I had started this piece a nearly a week ago but my temperamental computer went into awry mode and had to be taken to the computer doctor to get better. As a result, especially in terms of efficiency, the last few days have been a little befuddling for me and it was brought home to me how important it is for us, when we are in a bit of a hurry, to be able to put together something nice for dinner without a lot of fuss. So I do hope the dish I am proposing will impress its ease upon you as it did upon my daughter when she first started cooking for herself.
It just so happened in her second year of university that she ended up spending a few months living with my sister (herself no slouch in the stove department) and they took it in turns to prepare supper and got on, culinarily speaking, very well indeed as a whole. When I chanced staying with them for a few days, and the three of us were deciding what to eat one evening, my daughter proposed we cook “petto di pollo”, i.e. fillets of chicken breast that one cooks in a frying pan. I would have gone with that proposal, thinking it a very good idea, but my sister looked totally unconvinced and so we opted for something else. We had a repeat performance from her the following day, and then again after that, at which point I found myself somewhat perplexed – this unwillingness to go along with a suggestion was not the normal behaviour of my very easy-going and sweet natured sister. My daughter and I shrugged our shoulders and exchanged glances of bewilderment. Later that evening, my daughter confided to me that my sister would never let her make “petto di pollo”. Strange indeed but there were more interesting and other important topics of conversation for us to share and so we left it at that. The matter would have rested there, I suppose, had not I stayed with them again some time later; on this occasion, I maternally stepped in, in favour of my daughter’s proposal and insisted we have “petto di pollo” for supper. “I don’t know how you can bear to eat petto di pollo!”, my sister complained. To which both of us answered that, true, it may not be the food of the Gods but there was nothing wrong with it either, a very suitable midweek dish if ever there was one. My sister looked at us as though she were indulging a set of very wayward children who wanted to be difficult at all costs.
Picture her face, then, when she unwillingly consented to put some of this fare into her mouth! She shut her eyes, re-opened them with a startled gaze, and let out all kinds of sounds of enjoyment as she chewed and swallowed. Now it was my daughter’s and MY turn to be unconvinced … was she pulling our legs?
No, no she wasn’t. She was loving every minute of it, it tasted divine. She wanted to cry. “I wish I had known it tasted so good, I would let you make it countless times! You see, whenever I conjured up visions of “petto di pollo”, I thought of what they used to serve us at school … yuck! It was like a wedge … all horrible consistency, and dry texture, so difficult to swallow, and it just wouldn’t go down your gullet. It was just like eating a door stop.” Hence the title of this blog.
For such an easy recipe, this dish does require a basic but very important approach that should never be taken for granted — and that is how and when to flour a piece of meat prior to cooking and how much oil, butter or clarified butter to use to avoid the dreaded door-stop effect. The other tips or hints concern how to peel an orange if you want to cut it in round slices and last and never least, how to look after your fingers when chopping anything with a large knife.
Repeat: this is a very easy recipe but in order to show you how easy it is, I have had to take a massive amount of photos. So I shall provide ingredients and instructions first and photos after, okay? Okay. And every time you cook this dish, which can be done using lemon instead of orange, or butter and sage instead of those, or yet again some slices of ginger and olive oil only, remember our manifesto: we eschew the door-stopper in favour of the show-stopper.
OSP: Oil (extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil), salt and pepper
Thin slices of chicken breast
Some flour to dust the chicken before cooking it
Optional for today’s recipe is the Radicchio (this is a chicory too! – remember my last blog on cicoria and my dilemma with all things chicory?). The variety I used is called “radicchio di Treviso” and I like it because it takes no time to cook and is not as bitter as some of its chicorial cousins.
When it comes to sautéing any meat the Western way, not the high-heat Wok way, it is indispensable that there be PLENTY of fat to coat the meat and prevent it from going dry and rubbery and ‘orrible.
The clever cook always knows what size of pan is required every time he or she is going to cook meat this way. A smaller pan for less meat, a larger pan for a greater amount of meat. It’s only a question of logic.
