Monday, April 21, 2008

No Parm, No Fowl

We were not satisfied with the qualities which nature gave to poultry; art stepped in and, under the pretext of improving fowls, has made martyrs of them.”
~Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

Well, I’ve been honest with you thus far, so I’ll just put it out there and hope that I’m forgiven; Chicken is my least favorite protein.
There, I said it.
That is not to say that I don’t eat it, order it, or prepare it, but if I had my druthers, chicken would be exiled to the “occasional” list of consumables where veal and corned beef happily reside.

For those of you chicken-prophets out there, let me say that I fully appreciate its value as a lean, low-fat protein worthy of its acclaim where diets, live-its, and weight-reduction meal plans are concerned.
The fact is however, I have never succeeded at baking, roasting or broiling a whole chicken—or a least not one resembling those succulent specimens which regularly make their appearance
on the glossy pages of foodie mags.
I find chicken, in its purest, unadulterated form, to be flavorless. The dangers associated with under cooking the bird cause many of us to grill, roast or bake it until it resembles the play-kitchen fare of our Fisher-Price youth—inedibly bland (yet impressively indestructible).
My appreciation for chicken is really limited to what’s in it, on it,
or around it. Who doesn’t love a breaded, fried cutlet or a
Cordon-Bleued bird breast? In fact, if you could find a way to successfully parmigian sweetbreads, I’d probably eat those too
(well, maybe not).

On a good day, I can please a hungry crowd with a quick
Chicken Marsala or Chicken Francaise. Both of these dishes rely on the use of quality chicken paillards, not for their flavor, but for their service as conduits (solely) responsible for delivering savory sauces to eager palates. They are messengers if you will, shot for the sake of delivering information to the taste buds. As a customer service employee, I sympathize with their plight, but that makes them no more appealing to my appetite.
And for that matter, I’d much rather direct my efforts towards saucing up a few (nutritionally superior) vegetables than
pan-handling a few pathetic poultry parts.
But I live with a man (among others) who can’t seem to grasp the concept of vegetables as an entrée. And although I have never read the book, my experience tells me that the fundamental difference between men and women is more about meat and vegetables
than it is about Mars and Venus.

Around our home, chicken often falls into the meat category when beef isn’t on the menu (because, according to the fowl-friendly fellows around here, it sure beats the hell out of a vegetable gratin). And so, I continue to search for easy and delicious (read: moist and flavorful) chicken dishes that don’t require the use of a crock-pot
(my arch nemesis) or Lipitor.

I pay close attention to media food trends, hoping for fresh ideas that might be translated into kitchen-friendly experiments.
Lately, restaurant vogue dictates a drift towards the deconstruction of entrees. Clever chefs take apart perfectly good recipes and serve the complex ingredients on a slender, oblong plate in prison-line-up fashion. The entrée is served in pieces rather than as a whole dish (hence the term deconstructed). While this type of phonetic dining doesn’t really appeal to me, some folks enjoy the (now ubiquitous) interpretation of ingredients.
What I have noticed however, is that chicken dishes are rarely,
if ever deconstructed.
I dare say if they were, no one would actually enjoy the chicken.

As a seasoned home-cook, I know my limitations.
I now regard whole chickens the same way I regard bunk beds;
as evil temptations for gullible shoppers. Most of us will be
fooled into buying them at least once, only to realize that these two items simply cannot be made successfully at home.
(Glossy ads be damned).

And so my quest continues.
Until the Chicken Fairy casts her spell on my Le Creuset, I will continue to disguise fowl fare with more palatable ingredients.
It is with great pleasure that I relinquish the whole bird to loving Jewish grandmothers, who seem to have a genetic penchant
for such an enigmatic entrée.
And unless its parmed or pan-fried, I’ll avoid poultry altogether when dining out.

A bit of motherly wisdom I penned in my daughter’s senior yearbook stated: “Remember, almost anything in life can be improved with a little melted mozzarella.
Where chicken and I are concerned, my theory still holds true today, and I remain steadfast in my resolve:
No parm, no fowl.

And if anyone’s interested,
I have a great set of bunk beds for sale

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


What's the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat?
Chicken and fish. You know what you should do?
Combine them, eat a penguin
. “
~Dave Attell – Comedian

I’m happy to share with you a fool-proof chicken recipe
that actually tastes good.
While I am not a fan of chicken soup (in fact, I like everything about it, except the chicken), this recipe for Chicken-Tortilla Soup is delightful; it's a virtual fiesta for your tastebuds. The chicken has a supporting role while the rest of the ingredients take center stage.
My own version is a multi-cultural hodge-podge of ingredients.
If you prefer to use a store-bought rotisserie chicken
(and why wouldn’t you?), you can skip the steps for marinating and grilling the chicken. Personally, I think the sweet addition of the marinade balances the spicy flavor of the soup.
Do what makes your mouth sing, and make this one your own.
(And in case your wondering; yes, I usually eat the soup and pick out the chicken pieces and toss them into Hubby’s bowl).

