Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cajun Chicken breast on Caesar Salad

This is a wonderful summer dish and a welcome respite from meat and potatoes in winter. You will need stale bread to make your croutons so buy a loaf of your favorite bread and make sandwiches for lunch.  If you don't have a favorite then try Alpine Bread, it makes a delicious sandwich and terrific croutons.  Get it in a paper bag too as this is ideal to keep croutons.  When the bread is a few days old cut the rest into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and spread it out to dry.  When there is no more give to the cubes they are dry and can be put in the paper bag and stored in the cupboard in the open or loosely closed paper bag.

Cesar Salad dressing is an aioli with extras and an aioli is mayonnaise with garlic. Making mayonnaise was one of the things that drew me into cooking because such a delicious useful condiment turned out to be so easy to make. Mayonnaise is actually a sauce, an emulsion specifically, of egg yolk and oil.  The characteristic of an emulsion is that it will not separate when left to sit. If you add too much oil too fast it will not emulsify and it will separate when you stop stirring. 

Take two eggs out of the fridge about a half hour before you want to use them.  Warming them softens the shell making them easier to open. You only need one egg but I recommend having an extra on hand in case you screw up and need to rescue the mayonnaise. We will be using the egg raw and there can be harmful bacteria on the egg shell so before cracking the eggs immerse them in boiling water for 5 seconds then plunge them in cold water to stop them from cooking.  If some of the white has turned opaque you are leaving them in the water too long.

You need to separate the egg white from the yolk.  We won't be using the whites so I separate them into a  plastic tub and put them in the freezer till I have enough to make something. You can just dispose of them if you prefer. A chef will crack the egg into his hand to strain out the yolk.  I use the two halves of the shell.  There are also plastic yolk separators if you prefer.

One egg yolk is too little for an electric mixer to be effective so you must use and hand whisk to make this dressing. You can't keep this mayonnaise in the fridge because it is made from raw eggs and will spoil quickly so don't plan on making a big batch to last.

For this meal you need a skinless boneless chicken breast, a head of romaine lettuce, a chunk of Italian Parmesan cheese and a fine grater to freshly grate it. (don't buy grated, it doesn't have the same taste) You need extra virgin olive oil and other cooking oil.  Extra virgin olive oil has a distinct flavor that overwhelms the sauce if used alone, so mix it with your favorite cooking oil. For example commercial mayonnaise is made with canola oil which has almost no taste.

If you have a Greek or Mediterranean deli nearby you might be able to buy just one anchovy fillet.  If not buy a small tin.  The expensive ones taste so much better than the cheap ones that it is worth the extra $2 to buy the better ones. The fillets won't keep an extended time in the fridge but they are worth buying even if you don't use them all.

You can buy a Cajun spice mix if you don't want to invest in all the spices but you'll find you use a lot of it so it's much cheaper and more satisfying to make your own.  This Cajun Spice Mix I found at

Cesar Salad Dressing
1 egg yolk
less than 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
topped up to less than 1/2 cup with your cooking oil.
1 anchovy fillet
1 clove garlic
few drops Worcestershire Sauce
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup Italian Parmesan cheese (parmigiano-reggiano)
freshly ground black pepper

Cajun Spice Mix
 1/4 Cup of salt 
 2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper 
 2 Tbsp. paprika 
 1-1/2 Tbsp. onion powder 
 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper 
 1 Tbsp. freshly ground white pepper 
 1 Tbsp. garlic powder 
 2 tsp. dried basil 
 1 tsp. chili powder 
 1/4 tsp. dried thyme 
 1/4 tsp. ground mustard 
 1/8 tsp ground cloves

To finish prepping take the outer papery leaves off the romaine lettuce and the tips too if they are papery.  Chop the rest up in 1 1/2 inch slices.  If this produces really long strips of lettuce then tear the longest ones in half, it's easier to eat. Put it all in a sink of cold water, swirl it around and put it in a salad spinner to dry it.  Turn the oven to 375 degrees and put a frying pan on a medium burner with a tablespoon of oil.  When the pan is hot put the croutons in and drizzle a little more oil around them. Add salt and pepper.   Keep adding oil when the pan is dry until the croutons have browned nicely all round. Turn the croutons out onto a plate to cool. The oven should be ready now.

Oil and/or season your chicken breast with the Cajun spice mix.  If you oil the breast first then use less spice because the salt will adhere better and over salt the meat quickly. Sear the chicken as before and pop it in the oven.  Again it will take about 25 minutes to cook and rest for 5 to 10. So you have 30 minutes to get the salad done.

Whip your egg yolk a couple of times to break it up.  Take your less than half cup of virgin olive and cooking oil mix and pour a teaspoon of it beside the yolk.  If you pour a tablespoon by mistake you won't be able to emulsify it, so take your time.  Whip the yolk and slowly pick up the oil into the yolk.  The more oil you have emulsified the stiffer the emulsion will become.  As it gets stiffer you can add more oil at a time but not too much or it will stop emulsifying.   When all the oil is gone you will have a nice stiff mayonnaise.

