Friday, September 11, 2009

Reporter's Table: Cause a stir with the very adaptable chicken

By Helen Klein

Chicken is amazingly malleable when it comes to flavor, assimilating with ease into a vast array of culinary styles.

So much depends on the herbs and spices that are selected, of course, as well as on the other ingredients called up for service.

For a quick sauté of chicken and vegetables, I called upon a homemade paprika-based spice rub for the chicken, plus carrots and sugar snap peas, both farm-fresh, as well as my favorite sweet onions, binding the mixture together with a soupçon of heavy cream, studded with a sprinkling of thyme.

As I conceptualized it for a quick weekday dinner, the combination was served on a bed of fusilli, spring-shaped pasta cooked al dente. The result was a hearty main course, that needed no more than a salad or some chunks of peasant bread to make a complete meal.

For this dish, my instinct was to garner middle European flavors, and meld them with the traditions of northern Italy -- a historical marriage with deep roots, as much of the upper part of the boot was occupied by the Austrian empire in the 19th century, and its culinary traditions reflect that.

But, for a more expected middle European dish, the fusilli could have been replaced by egg noodles.

Then, again, for an exotic twist, the traditionally European spices could have given way to garam masala, the wine to chicken stock, and the completed dish, studded with chickpeas perhaps, could have been served on a bed of basmati rice. And, voilà, suddenly dinner is redolent with the fragrances and flavors of the Indian subcontinent.

European stir-frid chicken and vegetables

1 lb. chicken breast cutlets, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne (or more, to taste)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbl. olive oil, or more if necessary
1 lb. baby carrots, each cut on the diagonal into 2 or 3 segments
1 lb sugar snap peas
½ sweet onion, sliced
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
½ lb. fusilli (or other short, shaped pasta), cooked till al dente

Combine paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper. Dredge chicken pieces in the combined spices, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok (preferably non-stick). When oil is sizzling, add chicken, tossing occasionally, and cook over medium-high heat till browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same skillet, sauté the onion over medium-high heat, adding an extra tablespoon of oil if necessary. Once onion has become translucent, add carrot chunks, and continue to sauté till lightly browned in spots, adding a little water, as necessary, to prevent vegetables from sticking or burning. Once the carrots are almost fork tender, add the sugar snap peas and continue cooking another minute or two until peas are bright green but still crunchy.

Return chicken to pan, lower heat and add wine. Continue to cook, over medium-low heat, till liquid is reduced and peas and carrots are crisp-tender. Add heavy cream, and cook another 1-2 minutes, until flavors are combined, and cream has been reduced.

Serve over fusilli.

Serves four.


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