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~ Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or: Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy~

IMG_5249Pick a name, they're both the same, and, whichever  you choose, a quick, delicious, chicken dish with a tangy, creamy sauce should be in every cook's recipe box.  What amuses me about a great recipe like this is:  I can creatively "sell it" to my family and friends in one of two ways -- fancy French restaurant-style or down home country-style.  Any recipe that can be served two ways is worth its weight in gold.  I can serve this on china with asparagus and a buttery croissant, or, on stoneware with peas and a buttermilk biscuit.  Potatoes?  Rice?  Noodles?

IMG_5285No cookbook library is complete without a stack of these.  My recipe is a spinoff of the late, great Craig Claiborne's Smothered Chicken recipe.  Craig, a Mississippi boy, became the food editor of The NY Times in 1957, and, for decades, did everything in his power to help and encourage home cooking in America.  About smothered chicken, in 1983 he wrote, "this dish belongs in the comfort category.  It's a dish that gives solace to the spirit when you dine on it."  He suggested giving it an earthy, European twist by adding mushrooms and onions, as well as tomatoes, to the gravy.  

In true Southern smothered chicken style, his dish was cooked on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet and made with a spatchcocked chicken (a chicken with its backbone removed so you can lat it out flat in the skillet and cook the whole thing), and, he served his on white rice with green beans.  Instead of spatchcocking, I decided to take an easier approach to flattened chicken!

IMG_5094A bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sauteed.  A paillard is not smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

6a0120a8551282970b017c359a7380970bBecause of the 'state-of-affairs' of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts nowadays ("they just don't make 'em like they used to" -- I find them to be tough, tasteless and odd-textured), I use them for almost nothing anymore.  I choose to use chicken tenders almost exclusively. They are a bit more expensive, but, you do get what you pay for.  That is 6a0120a8551282970b017d3fcacd1f970cwhy manufacturer's remove them from the breasts and sell them separately -- they're the tender and tasty part of the breast.  It's similar to buying a beef round roast vs. a beef tenderloin.  If tenderness is what you desire, the decision is easy. For more details, go to Category 16 and read:  ~ Love Me Tenders:  Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender?  Yes! ~.  Let's cook:

IMG_4971For the chicken:

8  boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, placed between two pieces of plastic wrap, lightly-pounded with the flat side of a meat mallet then trimmed of any visible fat and/or tendon (I use kitchen shears to trim them.)

Lightly season tops of tenders with:

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for IMG_4975Sauce and Gravy

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes.  In an electric skillet* over low heat, melt:

IMG_49821/2  stick salted butter into 1/4 cup EVOO

IMG_4955Note:  I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make this dish. It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulates the heat so they saute properly. Once the mushroom sauce is prepared and paillards are returned to the pan, it will keep the dish warm until serving time too.  Feel free to use a large (12") nonstick skillet.

IMG_4994 IMG_4988Add paillards to skillet, seasoned sides down.  Sprinkle flour, salt and pepper over second sides.  Adjust heat to gently saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.

Turn heat off.  Transfer paillards to a plate (allowing all of the flavorful juices to remain in skillet), cover with aluminum foil, to keep warm, and set aside while preparing the mushroom sauce.

IMG_5124For my creamy, dreamy, tangy, smothery, mushroom sauce:

IMG_5132~ Step 1.  Heat the drippings in the skillet to 275 degrees, add:

1/2  cup white wine

IMG_5135There will be a lot of steam. Using a spatula, deglaze pan by loosening all of the browned bits from the bottom of pan. ~ Step 2.  Immediately, add:

IMG_51418-12  ounces thinly-sliced white button or cremini mushroom caps, 8-12 ounces after removing the stems from the mushrooms, about 4-6 cups

along with

1-1 1/2 cups diced shallots or yellow onion, one is not better than the other, your choice

IMG_5162 IMG_5155Saute until shallots are translucent, mushrooms have lost their moisture and almost no liquid remains in skillet, 3-4 minutes.  

~ Step 3.  Without hesitation, add,

IMG_5175 IMG_5182 IMG_5187 IMG_5192




and thoroughly stir in, 1  cup chicken stock, followed by 2 cups heavy or whipping cream, 1/4 cup large-sized capers, and, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard.  Return to a gentle, steady simmer.  Note: Don't add salt or pepper.  The drippings are seasoned -- Dijon and capers will add a salty tang!

