I think that many people struggle with cooking at home because they get bored. Most people don’t have the time, or the inclination to pull out a cookbook each night and push themselves to try a NEW recipe. Instead, they rely on a handful of old favorites that they can make from memory, and cook them again, and again, and again, until everyone in the family finally cries UNCLE!
When kids are part of the mix, the challenges to more creative cooking are often multiplied. When the kids are young, many families feel held hostage to their immature palates, and their unwillingness to eat anything but hot dogs, peas, and mac and cheese (yes, this was me as an ankle-biter). As the kids get older, the fates unfurl a cruel joke on most families. On one hand, the kids’ are more accepting of experimentation, and they become eager to try new foods. On the other, the family’s schedule becomes such that most people can only find time to slam together the quickest and most routine dishes for dinner. In addition to the time constraints imposed by a busy family life, the pinch on the budget caused by the food intake demands of growing teens, has folks reaching for the mac and cheese and hot dogs all over again!
What you need is a dish that is quick to fix, healthy, easy on the budget, simple enough so that the kids can help in its preparation, and flexible enough so that it can be easily modified to use ingredients you have on-hand. Chicken Paillards is just such a dish,….aren’t you glad you’re here? The key to not getting bored with this meal, is to play with the pan sauce you create after the chicken is cooked. If you alter the sauce either to suit your own creative juices, or to use up some ingredients you have laying around, then it will always be fresh and new.
This is a very French dish, hence the use of the word “Paillard” in the name, and is one that you will find in every French Bistro on the planet. It was one of the first “safe” dishes the boys discovered and fell in love with after we had moved to France. Arthas joined me in the kitchen for this meal, as the dish is a close cousin to his favorite, roast chicken with a garlic, lemon, and rosemary sauce. Prep for this dish is not unlike the pork milanese that we prepared a few weeks ago, but even simpler. The chicken cutlets are seasoned, and then simply dredged in flour to promote a nice crispy crust. They are pounded thin, so that they cook very quickly, and the pan sauce can include anything and everything you like, from a combination of shallots, fresh herbs, stock and butter, to various spices, capers, olives, wine, tomato sauce, and cream….you name it, and if you like it, you can make it work here. Arthas chose to make a sauce using white wine, chicken stock, minced shallots, lemon juice, butter, and capers, his favorite way of having this meal. The resulting dish was fast, inexpensive, and delicious!
Chicken Paillards with Lemon Caper Sauce
- 6 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves
- about 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- canola oil
- 2 shallots, finely minced
- splash of white wine
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained
- 6 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 cup rich chicken broth (1 cup of low sodium prepared stock reduced to 3/4 cup)
- freshly minced parsley for garnish
- Place each chicken breast half between sheets of plastic wrap and hammer with a mallet, or the bottom of a small frying pan, to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Add oil to a saute pan until the bottom is just covered, and set it over a medium-high flame until quite hot. Season chicken with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess. When the pan is ready, add 1 tablespoon of butter and swirl to spread it evenly, and immediately add 2-3 pieces of chicken. Cook about 2 minutes on the first side, turning when the bottom is nicely browned. About 1-2 minutes on the second side should do it. Transfer the cooked pieces to a warm platter, add more oil and butter to the pan, and repeat the process with a second (and third) batch of chicken, as necessary.
- Drain any excess oil from the pan, deglaze with a splash of white wine, and cook until almost fully reduced. Toss in a fresh tablespoon of butter and the minced shallots, and cook for about a minute. Add the capers, lemon juice, and chicken stock. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, swirl in another 1-2 tablespoon of butter and some chopped parsley. Check for seasoning, and pour over the chicken breasts to serve.