Monday, March 30, 2009

Proper Chicken Caesar Salad

from Jamie Oliver

With my own versions of the classics, like Caesar salad, it's not about changing things entirely; it's about respecting the original while bigging up the flavors and textures where I can. My twists for this salad are to use chicken legs (not dry old breasts!), smoky pancetta and lovely rustic croutons to suck up all the juices. It's a lovely little salad with just a hint of attitude - and it's versatile, as you can serve it hot or cold.

P.S. Use your imagination - if you have any other unusual salad leaves, flowers or herb shoots lying around, chuck some in to make it look a little less predictable.

4 whole free-range or organic chicken legs, skin on
1 loaf ciabatta bread (about 9 ounces), torn into thumb-sized pieces
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices pancetta or bacon
1/4 clove peeled garlic
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
3 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, plus a few shavings to serve
1 heaped tablespoon creme fraiche
1 lemon, juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 or 3 heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the chicken legs in a snug-fitting roasting pan with the pieces of torn-up bread. Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to make sure everything is well coated, then lift the chicken legs up to the top, so they sit above the bread. This way, the bread will soak up all the lovely juices from the chicken, giving you the best croutons! Pop the pan into the preheated oven.

After 45 minutes the chicken should be nicely cooked. Take the pan out of the oven, drape the pancetta or bacon over the chicken and croutons, and put back for another 15 to 20 minutes for everything to crisp up. The chicken legs are ready when you can pinch the meat off the bone easily. When they're cooked, remove the pan from the oven and set it aside for the chicken to cool down slightly.

Pound the garlic and anchovy fillets in a pestle and mortar or a Flavor Shaker until you have a pulp. Scrape into a bowl and whisk in the Parmesan, creme fraiche, lemon juice and 3 times as much extra-virgin olive oil as lemon juice. Season dressing, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Pull the chicken meat off the leg bones - you can use 2 forks to do this, or your hands if you're tough like me - and tear it up roughly with the croutons and the bacon. Wash, spin dry and separate the lettuce leaves, tear them up and toss with the chicken, croutons, bacon and creamy, cheesy dressing. Scatter with some Parmesan shavings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Most Moist Chicken Ever

This is Paula Wolfert's method for quickly preparing very moist chicken without butter, oil or periodic basting. For the richest flavor, marinate the chicken cold in the creme fraiche for at least 6 hours.

4 chicken breasts, split or boned (you can also use a whole chicken, cut up)
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup creme fraiche

Clean and dry the chicken. Remove the skin if you wish. Rub each piece with a touch of salt, and lots of pepper and creme fraiche. Put the pieces into a shallow pan and cover them with the remaining creme fraiche. Let the chicken marinate cold until 1/2 hour before serving. You can marinate the chicken up to 3 days if you wish, but cover it tight to keep other refrigerator tastes out of the creme fraiche.

Preheat your broiler. Toss the chicken pieces in the creme fraiche once more. Lay them on the rack of your broiler pan, bone side down if they are unboned. You must use a rack in your broiler pan so that chicken can steam on the bottom side. Pour the creme fraiche remaining in the marinating pan over the pieces. Broil the chicken at 2 1/2 inches from the heat on one side only until many crispy, brown spots dot the surface and the bottom side of the pieces is white, 6 to 10 minutes (if I'm using whole, cut-up chicken parts with skin, I position the broiler rack about 5 inches from the heat--PKS). If you broil the chicken too close to the heat its top side will brown before the underside steams white. Serve immediately.

You can broil other cuts of chicken with this method, but you have to broil them on both sides. Do the leanest of boney side first for 4 or 5 minutes. Do not cook the lean side to crispy brown spots. Turn it over and cook the second side until it has crispy brown spots.

"This is the most moist chicken ever," says Paula Wolfert, and she recommends using this technique for quickly preparing chicken for chicken salad. You can omit the marinating, but thoroughly cover the chicken with creme fraiche. It keeps the broiling chicken moist.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chicken, Dill and Cucumber Salad

Creme fraiche tenderizes the chicken in this cold salad, and it thoroughly melds the cucumber and dill flavor. Creme fraiche also reduces the calories and fat in the salad because it has half the fat and calories of mayonnaise.

2 medium cucumbers
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 lemon-lime vinegar (optional)
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup creme fraiche
3 tablespoons coarsely choppped fresh dill
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse grain mustard (e.g., Moutarde de Meaux)
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken cut into strips 3/8" x 3/8" x 2"
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons white pepper (optional)
3 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup whole roasted almonds for garnish

Clean peel, and seed the cucumbers. Wipe them dry with paper towels and then lay them on towels with the seed cavity down. Wrap paper towels tightly over the skinned surface of the cucumbers and set them aside for 10 minutes. Do not salt the cucumbers to extract their water.