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cad79b970d IMG_5208Increase heat a bit, to simmer rapidly, stirring almost constantly, until mixture has thickened enough so that when the spoon is pulled from the pan, you can draw a line through the sauce with your finger. Depending upon how rapidly the mixture is simmering, this can and will take 6-9 minutes.  Be patient. Don't rush.  Go ahead, take a taste!

IMG_5228Now you have a choice to make. Either add the chicken tenders to this decadent sauce and smother them in it, or, plate them and drizzle them with this addictive, almost drinkable, tangy mushroom sauce. Today, I'm serving them over nutty-flavored basmati rice (You might think I added saffron for the pretty yellow color, but I did not.  I prefer the earthy taste of turmeric with mushrooms.), with blanched, fresh asparagus, and, I'm drizzling the sauce over each portion!

When one is day-dreaming of a heavenly, easy-to-make meal...

IMG_5250... it should be easy to imagine the taste of this one!

IMG_5268Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or:  Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy :  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; kitchen shears; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 12" skillet; long-handled fork; aluminum foil; spatula

IMG_3587Cook's Note:  If you are like me and truly love a creamy sauce or a great gravy on all sorts of poultry or pork, this is a photo of a recipe you are going to adore.  Click into Categories 3 or 19 to get my recipe for this well-known Southern favorite: ~ Smothered with Love: Pork Chops w/Onion Gravy ~!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bearnaise ~

IMG_5048The first time I ate "Oscar" was in 1983 and I was in "The Big Easy".  Four of us were sitting in a fancy New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band and groovin' to the tunes.  My meal arrived and it was all sorts of wonderful:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sauteed, succulent, fork-tender veal paillard, piled high with tender Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery bearnaise sauce and garnished with steamed asparagus.  I was also drinking French 75 cocktails that night (gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar) -- it was a most memorable dinner.

IMG_5077After the first bite or two, I gave pause to the simple, decadent elegance of the dish.  When it comes to over-the-top scrumptiousness, no one does it better than the French.  This now famous dish is said to have been named for King Oscar II, the king of Sweden and Norway in the late 19th century after his classically-trained French chef composed a meal containing all of the king's favorite things.  For a number of years during the 1980's, veal Oscar made its way onto my dining room table because, while impressive, it's not all that hard to prepare.  It's a great dish to know how to make when you're having one of those "guess who's coming to dinner moments" -- the kind where you need to come up with a really nice nice dinner on very short notice! 

IMG_4992That said, the first time I had Oscar prepared with chicken (instead of the traditional veal) was in an Italian restaurant near Joe's hometown in Scranton, PA:  Alexanders.  Joe's mom liked to eat there because she loved their "gravy".  During that period of time, the latter '80's early '90's, boneless skinless chicken breasts were "all the rage", very trendy and on menus everywhere. Back then, IMG_4999boneless, skinless breast halves  were of good quality and very tasty too -- not the fake, tasteless, rubber chicken boneless breasts we buy today -- I use them for almost nothing anymore.  That said, I enjoyed the chicken version of the classic veal dish so much, I made sure it worked its way onto my family's weeknight or Sunday dinner table menu too -- lightly-pounded chicken tenders are no compromise to the veal in any way!

Hollandaise Sauce + Shallots + Tarragon = Bernaise Sauce!

IMG_4948 IMG_4870Bearnaise sauce is hollandaise sauce with shallots and tarragon added to it. For years I avoided recipes that required making either.  Why?   Hollandaise is, quite frankly, finicky and fickle to make via the whisk in a double boiler method.  The day I started making it in my blender I never looked back.  This foolproof method of doing it is the real-deal too --  no compromise whatsoever!

IMG_4819For 1 1/2 cups hollandaise sauce:

6  egg yolks, at room temperature

16  tablespoons butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature

2  tablespoons lemon juice stirred together with:

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper or white pepper, your choice

IMG_4929For my bearnaise sauce(Note:  To make 2 cups of bearnaise like I do, in the blender, click on the Related Article link below and DOUBLE my recipe for ~ The Big Easy:  Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~, adding:

IMG_48154-6  tablespoons very finely-diced shallots and 2 tablespoons dried tarragon leaves to the butter cubes.  Gently melt the butter as directed and follow the rest of the recipe as directed.) Bearnaise IS hollandaise w/ shallots & tarragon! 

Chicken or Veal + Asparagus + Crabmeat + Bearnaise = Oscar!

