Chicken piccata

Chicken piccata, made in my father's style: succulent meat with a thick, piquant sauce.

Chicken piccata, made in my father's style: succulent meat with a thick, piquant sauce.

There are a few meals my father is famous for cooking. My mother is a pretty good cook – and a fabulous, natural baker – but my father is the real chef of the family. Everyone in my family admits this, so I feel like I’m insulting no one by saying so. He has really good instincts, so much so that when he makes a dish for the first time it’s instantly perfect and thus becomes a family classic from the first bite. When he tweaked the spaghetti and meatballs recipe from my mom’s English side of the family (Honestly, what were a bunch of Brits doing messing around with an Italian dish?! Stick to the trifles and yorkshire puddings!), it was ten times better. Granted, it did get an update a decade later when he decided to add hot Italian sausage in with the meatballs, but that was due more to a change in tastes than anything.

But I’m getting off subject. His venison stew is perfect, his liver pâté is divine, his ribs are out of this world, and his barbeque chicken could win any county fair cook-off, but it is his chicken piccata recipe that is the family’s go-to entertaining recipe. Everyone raves about it. He pounds the chicken breasts thin, dredges them in seasoned flour, pan-fries them with a light touch in a pan, and keeps them warm in the oven while he whips up the artichoke piccata sauce. It’s his take on a roux, and I think it works better a traditional roux. He sautés scallions and onions in butter, deglazes the pan with vermouth, then adds a bit more butter (his “bit” is not my “bit”, but I let it slide in the name of culinary perfection). Then his trick: shaking flour in a cup with water and adding that to the sauce. In go capers and quartered artichokes (from a can, packed in water) and enough chicken stock to make a whole whack of sauce. He cooks that down until it thickens and develops flavor, always adjusting the seasoning and tasting. If I linger by the stove he asks for my opinion, too; of course I linger because I’m hungry, but also to watch the process and get a little sneak taste. When everything is ready, onto a plate go the chicken and egg noodles, then he spoons the sauce over both. I liked to douse my food in the sauce when I was young – I could never get enough of it – but I’ve matured enough to eat a more modest amount by now. Sort of. I still love that recipe and request it often when I go back home.

So, now to my dinner! This was, believe it or not, one of the first times since college that I’ve tried to recreate his recipe verbatim. I made a half-attempt with tilapia awhile back, but I can’t count that. My only deviation here was an omission of the artichokes, and that’s simply because my pantry was out at the moment. Thankfully the recipe didn’t suffer too much from its loss. I followed his traditional steps, adjusting the amounts loosely to my double-size portion (enough for tonight and tomorrow); this wasn’t too hard, since his recipes, when he writes them down, are just a list of ingredients and no amounts. Quel chef!

The result, if I do say so myself, was splendid! It was a worthy homage to my father’s masterpiece meal. My chicken breasts weren’t pounded as thin as he usually does them (okay, I blame laziness for that one), but were still flavorful and cooked just until done all the way through. The sauce was – well, the dish is the sauce, and here it was great. You really must try to make chicken piccata this way. One word of advice, however: go easy on the flour, and don’t be skimpy on the butter when sauteing the chicken or flavoring the sauce. Just go with it and enjoy it!

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