The rule of thumb is the following: make sure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in either olive oil or melted or clarified butter, depending on your preference. And don’t worry about the amount of fat: you do not have to eat it all, you can leave what you don’t like behind. I love fat myself and don’t have a problem with it but some people do and it disgusts them. So, repeat, eat however much you like and leave the rest on the plate. HOWEVER, unless you use LOTS of fat when sautéing the food … you will end up with some inedible lump of meaningless meat … and that would indeed be a waste as well as a pity.
(1) Put some flour in a large plate or bowl so that you can easily dredge each slice of meat in the flour, pressing down firmly on both sides. And by firmly, I mean firmly. Press hard with your fingers. Then shake off the excess flour. IMPORTANT: do not attempt to do this in advance, it will spoil the dish. The meat must be dredged in flour only just before it is to be cooked. So remember the importance of timing …
(2) The oil doesn’t even need to be very hot when you put the slices of meat in it and indeed you don’t want to apply a high heat, a medium one will do. You turn the slices of chicken breast over ONCE only, when they are done on the first side. When they are cooked on both sides, that is the time to pour the orange juice over the meat and cover the pan with a lid for a couple of minutes. Add salt and pepper towards the end and serve.
One last detail: depending on the amount of chicken fillets to be served at the dinner table, you will probably be cooking the meat in batches of a few slices at a time. If so, remove the first batch of cooked slices from the pan and transfer to a serving dish temporarily. Cook the second batch and transfer to the serving dish and ditto if there is a third batch. At that point, when finished, put all the slices of chicken breast back into the pan, turn up the heat and now pour the orange juice over them.
This is one of the oranges: cut it in half and set aside. Peel the other orange, trying to remove as much of the white stuff as possible (I know it’s good for you but in this recipe we don’t want it).
Now pour the olive oil into the frying pan …
See? The bottom of the frying pan is entirely covered with olive oil.
FLOURING THE PETTO DI POLLO
Press down very firmly on one side …
Turn the fillets over on the other side and …
press down very firmly on the other side too …
Shake off the excess flour.
THE COOKING BEGINS
Don’t be in a hurry … place each fillet gently, one at a time …
There is the radicchio in the background ready to be chopped …
The fillets are cooked on one side, now turn them over on the other side (turn them over only once!)
When cooked on both sides, transfer to a serving dish for a few minutes. Now it’s time to use the oranges:
Slide them gently in … the oil isn’t at a fierce temperature but it’s still hot!
Turn the orange slices over once too, using a set of tongs ..
Slide the chicken fillets back into the saucepan …
Add salt and pepper to your liking … Then fetch the other orange that you had halved in two and ..
Squeeze hard and get as much of the juice out of the orange … and then cover the saucepan.
Cook on a low heat for a few minutes to allow the chicken fillets to absorb the citrus flavours and in the meantime:
Chop the radicchio. Please notice how I tuck in the fingertips of my left hand to keep them out of harm’s way! Knives can be very dangerous so please please please ALWAYS keep your fingertips curled under (as above) when chopping anything …
Almost ready …
That black “thing” you see on the right-hand side is a black peppercorn. I just adore black peppercorns and sneak them into nearly everything I cook because I think they impart a je-ne-sais-quoi to any preparation. But that’s just me, you don’t have to. The reason I mention it is because that peppercorn in the photo could be mistaken for an insect or something nasty …
Aren’t those colours simply gorgeous!!! (yellow and red just like the colours of the Roma football club)
Use a wooden spoon to carely mix the ingredients together.
TIME TO SERVE!
Transfer the chicken fillets cooked with slices of oranges and with orange juice and chopped radicchio di Treviso to a serving dish, one at a time. (It might be an idea to keep the serving dish in a hot oven prior to this …)
However hard I try, I always manage to get things a little messy on the plate but ….
All one has to do is get hold of a napkin or some paper towel and wipe the rim of the plate clean before serving.
Petto di pollo all’arancia: buon appetito!