IMG_49578  boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, lightly-pounded, or, 8 veal scaloppine

Wondra flour, for dredging

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning

4  tablespoons butter + 4 tablespoons EVOO, for sauteing 

24  asparagus spears, medium-thick, trimmed to a length of 5"

1 pound lump crabmeat, the best available, fresh or pasteurized

2  cups bearnaise sauce

IMG_4964~ Step 1.  Prepare the hollandaise sauce, doubling my recipe, adding the shallots and tarragon as directed.  Cover and set the bearnaise sauce aside.  

~ Step 2.  Trim asparagus as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan bring 1" of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the asparagus and blanch until tender, not fully-cooked through or limp, about 3 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse in cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside.

IMG_4955Note:  I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make Oscar.  It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulate the heat so they saute properly.  If need be, I can even place the blanched asparagus and crabmeat on top of the sauteed paillards, cover, and, keep it all warm for 10-15 minutes!

IMG_4971~ Step 3.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim any visible fat and/or tendon from the chicken tenders. Place them between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly-pound them, just to flatten them out.  Do not smash them to smithereens.

~ Step 4.  Remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Lightly and evenly sprinkle the tops with Wondra flour, followed by a grinding of sea salt IMG_4975and peppercorn blend.  Set aside for 5-10 minutes.

~ Step 5.  In skillet over low heat, melt butter into olive oil.  Add the chicken paillards, seasoned side down.  Sprinkle Wondra flour, salt and pepper over the second sides. Adjust heat to a gentle saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once.  Chicken tenders cook quite fast, and mine are IMG_4988 IMG_4994always done in 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off, place the lid on the skillet and allow them to rest about 3 minutes.  They need this short rest for the juices inside to redistribute themselves.

IMG_5271~ Step 6.  Just prior to this rest period, using the spatula, move the paillards to one side of the pan. Add the asparagus, to a third of the other half of the pan, followed by the crabmeat to the last third of the pan. Do nothing except cover the pan. While the chicken rests, the asparagus and crabmeat will warm to proper temperature.  

To serve, divide the crabmeat into two halves: big lumps and chunks, and, smaller pieces and flakes.  Make a bed of of the smaller pieces on the bottom of each of 8 warmed salad-size plates.  Top each portion with a warm chicken paillard, three asparagus spears, some large lumps of crabmeat, and a generous drizzle of bearnaise.  I like to sprinkle each portion lightly with cayenne pepper.  This dish is meant to be served warm, not steaming hot:

IMG_5081All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bearnaise:  Recipe yields 8 small but very rich and filling servings fit for a king.  This dish is also very nice served with a bed of steamed white rice underneath the bed of crabmeat.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mini-food processor or blender; small saucepan or butter warmer; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; kitchen shears; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 14" skillet; long-handled fork; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01901bcf4047970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite French a la NOLA dishes, click into Categories 2, 3, 14, 19 or 21 to learn how I make ~ Shrimp Etouffee:  A Hallmark of Louisiana Cuisine ~.  Full of classic Louisiana flavor, it's a wonderful meatless meal, appropriate for Easter/lent, or almost any celebration!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015


~ The Big Easy: Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~

IMG_4870My love and enthusiasm for French food and cooking in the style of France has spanned almost four decades.  When time permits, I have no problem spending eight hours or the better part of two days doing whaever it takes to make something superb.  That said, when I find a shortcut way of doing anything that causes me no compromise in flavor and texture, I am like the proud pig who just dug up the world's largest truffle.  Blender hollandaise is one such example.  

A bit about hollandaise sauce:  Hollandaise is one of the five famous Mother Sauces of France: bechemel, veloute, espagnole, tomate and hollandaise.  Each one is said to be "the head of its own sauce family", because from each one, other sauces  can be made.  Hollandaise came late to the party, having been added by Chef Auguste Escoffier in the 20th century.  I love them all, I know how to make all of them, and, I'm addressing each one, as my need for it occurs here on KE (just click on the Related Article link below to learn ~ How to: Make a Classic Bechamel Sauce ~.  Vinaigrette is wisely and widely-accepted as a modern-day sixth mother sauce.

IMG_4874Today's attention is on hollandaise. I must say, I find hollandaise (and my favorite spinoff of it,  bearnaise) to be the most finicky.  Like the other mother sauces, it is a liquid combined with a thickening agent and some flavoring (liquid + thickener + flavoring = sauce), but, unlike the others, it is made by vigorously whisking clarified butter (a fat) into warmed egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Voila:  The perfect emulsification -- the perfect butter sauce.  Voila in reverse:  One wrong move or momentary lapse in judgement and you're screwed -- you've got scrambled eggs or a broken, greasy mess.  I'm not perfect.  I've done it.  I know.

