January 13, 2008

Chicken Parm and the Failed Orange Custard Experiment

We had the monk over for dinner Saturday. A good time was had by all, and we met our two-bottle minimum for the wine. We had a 2000 Haut-Medoc with dinner -- it was smooth and flowery but strong enough to stand up to the strong flavors of dinner.

The monk had requested Chicken Parmesean, which is pretty easy. The trick to flavorful chicken, of course, is brining. Put your chicken in a plastic bag for about six hours before preparation, in a brine of tap water, sea salt, a little bit of powdered garlic, and lemon juice. The salt makes the chicken retain more moisture, the lemon keeps it tasting fresh, and the garlic adds zest. For chicken parm, use thin-sliced fillets of chicken breast. Bread them with an egg batter, and sautee in a little bit of olive oil until golden brown on either side. After flipping the show side, put some grated white Italian cheese -- a mixture of mozzerella, parmagiano reggiano, and smoked provolone is my favorite -- and allow it to melt. Simple, fast, and invariably a crowd-pleaser. Serve it along with thin spaghetti in a tomato sauce (no need for meat here, since you're serving a protein along with the pasta) and seasonal vegetables.

Alas, I learned to my grief that recipes in The Joy Of Cooking are not always to be trusted. Usually yes, but last night, the Rombauers let me down. Owing to a surplus of eggs bought recently, and not trusting my ability to make souffles, I decided to make a custard for dessert. The most interesting recipe was for orange spice custard, which would have been great if it hadn't called for using chunks of real oranges on the base. The juice predictably boiled out of the orange chunks, and prevented the custard from setting up really well. I knew the juice would boil out, but I'd hoped that most the water would all evaporate and leave the orange pulp a nice jellied base upon which the spice custard would sit. Alas, there was simply too much fluid, and that stopped the top of the custard from browning as it should have.

The recipe also called for about three times too much orange zest, which left the whole thing somewhat bitter. If I'd used more sugar than the recipe had called for, that would have been fine. But I should also have used about a third of the oranges that I did for a recipe of this size. The taste wound up being okay after I took it out and let it cool down in the refrigerator, but I've made better desserts. Well, at least now I know how to do it right for next time.

We need to buy the monk a laser. He has cats like we do; the laser is easily the best cat toy out there, and I know from being at the zendo that his boy cats like the laser as much as our girl cats do. But for last night, we sent him home with tons of food, doing what we can to support the guy.

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