One of the perks of being a food writer is that you get a lot of unsolicited inspiration. This is especially lucrative when you come from a family of fabulous cooks, who do not write about the food they make (though they should!).
A few months ago, I received an email from my Uncle Denny with subject line: recipe. Attached was a document containing instructions for John McPhee’s chicken, which apparently an old girl friend of his managed to glean from a book by the author.
The summer I lived in Los Angeles, my Uncle Denny and Aunt Barbara were kind enough to let me crash with them until I found a sublet of my own. In addition to the cozy Santa Monica room that formerly belonged to my cousins, and still houses an Alice in Wonderland quote painted on the walls, my temporary digs came with many a delicious So-Cal meal prepared by uncle and aunt. They fed me avocados and pointed me towards farmers markets and the Santa Monica food coop. By the end of my two weeks there, I had learned that when matters of food are concerned to always listen to Denny and Barbara.
It took me a few weeks after receiving Uncle Denny’s email, but eventually I did the smart thing: I cooked his chicken. The marinade makes use of one of my new favorite condiments (Greek yogurt), and functions as both an adhesive for the breadcrumbs and a source of incredible flavor. Though the result looks like chicken Milanese (and has been titled as such in my version), the flavor and texture is a much different combination. The outside of the chicken gets nice and crisp, but the beauty of using fresh breadcrumbs over a very thick, wet coating (the yogurt), means an incredibly most, rich bite. Perfection.
Best of all, says uncle: it’s delicious at room temperature, therefore a wonderful protein to prepare well in advance of a party or dinner so that you can enjoy your guests instead of enjoying the last minute cooking in the kitchen.
In early March, I had the pleasure of paying L.A. and my uncle a visit. He fed me guacamole and ginger tea as soon as I walked in the door. By the end of the weekend, we had meals at four different food trucks under our belts. Literally.
Until next time I make it out to Cali, I’ll be making this Cilantro Chicken Milanese, and hoping another gift lands in my inbox from out west.
From my kitchen, where I listen to my elders, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Cilantro Chicken Milanese with Raita
Makes 2 servings
This would be excellent alongside a simple Couscous Salad, Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant, or even Cabbage-Fennel Slaw. To save even more time, double the marinade and use half to dress the slaw in place of the vinegar mixture.
1 pound boneless chicken breasts (about 2)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 lemon, juiced
Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
On a flat work surface, place the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, heavy skillet, or your iron clad fists, pound the chicken until thin, about 1/2 an inch.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, cilantro, garlic, soy sauce, lemon juice, and the dash of cayenne. Taste, and season with salt and cayenne pepper as necessary.
In an airtight Tupperware container or resealable plastic bag, pour half of the yogurt mixture over the chicken. Toss until coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 6. Reserve the remaining marinade for serving.
Just before you’re ready to cook the chicken, place the breadcrumbs on a shallow plate. Dredge the chicken in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess.
In a large cast iron skillet, heat the butter and oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken. (Note: if your pan isn’t big enough, you will have to cook the two breasts separately. Add extra oil as necessary for the second batch.) Cook the chicken on both sides until golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.
Serve immediately with a generous dollop of the reserved marinade, and cilantro leaves for garnish. (Note from Denny: it also tastes great at room temperature!)