Fake and Bake Chicken

A regular customer came into the shop recently looking for something to cook for dinner.  An easy enough chore, I figured, because there were one million cuts of meat on offer, all of which could be cooked in at least two million ways.  I took a cursory glance through my display window and immediately ten things jumped out at me.  Braised oxtail; pan-fried smoked pork chops and cabbage; chicken and dumplings; the list went on.  She didn’t see it that way.

“I’ll take two smoked pork hocks and a chicken,” she said, seeming defeated.  She looked at me.  “You know, I’m really sick of the dishes I cook.  I want more ideas.”  I didn’t know what to say.  ”You know, I need a class or something where I could learn new dishes.  Like a cooking class.”

I looked at her and thought, ‘what kind of person buys smoked pork hocks and thinks her cooking is boring?’ And then I thought, ‘hey, I wonder if Mika at The Good Egg is teaching any classes on that topic?’  And THEN I thought, ‘hey, it’s bloggin’ time!’

I remember going to my sister’s house six or so years ago for dinner.  It was an easy meal; she was just fixing something up casually, an after work thing.  We had pasta with sausage and peppers.  It was very tasty, but what got me was that she introduced it by saying it was one of “her dishes”.  As in, a dish she had in her repertoire.  I was a snobby little shit of a restaurant cook and scoffed at the idea of not being able to cook with intuition, knowing what’s in season and riffing on what’s available in the cupboard.  I probably said something like, “hey you should really expand your culinary horizons.”

You know that feeling you have when you remember something stupid you once said and wished you could take it back?  Yeah, well…

So here's a recipe you can make after work easily, quickly, and deliciously.  If you have kids, these are recipes that should appeal to them.  If you don’t have kids, you should go out and enjoy yourself.  Or make one of these recipes and invite people over.  Who knows, maybe you’ll end up making a family with someone you invited over for dinner!

A quick note: I don’t apologize for the fancy plating.  You should know that’s how I roll, so just deal.

Quick’n Chicken…aka Fake’n Bake

Okay, so as far as easy recipes go, this is pretty much super basic.  Everyone likes Shake’n Bake™, and anyone who says different is either a liar or an alien from Planet Bad Stuff (also known as Uranus).  I just prefer making my own seasoned breadcrumbs.  Also, I have found that a packet of Shake’n Bake™ usually doesn’t go the distance.   As it turns out, I prefer a lot of breadcrumbs on my chicken.  You can use a different hot sauce in this recipe, or if you have wussy kids you can use ketchup or BBQ sauce, but let’s face it, Frank’s Red Hot is the best.  In the words of that old lady on the commercial, I put that s#!t on everything.  Okay, maybe not everything, but as hot sauces go it’s one of my tops.

So first off: the ingredients for the chicken.

  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (butchers LOOOVE taking the skin and bones off of chicken breasts.  As the shop’s good friend James says, “it shows off the butcher’s skill.”  Uh huh.)
  • 2 good dashes of hot sauce (as mentioned earlier, I like Frank’s.  So what.)
  • 2 cups or so of breadcrumbs  (you could make your own with stale bread, or buy some from a decent bakery)
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 or so tbsp of sliced green onions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line a baking sheet with a piece of aluminum foil.  Mix the garlic, green onion, and hot sauce with the chicken breast until well coated.  Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper.   Toss the chicken in the breadcrumbs until well coated.  Place the chicken breasts on the baking sheet and roast in the oven for thirty minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165˚F.

Now on its own, this chicken is delicious.  Of course, I like to add a little sauce or something to it just because, so here is a delicious sauce made from ingredients I just had in my fridge.  I should point out that when I made this dish we hardly had anything in the fridge…pretty piss poor actually, but I do always try to make the best out of a little.

So for the sauce you’ll need:

  • 4 tbsp of cottage cheese (or sour cream or plain yogurt, or something similar that might be in your fridge)
  • 3 or four gherkins, chopped up
  • 1 tbsp of capers, chopped up
  • 2 dashes of Worcestershire
  • 2 green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 good squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of green onions, chopped up

Mix all of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.  You’ll notice it is kind of thick, just add a tbsp or two of tap water to thin it out a little.

Of course you can’t serve just protein and sauce…you’ll need a little sump’n sump’n to go along side of this deliciousness.  As I said, my cupboards were kind of bare, so I improvised with what little I had and made a slaw out of it.

I took these things:

  • 4 carrots
  • 1 apple
  • half a green pepper
  • 2 tbsp toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 squeeze of lemon juice

And, by using a mandolin I got in Chinatown, I made this.

Obviously, I seasoned it with salt and pepper.

And then I put it all together on a plate like this:

So pretty.

Now, there are obvious variations on this basic recipe.  I like to do a classic breading a lot of the time (first dredging the chicken in flour, then an egg wash, before the seasoned hot sauce and breadcrumbs).  This will give the chicken an even crispier crust.  I also like to cut the chicken into strips and eat it as fingers or in a wrap.  Instead of this type of sauce I’ll puree the cottage cheese with blue cheese for a classic wing dip-style sauce.  I also like warm sautéed mushrooms with this, or at least some mashed potatoes.  So many options.  So many variations.  So much deliciousness.

I know this was pretty simple, but I have to say, now that I work days and need to have food on the table within a certain amount of time (you know, before Law and Order: SVU comes on) I love to make stuff that doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I apologize to everyone, including my sister, whom I may have patronized for their simple, reliable recipes back in my pretentious cook days.  I’m too old and tired for that now.  Viva la Easy!

THE JOY OF STEAK

Oh, how I love steak. A good friend of the store Rob Firing recently released a cookbook all about steak, from how to source the best beef, to how to cook a perfect striploin. He asked me to write the forward, which of course I was happy to do, and while writing it I was reminded on how much I loved steak. It’s my death row meal, my desert island need, my Saturday night go-to. My two-year-old son has eaten more ribeye at his age than all of his cousins combined. And now, with the sun finally making an appearance outside, the time for al fresco dining is almost upon us. Nothing beats a steak dinner on the patio, with a bottle of good red wine, crusty bread, and a simple vinegary salad on the side.

I generally don’t sauce my steaks too often (the flavour of the beef is good enough), but I do find a good compound butter can complement almost any cut. Compound butters are basically just softened butter that is mixed with different herbs, spices, and other flavours, then kept chilled until it’s time to slice a piece off and top a hot steak. The butter will slowly melt over the cut, mixing with the steak juices on your plate, creating the perfect dipping sauce for your bread.

One of the most common compound butters is just made of shallots, thyme, and red wine. For my butter, I like to up the herb content and use tarragon, an herb that I find goes very well with beef (béarnaise anyone?).

Compound Butter for Steak
Yield: Enough butter for at least 4 steaks

Ingredients

6 tbsp                   unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 tbsp                   chives, chopped
1 tbsp                   tarragon, picked and chopped
1 tbsp                   parsley, cleaned and chopped
1 tsp                      salt
½ tsp                     black pepper

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and spoon the butter out in a cylindrical shape in the center of the plastic. Wrap the butter and roll it into a tube shape, twisting the ends. Refrigerate until needed. When your steak is finished, slice a good-sized round of the butter and lie it on top before serving, allowing the cold butter to melt onto the steak.