I wish I were better at having people over.
Did you know etiquette suggests things like this: “Set the dining table the night before and cover it with a bedsheet [because] it is too nerve-wracking to do this an hour or so before your guests arrive”? I’d like to respectfully suggest that it’s too nerve-wracking to be that well-prepared. I am much more likely to be the person running to the grocery the morning of, picking up a bottle of white wine for the chicken recipe and some Parmesan (scratch that, I grabbed Pecorino) for the salad, laying out a tablecloth and slicing up the bread while also stirring the couscous and snacking on dark chocolate, and then, just when I’m standing over the stove, ready to put the raw chicken in the pan, the doorbell rings.
It’s a funny thing, being reunited with someone who used to know you, after years of living separate lives, and Friday, the first day of 2010, my old roommate Kim was at my door, which I answered with my apron still on, out of breath, hugging her and then leading her to the kitchen. She’d remember better, but I think my first few words were something like, “How are you? Did you have any trouble getting here? So, seriously, how do you catch up with someone you haven’t seen in almost six years? I want to know everything! But first, I have to grab something,” after which, I fell up the stairs.
Thankfully, Kim’s a better sport than an etiquette guidebook would be, and she not only stood right next to me while I pounded chicken cutlets, sauteed garlic in olive oil (then adding tomatoes until they puckered, at which point they’re set aside), added sage leaves and laid the flattened, floured chicken inside the pan in two separate batches, but she also helped, particularly when I added the white wine and tomatoes back into the pan, which sent bursts of steam and sizzle into the already-hot and windowless kitchen and I near panicked at the certain fear I must have been putting in her about lunch. I hate that I get so flustered, but if I had to do it, I am glad it was with her.
So back to the chicken: I owe the original recipe to Sarah of In Praise of Leftovers, a site I very much love to read, and she had adapted it from a cookbook by Tessa Kiros (the same woman who wrote Falling Cloudberries, whose milk-honey-and-cinnamon ice cream I enjoyed so much).
Like the balsamic chicken my brother made for us a few weeks ago, this recipe’s hallmark is its cooked-down juices at the end, which let everything get very tender and flavorful. When you first lay the floured cutlets in the pan, on top of the sage leaves and hot oil, it may seem like they’re sticking a little, but don’t worry: once you add the tomatoes and wine, the juices will pop and hiss, sending steam above the stove and into the kitchen (this was the point where Kim said, “Do you have a fan above?” Smart girl, that one) and their juices loosen everything up nicely.
We ate this with couscous, toasted crusty wheat bread and a spinach salad topped with golden raisins, toasted almonds, Pecorino, lemon and olive oil.
Then, for dessert, we enjoyed the one thing I did successfully plan ahead for: my favorite orange sherbet. Sweet and Creamsicle-like, this orange-you-eat-with-a-spoon is delicious even in the dead of winter and, I now know, even when you use dark brown sugar instead of white, which slightly changes the color but not the taste.
It was a good day, but less because of what I was planning or cooking or eating, and more because of who I was cooking and eating with.
Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes
Adapted from In Praise of Leftovers
I know I ran to the store to grab white wine, but Sarah had said water was a fine substitute in her post so, even if this is ironic, I have to tell you not to stress over it. Oh and also, I bought a cheap bottle that was about $5, literally, and it was perfect.
About 8 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved vertically
8 chicken cutlets/tenders
flour for dusting
8 fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup white wine
crushed red chile flakes
(optional: three big bunches of fresh arugala or spinach)
Pound the cutlets a bit till they’re a little flatter and roughly uniform size. Lightly dust the chicken with flour on both sides, and set aside.
Heat half the olive oil with the sliced garlic in a large, nonstick frying pan, over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes with a little salt, cooking until they start to pucker. Pour the oil and tomatoes out together into a little bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add sage, and place chicken directly on top of sage leaves, frying until the underside of the chicken is golden and the sage is sticking to the chicken (try to resist the urge to continually turn them over and over and over again; I know it’s hard). Turn over and season with salt, cooking until the new underside is golden.
*If your pan doesn’t fit all the chicken at once, remove the first batch now, setting it aside, and cook the second batch (repeating the above steps). Then, put all the chicken in the pan together before proceeding.
Add the wine and tomatoes, which will make everything sizzle and steam and wow, is the kitchen getting hot?—hang in there, letting it bubble up and evaporate a bit. Then put the lid on and leave for a couple minutes before serving. Add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes on top.
(Optional: lay the chicken on a bed of arugala or spinach. I did this, but I also made a salad, and I liked that side option better. The choice is yours.)
I know this salad didn’t get a lot of attention in the above post, but it was excellent. I based it on a menu option I saw at Cheesecake Factory and it’s more of a loose guide than a recipe.
A big bunch of fresh greens (such as baby spinach or arugula)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of slivered almonds, toasted on the stove with butter
A handful of golden raisins
Shaved Pecorino cheese to sprinkle on top
A few glugs of olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and enjoy, adjusting proportions to taste.