spicy chicken piccata
Home Movies Tuesday!
Hello and welcome to Home Movies Tuesday! If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
Hello, ciao, welcome back, happy Virgo Season and GREETINGS FROM ITALY. I may be “on holiday,” a phrase we should all use any time we leave the house for any reason, but Home Movies takes no vacations (unless you count the last several weeks we went without Home Movies).
Sorry to report that the inspiration from this week’s Home Movie is Very Old now by internet standards (these videos take a minute to produce, okay? We’re moving as fast as we can. Bing Bong, right?), but yeah: I did watch The Bear. Of course, I did love it, although yes, it did bring back terrible feelings from my time in restaurants where I cried a lot in the walk-in, drank water exclusively out of quart containers, and had to guess which fellow cook would be the one to passive-aggressively call me “chef” that night for a minor but irritating offense like forgetting to put my spoon back in the bain-marie, and no, I didn’t ever feel the urge to sleep with a fellow line cook. Anyway—great show.
I’ve never had Italian Beef, and it doesn’t seem like something I would enjoy due to the sandwich of it all, but there were two things they made on the show that I DO love, and watching them get made reminded me as much: Chicken Piccata and Braciole. It’s not Braciole season yet, but I do think that deserves a Home Movie, so maybe stay tuned for that. This leaves us with: Chicken Piccata.
Effectively combining all of my favorite things: lemon, wine, capers and garlic, and using what I consider to be a completely underrated piece of meat, the boneless, skinless chicken breast*, Chicken Piccata is a perfect dish. I will order it every time I see it— with veal, with chicken, whatever. If it’s piccata, I love it. Honk if you love piccata. Piccata? You’re perfect. But even more perfect, if I dare? A Spicy Chicken Piccata.
My colleague Lauren swore that I referred to it as “the shrimp scampi of the land” which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, but it does deploy the same undeniably flawless combination of butter, white wine, garlic and lemon. This version has you skip the flour dredge because I find it unnecessary and even undesirable (I hate soggy foods), but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward take with a few predictable yet WONDERFUL additions (crispy garlic/caper mixture for texture on top, more lemon than average, butter two ways). Chefs kiss!
*Along with “clams are better than oysters,” “boneless skinless chicken breast is one of the best cuts of chicken” is a largely unpopular opinion I hold. If done correctly, it’s both juicy and pleasantly firm, like a good peach. It cooks quickly and can be pounded out to cook even quicker. It’s lean, which makes it a good candidate to finish with butter, lots of olive oil, or both. It browns well if your skillet is hot enough (and it should be), giving you plenty of good pan bits to work with as the start of a ridiculously good sauce. It can be poached for salad! God, do I love a poached chicken salad.
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SPICY CHICKEN PICCATA
This chicken piccata does not require you to dredge the breasts in flour; for me, it’s an unnecessary step (see also: a little eggplant parmesan) that only results in unwanted sogginess. Here, it’s a naked boneless, skinless chicken breast that browns nicely in the pan, giving you lots of bits and bobs to scrape up with browned butter, garlic, capers, and white wine. Classique.
I’d be lying if I said pounding your chicken to the proper thickness was that important here– you could make this recipe with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, and it would be amazing (but it wouldn’t be piccata– who’s etymology is “to be pounded flat”), and I actually find the chicken breast on the thicker side to be a bit juicier, which nobody’s complaining about. But the lemon slices. Those are important– half simmering with the white wine till soft and tender, the other half added at the end for a jolt of bitterness and acidity. And the capers and garlic. Those are important, too, crisped up in chicken bits and butter, half simmered with the sauce, half removed to serve as a crispy, crunchy topping.
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1 1/4 pounds)
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, plus more
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons capers, drained
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more
1 lemon, very thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
½ cup parsley, tender leaves and stems, coarsely chopped or torn
1. Working your way from the thickest part to the thinnest part, slice each chicken breast in half crosswise (like you’re going to butterfly it, splayed open like a book). Each breast should give you two thin pieces rather than two thick chunks. This is hard to describe, but you get it.
2. Place each thin piece between a folded piece of parchment paper (you can also use plastic wrap) and using a meat pounder (if you’ve got it), a small heavy skillet, or perhaps even a rolling pin, pound each breast, aiming for an even thickness (do your best), about ⅛” thick. For this particular dish, I think it’s better to err on the side of thicker rather than thinner (which could result in torn, shredded meat which we don’t want here).
3. Season chicken with salt and pepper; set aside. Thinly slice four cloves of garlic and finely chop the remaining; set aside.
4. Heat two tablespoons of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering (but not smoking), 1–2 minutes. Add two pieces of chicken to the skillet, pressing each piece gently with tongs or fish spatula to ensure good contact (which = good browning). Cook until deeply golden brown on one side, 2-4 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with remaining chicken, adding additional neutral oil as needed.
5. Without wiping the skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter, sliced garlic, and capers. Using a wooden spoon, tongs, or a fish spatula, do your best to scrape up the browned bits (more will come up when you add the wine). Cook, swirling occasionally, until garlic and capers are golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer half the garlic and capers to a small bowl; set aside.
6. Add ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, half the sliced lemon, and all of the white wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has thickened and reduced by about half, 4-6 minutes.
7. With the skillet off the heat, add the last tablespoon of butter, the rest of the sliced lemon, and the finely chopped garlic, swirling the skillet to melt the butter. Taste the sauce and give it a final season of salt, pepper, and more crushed red pepper flakes if you like (it should be tangy, buttery, spicy, and salty). Spoon this magic sauce over the chicken and scatter with reserved crispy garlic/capers, parsley, and more crushed red pepper.