I stopped being a martyr over hollandaise over a decade ago!

The past is the past -- let bygones be bygones.  Change comes slow to some -- I am one such person.  It took one of my chef friends to pull me out of the dark ages on this one.  He laughingly explained that no busy restaurant can afford to waste time having someone standing around hand-whisking hollandaise all day -- it's what blenders, stick-blenders and food processors are for.  As a gal who's been making her mayo in a food processor for over two decades, this should have occurred to me own my own -- a no-brainer, an ah-ha moment.  The plain-as-day truth is: mayonnaise and hollandaise are nearly identical in structure -- they're kissing cousins!

IMG_4806~ Step 1.  Into two small bowls carefully crack and separate:

3  large eggs, separate while cold

Cover the yolks with plastic wrap and allow them to come to room temperature, about 45-60 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the white for another use -- allow me to suggest an egg white omelette.

Note:  All eggs are easier to separate if you do it while they are cold -- right out of the refrigerator.

IMG_4815~ Step 2.  Using a sharp knife, cube:

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

placing it in a saucepan or butter warmer.  Note:  I prefer the butter warmer because it has a pourer spout on the side which makes for a mess free transfer to the blender.

Set butter cubes aside, with the egg yolks to come to room temperature, about 45-60 minutes.

IMG_4819~ Step 3.  In a very small bowl or dish, combine:

1  tablespoon lemon juice

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground sea salt

1/8  teaspoon ground cayenne or white pepper, your choice

Set aside until yolks and butter are at their proper temperatures.  While your waiting get out your blender...

IMG_4824... or, in my case, a 20-year old mini-food processor with a 2-cup capacity.  I love this little appliance.  It is just perfect for processing small batches of almost anything: mayo, salad dressings and/or sauces!

IMG_4845~ Step 4.  Melt the butter over extremely low heat. Even if you have to keep lifting the saucepan on and off the stovetop to control the heat, do everything in your power to keep the butter from bubbling or simmering.  If butter starts out at room temperature, this will take a short 30-45 seconds. Set aside for about 2 minutes.

IMG_4848 IMG_4852~ Step 5.  Place the egg yolks in the blender or in the mini-food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, cayenne and salt mixture.  Put the lid on and process for a full 2 minutes.  The mixture will be light in color and slightly-thickened (due to the fact that air was just incorporated into it for 2 minutes).

IMG_4880Step 6.  With the motor running, begin adding the warm, melted butter.  Normally, when making an emulsion for a salad dressing, I would tell you to add this, the emulsifying agent, in a thin, steady stream, but this is even less than that.  The best way for me to describe it is:  add the butter in a thin stream in dribs and drabs.  A thin stream, in about 10-15 small increments, giving it time to process for 5-10 seconds after each addition.  This process will take about 2 minutes too, and, at the end, you will have created the perfect hollandaise sauce.

IMG_4894A bit about using and storing hollandaise.  Hollandaise is classically served drizzled over eggs, vegetables, fish and seafood.

Use your hollandaise immediately, or, place it in a 1-cup food storage container, cover it, and, set it aside to use within 2-3 hours.  If you want to make your hollandaise a day in advance, that's fine too.  Place the covered container in the refrigerator overnight.  Just return it to room temperature (this will take about an hour), then, give it 1-2-3 short 10-15-second stints in the microwave over low power, stirring gently in between -- just warm it to above room temperature, NOT, to steaming hot.

IMG_4948 IMG_4929A bit about turning hollandaise into bearnaise: Bearnaise sauce is hollandaise with shallot and tarragon added to it.  To make bearnaise in the blender, add:

2-3  tablespoons  finely-minced shallots, and 1 tablespoon dried tarragon to the butter cubes.  Melt butter as directed and proceed!

Introducing:  Mel's Over-the-Top but Classy Eggs Benedict:

IMG_4924The Big Easy:  Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons), or, 6-8 servings, and, is written to easily double, triple or quadruple to suit the quantity needed.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; small saucepan or butter warmer; blender or mini-food processor;  small spatula; 1-cup food storage container w/lid or plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b0147e274afe9970bCook's Note:  To learn ~ How to: Make Homemade Mayonnaise ("Mayo") ~ the way I do (quick, easy and stress free), click into Categories 8, 15 or 20.  Homemade is always better than bought, and, like blender hollandaise, all you have to do is make it once to realize what a treat you've been missing!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)