Monday, September 14, 2009
Culinary Adventures: Savory Breaded Chicken with Peas
What's for Dinner?
Tonight's entree is a savory breaded chicken (cornmeal, garlic, basil, pepper, and non-salt seasoning in the breading) sauteed in olive oil, served over a tortilla and topped with green peas and mozzarella cheese. Let me just say that that sounds considerably simpler than it actually was. (Read on.)
Preparation: 3 of 5 (yes, this time I'm giving prep points too)
Although breading is tempting because it's usually delicious, I'll admit right now that it's a bit of a pain in the neck, and if you've never made breading, you may have trouble with the proportions. I'm not convinced that my breading was the best possible, for reasons I'll discuss shortly. But anyhow, I mixed a breading, while the chicken was defrosting, then cut the chicken in cubes, dipped the cubes in olive oil, and then dredged them in the breading. Then I sauteed the breaded chicken in a little more olive oil while I microwaved peas. Warm a tortilla, spoon on the chicken, add mozzarella cheese while it's hot, and then the peas. Now you've got a meal.
How to Improve: Making the breading ahead of time would be a great time-saver here, and once I have a breading recipe perfected I'll probably do just that.
Presentation: 5 of 5
This dish succeeds where Poulet a l'Orient didn't - it retains the bright green colors of the vegetables, and the yellow-gold of the chicken is very appealing. The tortilla reinforces the idea of roundness and balance, for a pleasing aesthetic. All in all, very good presentation. Not revolutionary, but quite good for a single man's kitchen!
How to Improve: If we want to make this really avant-garde, we need to go for clean, strong lines and add more color. Halve the portion size (which would be OK since I could only eat about half of what I prepared - the rest is in my fridge, waiting to be eaten tomorrow) and drizzle with a red salsa, add some colorful garnish, play with geometric patterns, etc.
Taste: 8 of 10
The chicken was not quite as flavorful as it should be - again, a flaw carried over from the last dish. This time I blame the breading, which itself was fairly flavorful, but did not penetrate to the chicken itself (it's a breading - breadings are fairly inert, all things considered). However, the breading did help keep the chicken nice and tender. The tension between the salt of the mozzarella and the sweet of the peas is excellent, and should be replicated again.
How to Improve: The tortilla, alas, contributes very little, and should probably be substituted with something more assertive, like a flatbread or, better still, focaccia. And the cornmeal breading is clumsy - try a flour breading next time, because the flour will contribute much less of its own taste, allowing herbs and spices to be tasted instead. It will also block out less, since a flour coating would be thinner than the cornmeal equivalent.
Health: 3 of 5
The vegetables here are secondary, as in the previous dish, and aren't present in large enough quantity to really make a nutritional difference. There is very little basic carbohydrate and too much emphasis on protein, not just in the cheese, but in the meat, which is a predominate feature.
How to Improve: Although not hugely unhealthy, the meal should be better balanced as far as the food groups are concerned (less meat, more carbohydrate and vegetable).
Ingenuity, Creativity, and Thrift: 4 of 5
Good as it is, meat's not cheap, and its share of the overall meal should be reduced, with something cheaper and lower-calorie substituted in (another vegetable, or several).
How to Improve: Several elements could be changed or added to give this dish more personality - a more flavorful base in place of the tortilla (but alas that's all I had), and a flavorful topping like salsa are the two that come immediately to mind. However, this dish offers great opportunities - why not reduce it in side to an hors d'oeuvre, served over toasted rounds of French bread? Or, chop the chicken more finely, add greens, and make tacos and/or a salad out of it. The basic combination is sound, and it lends itself to other arenas fairly easily.
Overall: 23 of 30 (B+)
Again, not bad for an experiment, but not quite guest-worthy either. The basic idea is quite stable, however, and only needs tweaking to improve it to A quality. With so many suggestions for how to make this dish better listed above, it's only a matter of time before it - or something like it - makes it to my culinary A-list.
Incidentally, I now have a hankering to experiment with frittata...