If it did not stiffen then it did not emulsify, you added too much oil too early. No amount of whipping will fix it.  Put your second yolk in another bowl and slowly add the broken sauce to it as for oil.  If you do it correctly the oil egg mixture will emulsify into the second yolk and you have rescued your sauce.

Add your finely chopped anchovy fillet, finely chopped or pressed fresh garlic, a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce, salt, pepper and the juice of half a lemon.  Whip this in till it is smooth and taste it.  If it needs more acid add some lemon juice.  If it's too sour, add some salt. When you have a nice delicious balance to your dressing, the chicken should be almost done.  Press a chicken breast, if the juice is a little bit pink put it back for another 5 minutes.  The juices will be clear when it's cooked. When the chicken is done take it out and put in on a clean cutting board to rest. 

Put the lettuce in your largest bowl and pour the dressing over it.  I find lifting from underneath to toss the salad works best.  Once the dressing is uniformly spread then add the croutons and toss them in.   Add the Parmesan cheese and toss again.  Serve on large plates.  The chicken should have rested enough, so make 3 or 4 diagonal slices not quite all the way through the meat.  Make sure you have your cutting board right beside the plate and slide your knife under the breast and transfer it to the center of the salad. Serve your Cajun Chicken Breast on Cesar Salad.

The Cajun spice mix is excellent on fish also so we have Cajun snapper on Cesar fairly often too. Cook the fish in a medium to medium high frying pan a few minutes each side. You watch the texture and color of the fish change as it cooks so you'll know when it's done. Fish is thinner so it doesn't need to rest as long.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chicken with Lemon Caper Sauce

Now that we have some chicken stock and some boneless, skinless breasts, with a few additions we can make a nice dinner .   You will need oil.  You can use olive oil to cook with but not extra virgin olive oil because it will become bitter when overheated.  Currently I use rice bran oil for cooking, it has a nutty flavor and very high smoke point. Canola is also a good choice and there are corn and other oils available, use what you like best.

You need capers, small green pickled berries which come in a small jar.  They are used in many Mediterranean dishes so they are good to have on hand. You will need a fresh lemon, something you should always have on hand. Don't bother with bottled lemon juice, I've tried it and nothing beats freshly squeezed lemon juice.  You'll also need flour.  You can buy a bag of all-purpose or a shaker of instant blending for now.

We'll be serving the chicken with mashed potatoes and frozen peas.  These will present the least challenge so you can concentrate on the sauce.  We'll also garnish with fresh chives.  The secret to success in the kitchen is being prepared. If you are also serving dessert it might be nice to put a few curls of lemon rind if it suits the dessert so take those off now and put them aside.  Cut the lemon in half and juice it.  A chef would squeeze the juice through the fingers of his other hand directly into the sauce, but he has a box of lemons and we have one.  So I use a juicer and tea strainer.

Chop the chives up, you only need a few pieces on each plate so you probably only need one or two. Peel the potatoes, rinse and cut into chunks.  It is important when cutting things up that each piece be about the same size and shape so it will cook uniformly.  Put the potatoes into a pot that will be about half full when the potatoes are covered with cold water.  Add salt and put on the burner but don't turn the burner on yet.

Open the oven and move the rack to the middle, close the door and set the temperature to 375F  185C.  When the indicator light goes out the oven is ready to use.  It is important to wait till the oven reaches temperature to get the correct browning when roasting and rising when baking.  Dice up a 1/4 inch slice of onion and everything is ready to cook.

Turn the potatoes on high. Season the chicken with  salt and paprika and/or pepper on both sides of the meat.  Use one hand to turn the meat and the other hand to touch the spice.  Any time you handle raw meat you should wash your hands and the work space with soap before touching anything else.  Otherwise bacteria from the meat will contaminate the kitchen and the food and you will get sick.

If you don't have a frying pan with an oven safe handle then lightly oil a baking sheet, place the chicken smooth/skin side up on sheet and spray or brush with oil so it will brown and not dry out. Put them in the oven.   If you have a frying pan with a metal handle then put a tablespoon of oil in the pan and turn the burner on to medium high. Watch the pan till it gets hot then put both breasts smooth/skin side down, they should sizzle frantically. Flip them over quickly then pop the pan in the oven. It will take about 25 minutes for the chicken to cook then you'll want it to rest for 5 or 10 minutes so you have 30 minutes to cook everything. If the potatoes are boiling turn them down to medium low so they are just lightly simmering.

Put a tablespoon of oil in your pan for the sauce and turn the burner to medium high.  Put the diced onion in the pan and cook them to golden brown then remove them from the pan to a side plate. Put a bit more oil in the pan and add a heaping teaspoon of flour to the oil and mix it in so you have a smooth  oily paste.  You need to cook the flour taste out of it so let the flour sizzle a little but don't brown it. It's time to start the peas and check the potatoes.

