready for a little comfort food and relaxation in the kitchen.

The Recipe: Nut-Crusted Chicken Cutlets
Original Recipe Found In: Cook's Illustrated January/February 2011 Issue

What You'll Need:

2-4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Almonds
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1 tablespoon sections)
1 Medium Shallot (Minced)
1 Cup Panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)
2 Teaspoons Finely Grated Zest From 1 Lemon
1 Teaspoon Minced Thyme
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Cup All Purpose Flour

Begin by adjusting your oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Next, pat your chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and poke 4 to 6 holes (with a fork) into the thickest part of the chicken breast. Season with salt and set aside in the refrigerator until needed.

Using a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are chopped up into a coarse meal. Warning this will be UNBELIEVABLY loud! You may want to keep things to short bursts until the nuts begin to break down - I fear that anyone who tries to do this in one shot will no longer be able to hear without the aid of listening devices.

It was a loud process - but that's the end result 

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large (12 inch) non-stick skillet (medium heat). Swirling the butter frequently, cook until the butter begins to turn golden brown and develops a nutty aroma - this should take about 4 to 5 minutes. Next, add the shallot and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until the shallot turns golden brown - an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the panko and the almonds. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is a deep golden brown. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer this bread crumb mixture to a plate to cool. Once cooled, mix in the lemon zest, thyme and cayenne pepper.

In a shallow dish or bowl, lightly beat the eggs, mustard and black pepper. (I'm not sure if it was my particular ingredients or if this is a chemical reaction of sorts- but my mustard and egg did not want to combine. Even after some vigorous whisking, I still had a fairly gelatinous blog of egg and mustard. I remedied this by simply dipping the chicken completely into the mixture so all of the components coated the breasts.)

Arrange your dishes, assembly line style, with a plate of flour first, followed by the egg mixture and ending with the bread crumbs. Begin breading the chicken by dredging the breasts in the flour (make sure to shake off the excess). Dip the breasts into the egg mixture and allow the excess to drip off. Finally, roll the breast in the crumb mixture until completely coated. Feel free to add extra bread crumbs to the top and sides - or anywhere that looks a little bare.

Move the chicken breast to a wire rack placed on top of a baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the breasts are breaded. Place the wire rack/baking sheet combo in the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center of the chicken reaches 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Let the breasts rest for five minutes before serving. Serve with wedges from the zest lemon and enjoy!

The Results:

Once again, Cook's Illustrated delivered a breaded chicken dish that was almost fool proof. No breading lost, no naked pieces and the chicken wasn't overly done or way under cooked. With this basic formula - the common errors that breaded chicken can cause are essentially wiped out.

The chicken itself was full of amazing, unique flavor. The panko and almonds combined for a great - slightly crunchy, but incredibly flavorful bite. The chicken pulled in the dijon flavoring from the egg bath - which caused a zesty little undertone - a great companion to the lemon juices on the outside of the chicken. All in all, this flavorful little dish is extremely delicious and incredibly easy to make. Certainly worth a try for those following along at home.

That's all we have for you this evening, Maggie is taking to the kitchen tomorrow night with an incredibly unique dish that I had not heard of until this very week - it should be interesting! Be sure to stop back tomorrow evening to see what she's got cooking. Until then,


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