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Chicken gets three unique interpretations from area restaurants

| Sunday, July 31, 2005

Those dreaded words -- what's for dinner tonight?

We know what it's like to peer into the fridge and try to come up with a new and exciting way to turn ordinary chicken into a fabulous meal your family will love.

Three local chefs have come to the rescue. We asked Greg Schrett at Penn Brewery, Jennifer Girasole at Girasole and Usha Sethi at Taj Mahal to create entrees -- featuring chicken -- that reflect their restaurant's cuisines.

They had a choice of ingredients -- including fruit -- but the seasonings and preparation methods were solely up to them. All we asked were that the recipes be easy enough for a home cook to prepare and use readily available ingredients.

Simple but elegant enough for summertime entertaining are Schrett's Black Forest Chicken Breast with Penn Pilsner Cheese Sauce; Girasole's Insalata de Pollo (Chicken Salad); and Sethi's Chicken Mango Curry.

Only one recipe -- for roasted potatoes -- uses an oven. But the potatoes also could be roasted on a covered grill.

Penn Brewery

Executive chef Greg Schrett at Penn Brewery accompanies this entree with Roasted Red Potatoes and Asparagus Bundles. Authentic Black Forest ham is made in the Black Forest region of Bavaria, Germany. It is air-dried, salt-cured and smoked over pine or fir. The ham is expensive, but the flavor is so rich that a little goes a long way, particularly in pasta dishes. Schrett uses a "bar cheese" spread that contains horseradish for extra kick in the sauce. Serve this with Penn Pilsner or Weizen beer.

Black Forest Chicken Breast with Penn Pilsner Cheese Sauce

  • 4 (3 to 4 ounces) boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 slices Black Forest ham
  • 8 ounces panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, whipped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Asparagus Bundles (recipe follows)
  • Roasted Red Potatoes (recipe follows)

For the sauce:

  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) Penn Pilsner beer
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese spread, more if needed
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream, more if needed
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain prepared mustard
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

To prepare the sauce: Pour 6 ounces of the beer into a measuring cup and add it to a pot. Bring the beer to a boil. (Save the remaining beer for yourself.)

Reduce the boiling beer by about three-fourths, then add 1 cup cheese spread, 1/2 cup whipping cream, the mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well and bring to a bowl. Whisk, then place the pot on the back of the stove to keep warm.

You can change the consistency of the sauce by adding more cheese for thickness, or thin it out with more cream.

For the chicken: Lightly pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. wrap each piece with a slice of ham and refrigerate for about 1 hour so the ham will adhere to the chicken while you bread it.

For the breading, grind the panko in a food processor until it is finely ground. Add the parsley. Place in a shallow dish. Whip the eggs, then mix in the milk; turn into another shallow dish. Place the flour in a third dish or onto wax paper.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour, then in the egg, then in the panko mix, pressing the chicken into the bread crumbs to ensure they stick.

In a shallow flat-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the surface. When it is hot, add the chicken breasts and pan-fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, being careful that the bread crumbs do not burn.

To plate: Pool some of the cheese sauce on one side of the plate. Lay the chicken in the sauce. Place the asparagus and potatoes on the other sides.

Makes 4 servings.

Asparagus Bundles

  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, woody parts trimmed
  • Boiling water
  • Ice water
  • 1 leek
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice

Blanch the asparagus in the water until just tender, for just a few minutes. Remove from the water and shock in the ice water until cool.

Meanwhile, julienne the green part of the leek. Drop the pieces into the boiling water to blanch, then shock in the ice water.

Wrap the asparagus into bundles of 6 or 7, then tie each off with a leek "string."

To reheat, drop the bundles in hot water, then season with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice.

Roasted Red Potatoes

  • 16 small red potatoes
  • Cold water
  • Butter
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

Use a knife or vegetable peeler to cut a strip of skin in a circle off each potato. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender. Remove from the water.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Season with butter, then salt and pepper. Place in the hot oven until the potatoes are browned on the outside.

Girasole

Jennifer Girasole, chef/co-owner of Girasole restaurant in Shadyside, specializes in "light, modern-style" regional Italian cooking. Each each day for dinner, she prepares a different dish featuring fresh poultry, fish or meat.

"We have a seasonal focus," says the chef, who is expecting her second child next month. "It's best to get the product in its prime and while it's at a nice price."

