I have whacked a fair few recipes up on this old site, and in the main, they are inspired by what I cook on a day to day basis in my employ as a chef. Not all of these recipes will consist of restaurant food per se, because those types of dishes are a pain in the arse to assemble at home – yet most of them will contain at least small amounts of restaurant-ey touches.
This recipe is definitely not one of those. Yeah, OK – the title might be all lofty and fancy and such, but I’ll always do that… it comes with the job. Forget the title – this recipe is all about simple, tasty and easy to prepare home cooking.
One of the more common misconceptions about cooking for a living goes something along these well worn lines; “Oh, you are so lucky to be a chef, just think of all the wonderful meals you must cook at home...” Well, sorry to say folks – but this just simply isn’t the case. In fact, some of the most careless home cooks I know are professional chefs who are so over the game that they just slop whatever together when they are at home, solely to keep abject hunger at the door.
I find that pretty sad – whether one is a professional pan-rattler or not. There is no need to eat grandly elaborate banquets everyday, but by the same token – there is definitely no need to eat junk either. Creating good, simple, everyday meals like this is just a matter of taking a little care when buying and selecting ingredients, and taking a little care when cooking and assembling them. Don’t believe me? Well, if you please naysayer... do read on.
Quite a while back I wrote about the numerous ways you can use a good loaf of bread after it has gone stale. Making your own breadcrumbs that would whup anything you could buy at the supermarket was one of these tips. I went on to state that not only were these the best breadcrumbs that you will ever taste, but suggested the addition of extra flavourings like herbs and garlic that would take a schnitzel like this to gastronomic nirvana. This is what I meant above about taking a little care. Use supermarket-bought, desiccated breadcrumbs and this dish would be pretty damn ho hum. However, use good bread to make your own crumbs, and incorporate zesty flavourings – in this case delicious pistachio nuts, and dinner at home will suddenly be a whole lot better than dinner out on the town.
When coated with this addictive mixture, the chicken takes on an impossibly crunchy and scrumptious crust – one that also sports a seductively pale green hue thanks to the pistachios. Added to the mix are a few cloves of garlic for its punchy flavour and a generous amount of good parmesan cheese that melts and bubbles out of the crust as the chicken cooks. In a word, it's all quite yummy. It is timely to remember though, that the stale bread you use must be up to par. Spongy, plastic-wrapped, sliced white pap will not cut it here. To succeed you really must use good quality bakery loaves. I used Italian ciabatta, but sourdough, wood-fired bread, or any decent, integrity-laden loaf will do just as nicely. The breadcrumbs can be made up to a week in advance and popped into the fridge until you are ready to cook.
The salad on the side was just a throw together of odds and ends that I had lying in the fridge. Corn cobs, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, mayo and waxy-fleshed kipfler potatoes. Alone they presented as a lacklusture bunch – but with a little careful cooking and common sense they really come together to create a whole way beyond the parts.
This would make a perfect Sunday night dinner – Sundays always seem to be a little more lazy than the rest of the week, and the extra time will let you spend a leisurely hour or so getting it all ready. In fact, this is what I cooked for myself at home last Sunday night. Get into it.
- I have suggested chicken thigh fillets here, and with good reason. Breast fillets seem to be one of the most popular cuts of any meat that people buy to cook for themselves. It can also be one of the most tricky to cook well. Chicken breast is a muscle that is worked little in a mostly flightless bird, and it also has little in the way of marbled intra-muscular fat. What does this all mean on the plate? Overcook them and they will be dry, stringy and tough as a board. On the other hand, the much harder-working muscles in chicken thighs are so much more forgiving in the pan and will cook to juicy tenderness every single time.
- Homemade mayo would be great here, but heck – even I didn’t feel like whipping up a batch last Sunday. Instead, I used tangy, squeeze-bottle Japanese mayo instead. Use your favourite.
- The tomatoes are sensational when cooked as described below, but it does all add up to extra cooking time, so feel free to just slice them and add them raw.
