Sometimes you just need a good, plain, easy chicken breast recipe. This one did the trick for me on Wednesday night; I’m not gaga over it, but it made a nice accompaniment for our roasted asparagus. It's kind of like chicken tenders for grownups. I like that this is the kind of thing I could usually throw together spontaneously from ingredients I keep on hand. It’s from a new cookbook I got from the library, Bistro Chicken: 100 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes With French Flair, by Mary Ellen Evans. The book doesn’t contain quite as many promising-looking recipes as I’d hoped (maybe I have to face the fact that I just don’t love chicken quite enough), but now that this one’s been well received, I’ll give more of them a try (chicken kebabs on the George Foreman may be my next experiment).
Mary Ellen says to use “the best-quality Parmesan you can afford” and “grate it fresh just before using,” but I only had my pre-shredded, mid-range Parmesan from Trader Joe’s. I know from experience that Parmesan grated freshly from the block has a better texture and flavor (they put a lot of strange substances in the pre-shredded stuff to keep it from sticking together), especially when it comes to melting, but I get so tired of having to grate Parmesan almost every day. My knuckles are always scraped and the cheese grater is always needing to be cleaned. So I go the lazy route. And if you do, I think it’s OK—my chicken turned out just fine. Still, I can see some practical as well as aesthetic advantages to using fresh-grated, because I had a hard time getting my long, rectangular, stiff bits of cheese to adhere to the chicken breasts. Next time I’ll grate my own.
Updated June 2008 to add: What was I thinking? Definitely freshly grate your Parmesan! Now that I have a Microplane (O, sweet Microplane!), I use for the Parmesan that because it creates such a fine shred, it's easier to make it adhere to the chicken.
Four 6- to 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1¼ cups)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1. Lay each chicken breast flat on a cutting board and cut it in half horizontally to form two thin pieces.
2. Combine cheese and flour in a shallow bowl and then stir in the chopped basil. In another shallow bowl, add the egg whites and a tablespoon of water and stir them together with a fork until “slightly foamy.”
3. Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it's fully hot (I really have a hard time waiting for pans to heat up properly, so I was careful to be sure that a tiny pinch of flour sizzled and browned when I added it to the pan), quickly dip four of the chicken breast pieces, one at a time, into the egg white mixture and then into the cheese mixture, turning them around to get totally coated. Add the coated chicken to the hot skillet and cook until browned and cooked through (Mary Ellen says 2-3 minutes per side, but I think mine took a bit longer). Remove the chicken to a platter, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and repeat the process with the remaining four pieces of chicken. Sprinkle chicken with pepper and serve it.
Time: 20 minutes