The original recipe comes from the Cooking Light website.
While my version is probably not as light, I strongly encourage you to finish the soup with a dollop of sour cream, some diced avocado, shredded Jack cheese, and a sprinkling of sliced olives and chopped scallions. If you want your soup to have more heat, add a finely minced chipotle from a can of chipotle in adobo (see recipe).
***You must fight the urge to substitute the corn tortillas with something else. They are necessary for the soups creamy texture (they will virtually dissolve into the soup) and their flavor component is paramount to this recipe.


For Grilled Chicken:

1.5 lbs. Chicken Tenderloins
4 TBS Good quality Balsamic Vinegar
2 TBS Honey
1 TBS Dijon mustard
½ Cup Canola Oil

Mix last four ingredients together with wire whisk until combined. Place chicken into large Ziploc bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Seal bag securely. Gently shake bag to incorporate. Place bag in bowl or on tray in fridge and marinate for at least two hours (not more than four hours).
Remove from fridge fifteen minutes before grilling.

Heat grill to medium high.
Remove chicken from marinade (discard leftover marinade) and grill for two minutes on each side. Promptly remove from grill to plate and immediately cover with foil. Allow chicken to cool for at least 20 minutes and then slice into chunks. Set aside and follow soup recipe. Add chicken according to recipe.

***Or substitute the grilled chicken with a store-bought rotisserie chicken (shredded or cut into chunks).

For Tortilla Soup:

6 TBS Canola Oil
8 Corn Tortillas, chopped ***(find these in the refrigerated case at your supermarket—usually in the dairy aisle—DO NOT SUBSTITUTE WITH FLOUR TORTILLAS).

6 Garlic cloves, minced
½ Cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 Can (28 oz.) Diced Tomatoes, undrained
**I prefer the Pomi brand of chopped tomatoes which are sold in a box on the same aisle as the canned tomatoes. I also add one small can of FIRE ROASTED tomatoes from Muir Glen brand—but any brand will do.

2 TBS Ground cumin
1 TBS Chili powder
3 Bay leaves
6 Cups chicken stock
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
**Optional: for added heat, add one, finely chopped chipotle from a can of chipotle in adobo.

Grilled Chicken, chunked

For Garnish:

Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour Cream
Diced avocado
Tortilla strips

Heat oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, cilantro, and onion. Saute 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves and chicken stock (and minced chipotle, if using). Return to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add salt and cayenne. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. At this point if you prefer a more homogeneous soup, use an immersion blender or food processor to puree some of the soup, before adding the chicken. Add grilled chicken to soup and heat through.
Cover pot and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes.
Serve soup with a dollop of sour cream, diced avocado and garnish with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, chopped scallions, sliced olives and tortilla strips.



Sandra said...

Why did the chicken cross the road?... I guess to get away from your house and come to mine! Have you tried skinless, boneless thighs, they are virtually indistructable? How about (I know I'm going to butcher the spelling) cachettore? You've got your mushrooms, a little spice if you want and instead of rice you can make noodles so you know who can at least eat that... maybe?

Michelle said...

I might just send the troops to your house. Your suggestions are wise and quite do-able, with only one problem:

Alison said...

There is not much to cooking a whole chicken and believe me, it only LOOKS daunting.

Preheat oven to 400 - 425

Take about a 3 lb to 3.5 lb chicken and rub with lots and lots of salt and pepper - inside the cavity too. Then rub with olive oil.

Stuff cavity with cut up oranges, lemons, limes (whatever you have that is citrus) and about half of a yellow onion.

Take the other half of the onion and maybe some cut up carrot or celery and make a "bed" on the bottom of your roasting pan (lined with foil). Put chicken on top of "bed", drizzle with more olive oil.

Bake chicken on a middle rack uncovered until the skin is really dark and crisp looking. 30 - 45 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 and cover with foil.

Bake until your meat thermometer says the thigh is 190 (me thinks).

It should take around 1 1/2 hrs to bake a chicken, but timing is all relative so make sure you check with thermometer after 1 hour.

Hope this helps - It really is easy, I promise!!

And of course you make a gravy with all that good juice and leftover veg bits.