- It is important to use waxy, yellow-fleshed, European-style potatoes for this dish, as floury potatoes will simply crumble when simmered and tossed through the salad. Kipfler potatoes are perfect, as are pink eyes and ratte. If unsure, just use potatoes you would normally select for a regular potato salad – or ask your green grocer for advice.
- Don’t slavishly feel that you need to make the following potato salad to go with the chicken – or even vice versa. Feel free to serve this crunchy chicken with any accompaniment you have to hand and is easy to prepare. Remember… Sunday night, we don't want any stress - so keep it easy.
Ingredients (for 2)
Pistachio crust chicken
Potato and sweetcorn salad
Start with the pistachio crust. Place the cubed bread, pistachios, parmesan cheese, garlic, along with some sea salt and pepper into a food processor. Whiz thoroughly until the whole lot is well crumbed, however don’t over-process the crumbs into a powder. A few chunky bits here and there will add some character, and also lets your guests know that you've made it yourself. You can store these crumbs in an airtight container, in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on your workbench (freezer plastic is good here – known as “Glad Go Between” in Australia). Place the chicken, spread out, on top of the plastic, then cover with another piece of plastic - identically sized. Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, or heck – even the side of a big coffee jar, beat the fillets out until they are roughly 1 cm (1/2 inch’ish) thick. Don’t whack them out too thin, or the chicken will overcook by the time the crust is nice and crunchy.
Set up 3 bowls on your workbench. Into the 1st place the flour, the beaten egg goes into the 2nd, and the breadcrumbs into the 3rd. Dip the first chicken fillet into the flour, and then shake well to remove all the excess. You are simply drying out the chicken in this step, so that the egg and hence the crumbs will adhere to the chicken snugly. Any excess flour will give your crust a pasty interior, so be sure to shake all the excess flour away before proceeding. Dip the fillet into the egg and swish about so all the chicken is drenched. Lift out and let the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Then place the fillet into the breadcrumbs and press down to coat one side. Flip the fillet over and coat the other. Make sure that the crumbs adhere well – and don’t be modest – the more crumbs that stick now means more crunchy crust for you to eat later. Repeat until all the chicken is coated, place on a plate then cover and set the refrigerator for half an hour to let the crumbs really stick well to the outside of the chicken. You can leave the chicken refrigerated at this stage for up to 48 hours. Store any extra crumbs in the fridge for next time (or maybe even freeze them).
Melt the butter and oil together in a large, heavy-based frypan. Non-stick is good. Don’t be alarmed at the amount of oil. What you are doing here is shallow-frying, not pan frying. The difference lies not only with the amount of oil, but also the temperature which should be a gentle medium heat. Any excess oil will be drained away later anyway.
When the butter has melted and is aromatic and bubbling, slide the schnitzels in and cook at medium heat for about 4-5 minutes. Don’t let the pan get too hot, or you will burn the crust. Smoking black butter is a real sign that your pan needs to be turned down. When one side is nicely golden brown, flip the schnitzels over and cook for another 4 minutes, or until golden. The chicken will be cooked through by now.
Drain on paper towels and serve hot, with a nice leafy salad and some lemon wedges, or some of the following salad.
For the potato and corn salad, cut the potatoes into 5 mm slices. Place in a small pot, cover with cold water and add a few slivers of garlic, a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place over medium heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, but still hold their shape. Pour the lot – water and all – into a large bowl, set aside and keep warm.
Cut the kernels from the corn, place into the same pot and cover with water. Bring to the simmer, adding a pinch of salt, and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes or so. Drain and set aside.
Rinse out the pot and add the whole cherry tomatoes, the remaining garlic, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, along with some salt and pepper. Cover the pot and set on medium heat. Cook until the skins have split and the tomatoes are softened but still holding their shape. Set aside. Omit this step if you wish and simply add raw tomatoes, sliced.
Peel the hardboiled egg and cut into slices. Place in a large serving bowl along with the cucumber, the tomatoes and their juices, the drained potato, corn, parmesan and mayo. Toss gently, but thoroughly and serve at once. This does taste its best when eaten right away, but it is possible to refrigerate overnight if need be. Just make sure to let the salad come back to room temperature before serving.