What I’ve found to be truly astounding about food blogging is that no matter what I sit down to write about, be it plain as a pickle or a tiny chickpea, there is always something to say. In fact, the ingredients often do the talking and I am just the translator. In every bite there is an experience to be had--good, bad, blasé, or life changing, each contains a puzzle of words that somehow, naturally float into composition. What begins as mise en place, is incorporated into a patient braise, where it develops into the deep and delicious sum of its parts. That is why I love writing about food more than anything else, and why reading about it never gets old. Whether it tells a tale all its own or conjures up reminiscence of another, every dish has a story.
And now, for today’s story--Mediterranean Chicken:
I try to avoid the standard “chicken cutlet,” as in, breaded and fried chicken cutlet, whenever I can. It’s not that I don’t like chicken cutlets; I enjoy them just as much as you do. But as the Mad Hatter said to Alice in the recent Tim Burton recreation of Alice in Wonderland, for me, they’ve simply “lost their muchness.” There’s no better way to explain it, they just used to be much more…muchier. In tomato sauce and cheese, with lemon, or topped with bruschetta topping, it’s all great, but after my millionth chicken cutlet, I just can’t get too excited over them.
For dinner the other night, the ever-present chicken cutlets were defrosting on the counter, and I--as always, was looking for something different to do with them. For dinner on the fly, I took the quicker and healthier route, skipping the breading, and sauéting them with a little olive oil. The Mediterranean influence came from using what we had in the refrigerator: a cucumber, feta cheese, and not much else. I had an idea to mix up a cucumber "salsa" with feta cheese crumbles, mint, and red onion to put on top of the chicken. The final product ended up being very similar, except in place of the crumbles, I made a feta cheese sauce.
The sauce was a variation on a basic béchamel. A quick culinary school 101 lesson: béchamel, a milk sauce thickened with a light roux, is one of the five mother sauces that serve as the foundation for all other sauces. This smooth and creamy sauce, lends itself perfectly to cheese. Mornay sauce, one of the most classic variations of béchamel, adds gruyere and parmesan. If you’ve never made homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch, the béchamel is where you start. I actually think that this feta sauce would be really tasty in mac and cheese.
The cool and crunchy cucumber salsa was a nice compliment to the sauce which was like creamy, liquid feta. Sticking with the Mediterranean theme, I served it with toasted pita chips brushed with olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and cumin. My only complaint was that my chicken cutlets were way too thin; the butcher pounded them into paper and so they were kind of dry. I can only imagine how much better this recipe would be with thick, juicy breasts (Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter).
P.S. I'm so excited to have been selected by Foodbuzz and Electrolux to participate in the September 24 x 24, a monthly event where 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publishers from around the globe create a unique meal in the same 24 hours and blog about it. This month’s 24 x 24 is special as it will be helping to raise money and awareness in support of Ovarian Cancer Research. As a participant, Foodbuzz and Electrolux will be donating $250 in my name to the Ovarian Cancer Research fund! Next Saturday, September 4th, I will be holding a high tea party with all of the females in my family. I have a lot of great things planned for the menu which I’ll blog all about, and will be posting on Wednesday, September 8th, so stay tuned!
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Mediterranean Chicken with Cucumber Salsa and Feta Cheese Sauce:
Yield: 6 chicken breasts
- 6 chicken breasts, seasoned with salt & pepper
- Regular olive oil to cook
- 1 Tbs whole butter
- 1Tbs flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup feta cheese crumbles
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- Garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cucumber, seeded and diced
- 1 Tbs red onion, small dice
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• Heat oil in the pan and sauté chicken breasts until nicely browned and cooked throughout. Depending on thickness, you may need to finish the breasts in the oven for a few minutes.
• For the sauce: in a small sauce pot, melt butter and whisk in flour until you develop a wet sand consistency—a roux. Whisk in whole milk, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer; make sure to keep stirring so that the flour will not burn on the bottom of the pan. Add Feta cheese, oregano, garlic powder, and seasoning. Cook, while continuing to stir frequently, until the sauce is smooth and thickened to the point where it lightly coats the back of a spoon.
• Mix all of the salsa ingredients together in a bowl and serve with the sauce on top of chicken breasts.