January 4, 2012
Crispy Jack Chicken
I like Chicken Parmesan. It is so easy to make and a perfect combination of crisp and cheese and tomato is hard to pass up. So why change what is a tried and true recipe? To try something new but still familiar. Also, with the holidays past us, now is a good time to start lightening up what is made in the kitchen so last night I decided to tweak an old standby with some new, lighter flavors. Let's face it - Chicken Parm isn't the leanest dish out there.
I used to - I shouldn't say that - I haven't made my Stuffed Spanish Chicken in a while and was thinking about making that last night, but the pull of Chicken Parm was just way too much. That got me thinking, how can I make a lighter Chicken Parmesan dish that is more on the Mexican side of things? Using fresh tomatoes or salsa on top instead of marinara sauce for one, substituting Monterrey jack for mozzarella, and lastly, corn flour in place of white flour and panko.
My mom can't eat gluten which is one of the reasons I know about corn flour. Another reason I know about it is by learning how to make tortillas from scratch. I did some basic research and found out that corn flour is lighter then "regular" flour and has more fiber content which provides some health benefits. I'm not going to go out and substitute corn flour for wheat flour in everything I eat, but I did find that it was lighter and I don't get the "sticking to your bones" feeling after swapping.
But this isn't a blog about flour, so on to cooking! As always I gather my ingredients together. Last night I was aiming for fresh foods that I had on hand. The only extra thing I picked up last night was some tomatoes. I pull out a small chicken breast, an egg, the remaining half and half from the other night, fresh cilantro, bacon, corn flour, panko, cumin and garlic powder. I am going to omit raw salt in this dish mainly because I am trying to cut most of it out of my diet. As a human being I need some, but I figure I am ingesting enough of it on a daily basis to be able to cut most of it out at dinner time. Plus I'm enjoying a small handful of chips with salsa as an appetizer.
I start by crisping my bacon in the cast iron. It is still in the seasoning process so the more bacon and meat I cook in it the better. As I'm sure you are aware, I am allergic to pork and pig meat so I have to "cook the bacon out of the bacon" to enjoy it without getting a scratch throat, basically cooking it until it is super crispy.
Next I slice up my veggies, chop my cilantro and mix my corn flour/panko/spices so it is all set to go. Once my bacon is done and the greases is drained off I start heating corn oil and am ready to get my chicken cooking. I dredge it in the milk/egg mixture then in the corn flour mix and on to the hot oil. I only use about a tablespoon of oil because I just want to get both sides crisped up without a bunch of leftover oil to make it soggy later. Cooked for about 5 minutes per side to make sure that it will be nice and crisp as well as cooked and it's time to start topping the chicken!
I start by placing the tomatoes on the chicken. I made sure that the top was crisped just slightly longer before putting the tomatoes on because I was worried that they would make the coating too soggy while in the oven. I next put a light layer of cheese and bacon, followed by more cheese on top. I am using less then 1/4 cup cheese on the chicken because the whole point is to lighten it up. Lastly comes the freshly chopped cilantro and crushed red pepper. The pepper is a last minute addition to the dish because I decided that a spice kick was necessary for the dish to be complete.
I put the whole shebang in a 350 degree preheated oven to finish cooking and melt the cheese. The chicken isn't done all the way, but I'm going to trust my timing judgement here because the last thing I want to do is ruin what is looking like a perfect dinner. The searing time of 5 min per side probably did it, but I want to make absolutely sure that it is cooked through. It's in the oven for about 10 minutes before I check on it. The cheese is melted to perfection and the chicken is the right firmness so I pull it out.
At first blush everything looks perfect. The breading is crisp and doesn't look oily, the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are still juicy. I serve it up with sliced avocado and a small salad with green bell peppers.
Wow. So good. So amazingly good I can't stand it. It is flavorful and light and fresh and so so so good. We would say V. V. Good at my folks house. The corn flour held its crisp better then "regular" flour, even with the juicy tomato on top, and gave the chicken a nice texture. It also was more.... well, less sweet then with white flour. Added an element of tortilla (if that makes sense) flavoring. All the elements melded perfectly and the avocado boosted the freshness and added a nice creaminess to each bite.
Next time I make this (and there will be many more next times) I would only change how thick the chicken is. I should have pounded or butterflied it. I came across some bites that didn't have any toppings on it and although it was still good, I would have liked to have at least some tomato with each bite. I would keep everything else the same, even the amount of cheese regardless of the surface area of the chicken after pounding/butterflying.
Probably the best thing after eating this dish was how good I felt. I didn't feel weighed down by heavy tomato sauce or mozzarella/Parmesan cheese and the light flavors of the cilantro and fresh tomato stayed with me even after the dish was gone. I plan on taking some lessons with me to apply the next time I make Chicken Parmesan: fresh tomato and basil, less cheese and serving it with a side of fresh garlic bread instead of pasta. Yum!