Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Chicken, They're in Strips, it's fake cooking 101

It's the end of the school year; rock and roll show practice night, falling on the heels of pool party, scale sea creature hanging at the school and I’m not in the mood to make dinner. I was brilliant earlier in the week and roasted off a ‘family sized’ package of chicken breasts simply with salt and pepper and a healthy drizzle of olive oil on the skin, made mashed and minty peas. I make a killer gravy which we had with it. I packed it all in the fridge in sweet anticipation of not having to cook again in the midst of the chaos of this week.

Well ahead of the game, sure, but unfortunately it was really good, my son had a double helping the night we had it then snacked on it, my husband had a return engagement plateful after a night out; my ‘make ahead dinner’ is gone. Trust me, I’m not about to moan about the fact my family likes my cooking; I just need to hide it better.

I have an hour at home this morning before I have to run again and won’t be home till 5 after. Four frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts in a bag are staring at me from the freezer. I don’t have a lot of time so they’ll be quick half-thawed in water. 20 mins and they are starting to thaw enough for me to deal with, slice them into long thin slices. Back into the water for 10 mins and bingo, thawed chicken strips.

Mix ½ large container of plain (NOT VANILLA) yogurt and 2-3 large spoonfuls of good mustard, I use Dijon, I like the flavor it imparts, try not to use yellow mustard but you certainly can in a pinch. I just add salt and pepper then dump the chicken fingers into it, squish it around, cover and shove in the fridge. See you at dinnertime boys!

Home after a crazy day, I have salad in a bag in the fridge, and some vine tomatoes on the counter; hello side dish. After this crazy day, I’m pretty happy dinner can be on the table quickly and it’s not out of a carton, box or freezer will be on the table faster than the dogs can be taken out, fed & watered, the backpack emptied and homework organized.

Walk in the door and turn the oven to 425, it waits for you, never the other way around.

I mix equal parts of crushed Ritz crackers and Panko Japanese bread crumbs. One for a buttery flavor and a savory edge, the other for crispness and lightness. Crack black pepper over the crumbs and mix well. No salt needed, the crackers take care of that. Take one chicken strip at a time, scrape a little of the yogurt marinade off it, dredge well and lay on a rack on a sheet pan. You can line them up quite closely but don’t let them touch. I don’t like doing this without a rack, the bottom doesn’t get crispy and who wants a half soggy chicken strip? No one worth feeding wants crunchy tops and soggy bottoms.

Drizzle the chicken with the teeniest bit of olive oil purely for flavor because the Panko takes care of crisp and crunch. Toss them into the oven for maybe 15 minutes. Check them; it is so dependent on how thick you sliced the chicken and how thick your coating is. Just test one and see if it’s cooked all the way through. You want them golden, crunchy and yummy looking.

I have been known to make a quickie aioli when the chicken is cooking. An egg yolk, a little spoonful of mustard, a garlic clove, salt and pepper in a mini processor with a feed tube, whirr it up to puree the garlic then pour a thin stream of olive oil through the tube while it’s running until it is thick and glossy and yellow and garlicky and crazy delicious.

Tonight I’m in no mood, I am feeling a little extended so I want to eat, shower and lay on my bed with my Nook ( The sauce will be a simple store-bought mayonnaise/mustard combo for dipping. Two blobs of decent mayonnaise in a small bowl and 1 blob of mustard is generally how I measure it out, mix, add salt and pepper, taste it and serve it with your chicken. That bagged salad, some sliced tomatoes and whatever dressing I can find in the back of the fridge makes a virtually health conscious choice. The very best part is the 11 yr old thinks I’m a hero, “Thanks for letting us have junk food mom!”

Nothing fried, salad on the side, um, I don’t like this trend but every once in a while I like to try it on. It doesn’t matter how many of these you make, they’ll all go.

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