Take the sauce pot off the heat and pour 1/4 cup stock in whisking to smooth it.  Add more stock till you have a smooth thick liquid then add a teaspoon of lemon juice,  a pinch of salt and the golden onions.  Add 7 to 10 capers to the sauce and put it back on the heat. Now taste it, you should be able to taste the sweetness of the onions, chicken stock, lemon and salty capers.  If it is too sour and not salty then add salt to counter the acid and taste again.  If it is salty add lemon.  If you end up with it too salty and too sour then add stock. If all else fails you can add sugar to reduce the acidity but you are turning it into a sweet and sour sauce, which is fine.

If the potatoes are done, turn the burner off.  Drain , mash and put a tablespoon of butter in them. Check the peas. If done, turn the burner off and drain. Add a tablespoon of butter and some salt. Add 2 tablespoons of milk to the potatoes and some salt, taste them.  If they are too dry add more milk and if bland add salt.

If the breasts have been in for 25 minutes take them out and press one with a fork.  If the juices are a little bit pink, put them back in the oven for 5 more minutes.  The juices will run clear when they're done. If they're done turn the oven off, take them out and put them on a clean cutting board to rest while we plate.  Put two plates in the oven to warm for a minute, check peas and potatoes are ready to serve.

The point of resting the meat is to let it cool down so when cut the moisture won't escape as steam, drying out the meat.  If the meat has rested enough put 3 or 4 diagonal slices in each breast, not all the way through, you want the meat to hold together. If it hasn't rested enough then plate the breast whole.  Plate the potatoes and peas.  Spoon sauce over the breasts but not too much, you don't want everything swimming in it.  Sprinkle chives on the potatoes and serve your meal!

Throw away the extra sauce, you can easily make it fresh next time. This sauce is also good on fish.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Boning chicken breast, making stock

Start with a really sharp boning knife. (long thin blade)  The same technique is used whether you start with a split breast or a whole bird. Place the narrow end of the breast or the cavity of the bird on the board facing you. The breast bone sticks straight up, perpendicular to the rib cage.  Slice between the breasts through skin and down to the breast bone. Point your knife straight down and use the tip to scrape the meat away from the bone down to the rib cage.  The last inch of breastbone is cartilage so be careful not to cut into it but use it as a guide to scrape the meat off.  Now work the tip of the knife along the ribs to separate the meat. The fat end of the breast has the shoulder and wishbone. Feel around to locate it and carefully cut it out, cut the meat off the shoulder and you're done.  Now pull the skin off and you should have a breast,  the bones and skin all separate.  (You can leave the skin on if you like but if you do you must make it crisp during cooking) Clean any bits of organ meats from the bones, they seem to darken the stock. Put the bones in the stock pot and put the pot in a 375ยบ oven for about 60 minutes.

Put a few drops of oil in a small frying pan and put the chicken skins in it to slowly crisp up.  Don't make it hot enough to spatter all over the stove.  When the skin is crispy on both sides put on a paper towl to drain, feed to the dog as a treat.

When the stock pot is cooled enough to work with add cold water to cover the bones and onion.  Onion skin gives the stock it's amber color so leave everything on the onion, just cut it in half and put it all in the pot.  Cut a carrot and a stick of celery into large chunks, 1.5-2 inches long is fine and put in the pot.  Drop in a bay leaf and turn on the heat.  Quickly bring the stock to a boil then turn it down to a slight simmer, cover and let it cook for 45 minutes at least.  I get best results at 2 hours.  If you simmer it too fast you'll lose a lot of water so you can add some if you need to.  When it's done enough take it off the burner and let it cool down and settle.

You need to strain the stock.  If you have a large sieve you can strain the bones or just take them out to make it easier.  When pouring the stock, reserve the last 1 to 3 tablespoons in the pot, it has all the sediment in it. You should have a fairly clear amber stock. If it's cloudy don't worry, it's just particles of chicken floating in the stock. Let it cool completely then put in the fridge.  Overnight the fat will clump together on the surface, remove it with a large spoon and dispose of.

That's it, chicken stock is used to make soup, gravy, sauce, risotto and many other dishes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eat out at home every night

Oddly enough, decades of my own bland food didn't bother me until two things happened.  One, I went to a restaurant with a really great chef and two, while watching a chef work on Iron Chef America realized, I can do that!

Not that I could compete in Kitchen Stadium, but I could do that technique, I could make pasta. My first batch was a struggle, too little liquid makes it hard to roll, but it tasted good. Since then I have learned a lot and still have far more to learn.  I have found that my food costs have dropped dramatically because I can now get excellent results with cheaper cuts of meat.

So I have decided to share my voyage of discovery through  this sea of delight. I aim to have a restaurant quality meal every night, at home, for two. That is the inspiration for this blog Eat Out In Every Night.

Where to start?  Stock. You need chicken stock for just about everything so you might as well make your own. You need to have the following ingredients in your pantry at all times.  Onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, kosher salt, ground black pepper and whole black pepper in a grinder.  Put the celery in a strong plastic bag at the store so you can put some water in it and stand it up in the fridge.  It stays crisp a long time. I buy onions in 3lb bags and carrots in 2lb bags and they don't spoil before I use them.

I buy split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on.  I fry the skin up as a treat for the dog and make stock with the bones. Next post will be boning a chicken breast and making stock.