Okokokokok so this is my second recipe for #HellaRice without rice—this should have been a #SendNoods column. Don’t worry, we’re going with a super saucy rice-friendly, nay, rice-REQUIRED recipe next month. These are the meals that I have cooked for my family at home to the best of my ability during the past five years—recreated in recipe form. We already ate it and for the most part, enjoyed it. I hope you will too.
When I worked at the front desk of a Chicago hotel in my 20s, I could order anything off the restaurant menu for my staff meal. There was a pretty decent burger and a maple-brined pork chop, but I chose chicken piccata every day—a crispy chicken breast dressed with a lemony sauce with bright bites of capers. The hotel's chef took pride in my obsession; eventually, I asked for the recipe. He led me to the hotel kitchen and even let me “pick it up” (cook it) once. More practice leveled up my confidence since this dish touches on many different aspects of cooking: dredging, sauteing, sauce building, and harnessing the power of citrus. Sixish months later, I moved to San Francisco for culinary school which I didn’t even finish, but the experience was amazing (that’s another story).
The night before I left the Midwest to move out to the bay area, I cooked for my friends and family—paper plates stacked with chicken piccata, roasted broccoli, and a fun tower of mashed potatoes molded in PVC pipes with a parmesan crisp stabbed on top. It was fancy AF and I stand by that (paper) plate to this day.
Over the years, this special dish has evolved with flavors I've come to love in my home kitchen. Sichuan peppercorns that have an unmistakable numbing sensation, sweet paprika adds a touch of smoke and adds a nice color to fried foods, Japanese yuzu juice always shines on the tongue. I reach for a jar of last spring’s homemade pickled sea beans for a little PNW love, but using just capers will do the trick.
Chicken Piccata, Kinda
Active time: 1 hour
Total time:1 hour
Serves: 2 adults and a kiddo
1 8oz chicken breast
¾ cup AP (aka all-purpose) flour
¼ cup arrowroot starch (In my opinion, it thickens sauces without any flavor change; you can sub cornstarch here.)
A few dashes of smoked sweet paprika
1 tbsp kosher salt
¼ cup good olive oil
2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, sliced Goodfellas thin
2 lemons, Meyers if you got ’em
2 tbsp yuzu juice (Fresh if you have, but Asian grocers have it bottled.)
3 tbsp good butter, sliced into six pieces
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup rich chicken stock
2 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp pickled sea beans
1 tbsp parsley, chopped (Fresh herbs are a luxury in the time of pandemic, so feel free to skip.)
1 heavy pinch flake sea salt
To Serve Buttered noodles, dealer’s choice
1. Cut chicken breast in half, lengthwise. Put one chicken breast in a gallon Ziploc bag and pound with a mallet or a sturdy frying pan until quarter-inch thick.
2. Mix the AP and arrowroot flours together with salt and paprika in a shallow container and dredge the chicken on all sides.
3. Start olive oil in a large cold skillet. Add Sichuan peppercorns and bring to medium-high heat. Once peppercorns “pop,” pull them out with a slotted spoon and set aside in a little bowl lined with a paper towel. The oil that remains in the pan should give you a numbing sensation on your tongue.
4. Gently lay your chicken breasts in your pan; they should really sizzle. Cook the chicken until the edges become golden brown, about three minutes. Flip and cook for another three minutes or when the meat reaches 165 degrees. While your chicken is cooking, zest your lemons with a bar zester or microplane and squeeze the juice. Work the Sichuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle to make a fine powder.
5. Set chicken aside on a wire rack. With your chicken resting, leave two tablespoons of oil in the pan (pass the rest through a coffee filter and save for fried eggs the next morning; it’ll be okay on your countertop overnight). Drop heat to medium.
6. Add your sliced garlic to oil until fragrant for 30 seconds. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits into the sauce. Reduce wine to around one tablespoon.
7. Stir in half the lemon zest (save the rest for garnish), lemon juice, chicken stock, and the capers to the pan then add chicken. Drop to medium-low heat and simmer for five minutes or until sauce coats the back of your spoon. Add yuzu juice.
8. Pull chicken and place on buttered noodles. Slowly add butter to the pan, one piece at a time, and work into sauce with a spoon or whisk. It should be a gloriously shiny sauce. Add capers and sea beans and ladle sauce atop chicken and pasta. Hit it with the Sichuan peppercorn powder, flake salt, lemon zest, and parsley if you're into it. Serve with a few lemon slices on the side for brightness.
Then, when you have your pantry stocked with a bunch of random ingredients from cultures around the world, you can start mashing them up together in your own home just like the recipe above. Make your own culinary voice sing. I believe in you. Once you have this dish under your belt, you now have the tools to start playing with chicken marsala and pork scallopini recipes. Even recipes like Chinese takeout lemon chicken (shouts to Gim Wah in Magnolia!) and Southern India’s Chicken 65 (Cafe Bollywood in Bellevue!) aren’t that much of a stretch.