~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bearnaise ~
The 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.
After 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!
That 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, boneless, 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!
Bearnaise 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!
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
For 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:
4-6 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!
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
~ 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.
Note: 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!
~ 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 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 always 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.
~ 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:
All 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
Cook'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