Friday, January 09, 2009


My wife nailed the good lunch this morning, dammit. I'm dreaming of my savory, lip-smacking piccata, and the little lady is no doubt gloating with every bite.

I don't think there's a better optimum in the cooking parameter space of effort, reward, and cost than chicken piccata. It's the number one meal requested by my kids, and it's ready to go in half an hour, even starting from scratch. My wife and I have judged restaurants by this dish, because it's so wonderfully unfuckuppable, and making it well is a good sign that the chef is at least awake. (Now you may wonder why on that extremely rare excursion to some place we actually want to be, we order something we do better at home. the answer is because we're idiots.)

Piccata translates as "pricked" (which only happens if comes out real good), but generally it's taken to mean cutlets cooked in some kind of lemon sauce. Since my version is so lemony, I like to drink one of those potently citrus down-under savignon blancs with it, which is great for cooking too, but as an inveterate cheapskate, I more often use the yeasty California stuff in the pan. (We keep it on hand for my Mom if she visits, or else for the occasional binge.) If I'm planning to make this stuff during the week, I'll usually buy a couple chickens on Sunday and fillet the breasts and thighs, and pound them out to paillards, using the backs and other assorted remains to make the stock (canned stock is pretty serviceable here too).

I get the fried lemons from Lidia Bastianich's cookbook, which also more or less supplies the recipe below. The lemons are delicious little wagonwheels of leathery tartness, with a flavor a that's identifiably the fruit, but not the same as raw juice, richer, less acid. They're almost impossible to catch at that golden moment, and you'll inevitably end up with some black specks of burnt pulp in the pan. Sometimes I continue with the same oil for that extra lemon flavor, but the floaties aren't that appealing, and sometimes I am motivated to change it. You simply can't wipe out the pan after cooking the chicken, however. Piccata comes out even better when you make more servings, cycling through a couple batches of cutlets and ending up with more fonds sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you prefer a colorless piccata to a flavorful one, I'm not sure I can help you.

Chicken Piccata:

~3 lemons
1-2 lb. thin chicken cutlets
2-3 tablespoons of fresh minced garlic (thinking closer to 2)
olive oil
salt and fresh pepper
~3/4 cup white wine
~2 cups chicken stock
~1/4 c. capers (or more; I like the little nonpariels)
chopped fresh parsely (optional)
pasta for serving

Thinly slice up enough lemon for two or three slices per plate. Squeeze out the rest of them for juice. Anywhere between a third and half a cup is pretty good.

Fry the lemon slices over medium heat in olive oil, flipping when one side is golden brown. Keep an eye on them, because they're black (but still edible) about a second later. When you've cooked both sides, remove them and set aside. Wipe out the pan if you want to.

Salt and pepper the chicken. Add oil and butter to the pan. Dredge the chicken in flour, and in batches, brown the cutlets nicely on each side. Add oil between batches if you need to. Set aside when done.

Add the garlic, and let it cook a minute or two, just until that sauteed aroma really begins to float up, then deglaze the hot pan (with the garlic and brown junk in it) with the wine, scraping the bottom and letting the liquid reduce. Add the juice and the stock, the capers, and the cooked chicken, and let it simmer until the flour on the meat thickens the sauce a little. It can sit for awhile like this.

Add a little chopped parsely at the end. Serve over pasta, with plenty of sauce, with the lemon rings on top.


catnapping said...

oh god. now i'm hungry.

i'm sittin' here salivating, and it's too late to do anything about it.

damn you.

damn you to texas!

Artemesia said...

This is the first Piccata recipe I've seen where you saute lemon slices..Will try it very soon. Have you thought about these?
Before using these..they don't have to be Meyers do wash off the salt.

Thanks for the recipe!

Aaron said...

Wow. That sounds REALLY good. I'm the evil Anti-Cook, but I'll have to see if I can make that work. Think that it would also go well over rice?

twif said...

through carbonara on the list for quick, easy and delicious. eggs, bacon, maybe some garlic, pepper and spaghetti. yum.

Keifus said...

cat: Do I really deserve Texas? What if tried to mess with it?

Art: never would have thought to do such a thing myself, but I really like them.

We actually looked into making preserved lemons recently (Christmas eve dinner I think it was) to use in a spicy salsa, but didn't plan enough in advance, so, well, we didn't. Also, while I'm sure it's fine, I didn't relish (ha ha) the idea of cooking something by letting it sit in a lukewarm place for an extended period of time. (Ended up using a jar of Indian pickled limes instead, and was much better than I expected.)

Aaron: Thanks, and I don't see why not.

Twif: This may stretch your imagination, but the truth is, I'm a big fan of bacon.

twif said...

keif, somehow, i thought you might be.

from memory:
about a half lb. pancetta or bacon
4 or so eggs
6ish cloves of garlic
1lb spaghetti
plenty of cracked black pepper
olive oil

chop the bacon
halve the garlic & sauté in oil with the chopped bacon, till bacon is just about to turn crispy (you want to still have some chew to it). set aside. while you were doing this, you were certainly salting your water and getting it to boil, right? good. throw the pasta in. now is where timing gets crucial. as you probably know, the reason you can't get decent carbonara anywhere is cause you are using the pasta to cook the eggs. when there is about a minute or two left on the pasta, whisk your eggs. turn the heat back on the bacon too (oh, and get rid of the garlic, or don't. i pick it out and eat it, since it's done its job but is too delicious to toss). drain your pasta well, transfer to a warmed bowl, add the eggs and grind a fuckload of pepper over it (fuckload = a lot, but to taste, naturally. look it up). toss like hell. take the bacon and add it, oil & all. toss like hell again. serve right away, with that nice crusty bread you happened to have on hand. grate some parmesan over it if you like. and drink whatever the hell wine you want. or beer.

yum. see, now i want some too. oh, and check a recipe for actual amounts of the ingredients (i'm probably close, but i never remember the amounts. this means i'm not making it enough). anything that varies too much from eggs, bacon and maybe some garlic is wrong and should be ignored. especially if they add cream or some such shit.

Keifus said...

I like the way you cook, sir. Also probably no surprise. (I'll experiment before I let my wife see me prepping the eggs. I can see the gears turning now: some mental battle between what her chef would do, and what a good microbiologist tech would. What wins will depend a lot on how it tastes.)

twif said...

the chef will win out on carbonara, cause if you cook it any other way it's inedible.

also, book recommendation: anthony bourdain's les halles cookbook. read it as if it were an actual book. the recipes are good, but only the half of it. informative (on how to mentally approach cooking) and funny as hell too.