The restaurant has been open for five years -- the chef owns it with her husband, Gino, and his father and mother.

This extraordinary chicken salad offers a new flavor with every bite. A whole chicken is cooked in water with carrots, celery, onion, parsley and peppercorns -- receiving a first infusion of flavor. Then, it's combined with a freshly made fig oil and tossed with arugula, sweet corn kernels and lemon juice. A topping of Gorgonzola cheese rounds out the symphony of tastes.

Girasole uses pomegranate molasses -- very trendy in fine-dining kitchens -- for an added fruity twist. The molasses is available at specialty food stores, Middle Eastern markets and from the Internet.

Insalata di Pollo

For the chicken:

  • 1 chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
  • Cold water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • A few sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 7 whole peppercorns

For the salad:

  • 2 cups fresh figs, stems removed, divided
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cups arugula
  • 2 ears sweet corn, husked
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • 8 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

Place the chicken in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.

Add the carrots, celery, onion, parsley, 1 tablespoon salt and the peppercorns. Continue to cook on medium-low heat for about 45 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool. Strain the broth and freeze for another use.

Remove the meat from the skin and bones and dice into 2-inch pieces.

In a food processor, chop 1 cup fresh figs with the pomegranate molasses and 1/2 cup olive oil. Toss the chicken with the fig oil.

Slice the remaining figs and set aside.

Place the ears of corn on a microwave-safe plate, cover and cook on high power for 5 minutes. Or, boil in water for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the kernels and place them in a large salad bowl.

Add the arugula to the corn. Toss with 1/4 cup olive oil, the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the arugula mixture onto 6 plates, top with the marinated chicken and reserved figs, then with the Gorgonzola.

Makes 6 servings.

Taj Mahal

Usha Sethi's cooking talents are in high demand for wedding receptions, anniversaries and parties -- regardless of the ethnicity of the guests of honor. One of Pittsburgh's foremost Indian chefs and cooking teachers, she is undaunted by how small a kitchen might be or how many hungry people she must serve. Recently, the executive chef of Taj Mahal Restaurant catered an Indian wedding over the course of three days -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. Her regional specialties, made fresh on site, fed 550 guests.

Sethi's contribution to our chicken lineup is a meal in itself, bright with fruit and vegetables and an exotic sauce to marry the ingredients. While it's spicy, it's just a little hot, but the heat can be lessened by omitting the green chiles and by serving it with rice -- or both.

"Onions and tomatoes always are used in Indian cooking," she says. Her choice of mango for fruit reflects its reputation as the "king of fruit" in India -- a summertime favorite that's a staple now in U.S. supermarkets. The chicken tastes best when marinated in the mango sauce overnight; the roasted whole-spice mixture is worth making, although home cooks will need a spice or coffee grinder for a fine powder. It's best to use the grinder exclusively for spices.

Lamb can substitute for the chicken, but you will need to cook it a bit longer to ensure tenderness.

Chicken Mango Curry

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 sweet pepper -- green, yellow, red or a combination
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece of fresh gingerroot
  • 2 green chiles (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 to 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 fresh mangos, firm and still a bit green around the edges
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder or paprika
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves, more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • Hot cooked rice

Cut the chicken into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Seed, core and cut the sweet pepper into 1-inch pieces.

In a food grinder or blender, process the onions, garlic, ginger and green chiles, if using.

In a dry skillet, roast the cumin, coriander seeds and peppercorns until fragrant and toasted. Turn into a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a very fine powder.

Peel and pit one mango and chop into 2/3-inch pieces. Set aside. Peel and pit the second mango; in a food processor or blender, blend the fruit to make a fine paste.

Combine the mango paste and 1 teaspoon of the dry spice mixture and mix with the chicken. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken pieces. Saute to brown them, then remove from the skillet and set aside.

Do not drain the skillet. Add the onion mixture and fry until it is brown. Add the turmeric, chile powder, salt to taste and remaining dry spice powder. Bring to a simmer.

Add the chicken and stir to coat with the sauce. Add the sweet pepper and chopped mango. Stir to combine and heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro.

Add the yogurt and hot water. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes over low heat. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Remove the skillet from the heat, turn the curry into a serving dish and serve hot, garnished with more cilantro leaves and hot cooked rice on the side.

Makes about 6 servings.

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