Monday, March 26, 2012

How to clean a Chicken Breast

New email from a reader:

  "Dear Chef Mike,
      My wife wants me to cook for her. I have No clue. I want to do something simple. So I want to make Chicken Parmesan. 
     Can you please give me a recipe for it? And any advice or tips to make me seem like I know how to cook. We have only been married 4 months, and I dont want to pop her bubble and show her I cant do something she asks. I'm Italian... I should know how to cook.
     [Name withheld to keep wife from busting his chops]"

So, we will start out with cleaning the chicken breast. I am going to do the entire post on this, and another on the Chicken Parm, which will include a video.

  I have seen many methods for this. Some result in throwing out an unnecessary amount of pieces. Some, it leaves nastiness that I do not want in my sautes. The method I am going to show you is simple, and will leave scraps for other applications.

   Let's begin. Start off with 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts. I like to lightly rinse before I clean them.
Trim off all things noted. I use a Chef's Knife for this. My personal preference is Wustoff Classic 10". Remember, the sharper it is, the easier you work.

After trimming, you should have something like this:

   The scraps you have left over are good. Now, I left 4 different types you will run into. Top left is garbage. It is mostly fat. I would throw it out, but the ultra frugal can put it in stock. The Top Right is the large piece of fat and connective tissue from the previous photo. Definitely good for stock, and if you feel like close trimming, you can remove any junk and put it in chicken salad. The bottom 2 are good for soup and chicken salad.
   I mention chicken salad often. It is a good use of scraps. I boil the chicken to remove any scuzz. Then I put it into a food processor to finely chop it. It comes out almost like tuna once you mix it with mayo.

   Once it is trimmed, you can begin filetting. Again, make sure you have a sharp knife. I am doing this with a Chef knife to show you that you do not need a bunch of different knives. In my house, I get by with a Chef, a Paring, and a Cleaver. That's it. My knife roll has all the different varieties of knives. The right knife does make the job faster, but when I clean chicken, I am cleaning 80lbs at a time.
  Let the knife do the work. Don't force it. If you hold the top and slide the knife, it will cut. Do not try to do it in one swipe. It takes practice. I place my entire hand on it when I filet and slowly pull the knife through the breast. If your position feels awkward, change it. I have my left hand at to the right of my center, and draw the blade to the left of center. You need to find where you are most comfortable. But use the method to hold the breast in the picture instead of the entire palm until you are comfortable with the technique and your knife-comfort increases.

 If you are cleaning chicken for the BBQ, just run a single pass on the bottom of the breast to even the thickness. If a slice is not full size, that is fine. Just slice it into smaller pieces (see right box). That is great for sautes tossed with things. Like the ravioli and chicken and green been dish in this post. I tossed it in a cheddar version of alfredo sauce and gave it to my kids. What you will have at the end is filetted chicken breasts that can be used for quick grilling in a home electric grill, saute, Chicken Parm, and many other sautees.

      If you are making Chicken Francaise, keep the breast a little thicker. For chicken scampi, I like them extra thin. That way they cook with the sliced garlic.

    Before sauteing chicken, lightly dredge them in flour. That helps to prevent sticking. Also, I have found that it generates a coating that helps to keep the moisture in while it cooks, yet is not actually a coating so when you serve it you do not taste it. I just lay them in the flour, both sides, shake them off, then right into the hot pan with a little fat.

     Here are the dishes I did with the chicken.

     Boneless breast, lightly pounded, sauteed with mushrooms, onions, and sliced garlic. The sauce was done by deglazing the pan with a nice Red Catalunya. As it reduced, I added a bit of chicken stock and marinara.

     This was the smaller pieces sauteed with onions, garlic, and green beans. The sauce was a touch of Chablis, then I added some heavy cream, parmesan cheese, and once it reduced a bit, I added a few handfulls of shredded cheddar. I served it with mini cheese ravioli. My kids (3, 7, and 14) didn't leave a drop in the pan.


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