While the cucumbers are draining, prepare your own mayonnaise using lemon-lime vinegar if you have it and add the lemon and lim juices (you can use prepared mayonnaise if you want to). Stir in the creme fraiche, chopped dill, and mustard. Mix all the ingredients to a smooth consistency.

Put the chicken strips into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle them evenly with salt. If you didn't broil the chicken with creme fraiche, add pepper. When the cucumbers are drained, wipe them dry again with paper towels, inside and out. Cut the cucumbers into 3/8 inch wide strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. They'll be as long as the tines on a dinner fork and as wide as 3 tines. The cucumbers and chicken strips should be about the same size. Cut enough cucumber strips to equal the amount of chicken strips. Put them into the large mixing bowl with the chicken, and add the thin-sliced scallions. Add the creme fraiche-mayonnaise mixture and toss the salad in the mixture. Serve the salad on a bed of fresh greens like spinach and lettuce. Garnish with a short row of whole, toasted almonds. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bread, Potato, and Rocket Soup

Pain au Levain is the best bread for making Marcella Hazan's zuppa dei poveri (poor people's soup) of stale bread, potatoes, and rocket. This great recipe was one of the best of the many unaccountably left out of the unfortunate Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which purported to be a single-volume reissue of her first two books, The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classic Italian Cooking.

2 cups diced peeled potatoes (can leave unpeeled if potatoes are clean)
3 cups water
1 tbsp. salt
1 bunch / 1/2 lb. rocket (arugula), preferably the sharper "wild" variety, washed and coarsely chopped
2 cups stale Acme pain au levain, crusts removed and cut in cubes
1/4 cup Trader Joe's Kalamata olive oil or other flavorful, dark green extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Put potatoes, water, and salt in a big pot, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 minutes. Add rocket, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for another 15 minutes or until potatoes are done. Remove pot from heat, add bread, cover, and let sit for ten minutes. Add olive oil and pepper, correct salt, and serve.

Serves 2-3 as a main course.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Waffle Iron Reuben Sandwich

from Emeril Lagasse

4 slices rye bread
Emeril's Russian dressing, recipe follows
8 ounces thinly sliced Swiss cheese
8 ounces sliced baked ham
8 ounces sliced corned beef
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sauerkraut, as accompaniment

Preheat a waffle iron.

Place 2 slices of the bread on a flat work surface. Spread one side of each slice with the Emeril's Russian Dressing. On 1 slice of bread, stack half of the cheese, ham, and corned beef in layers. Top with the other slice of bread, dressing side down, and push together to form a sandwich.

Spread softened butter on both sides of the sandwich and place in the hot waffle iron. Cook until the sandwich is golden brown on the outside and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and cut into quarters. Serve immediately with the sauerkraut, and repeat with the remaining sandwich.

Emeril's Russian Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced celery
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Emeril's Red Pepper Sauce, or other hot sauce
Pinch sugar

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk until well blended. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups

Creamed Kale

from Bobby Flay

2 pounds kale, center stalks removed (I used a bag of kale pieces from Trader Joe's)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Blanch the kale in lightly salted water until tender (about 5 or 6 minutes), rinse in ice water (I didn't rinse because my kale was already cut up), drain and cut into 1/2-inch ribbons. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the kale, cream and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, or until the cream has reduced and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Lemon Squares

It is important that both the filling and the crust be warm when assembling the bars in step 4; this ensures that the lemon curd will cook through evenly. Be sure to zest the lemons before juicing them.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened

2 large eggs plus 7 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup grated fresh lemon zest (from approximately 4 lemons)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from approximately 4 lemons (Note: if using Meyer lemons, which are smaller, you will need 8 lemons)
pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream

confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil (use 2 pieces and lay opposite of one another to form a sling) and grease the foil.

2. FOR THE CRUST: Process the flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt together in a food processor to combine, about 3 pulses. Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and has the texture of coarse sand, about 8 pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer with the bottom of a glass. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.

3. FOR THE FILLING: While the crust bakes, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together in a medium sauce pan. Whisk in the granulated sugar until combined, then whisk in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and registers 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture immediately into a bowl (to remove the zest), and stir in the cream.

4. Pour the filling over the warm crust. Bake the squares until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center jiggles slightly when shaken, about 15 minutes (rotating the pan halfway through baking).

5. Let the bars cool completely in the pan, set on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Remove the bars from the pan by lifting the foil. Cut into 16 squares, and dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

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