Want to know a secret I use to help with portion control? This particular recipe involves chicken, but my little secret also works well with pork chops or even steaks. And although I have mentioned it before on this blog, I only devoted a few sentences to it, so it is worth mentioning again. Whenever possible, I slice my chicken breasts in half horizontally, like this:
The end result: Two roughly equal-sized pieces of meat. One serving of meat has become two. Yes, they are thinner servings, but because the cut still looks (from the top) like it’s the same sized piece of meat, your brain is fooled into thinking you’re eating the same quantity of meat even though you’ve reduced the size by 50%. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly hungry and one cutlet just isn’t going to be enough, I’ll make both halves and have “seconds” (which still really isn’t overeating). Or, I’ll just add some pasta or a salad to the menu to help fill me up. Slicing the meat in half is also a great way to stretch your food dollar – you’ll get twice as many servings out of one package of chicken breasts.
This recipe is another super easy one to make. It is delicious served with a bit of buttered noodles, something that is a rather neutral (but still delicious) side dish. (The acidity in a tomato sauce would compete with the lemons, and a cream sauce would be too heavy and would mask the bright flavor of the Piccata sauce. The buttery noodles complement rather than compete with the lemon-caper flavor.)
You can substitute veal for the chicken, if you like. A veal cutlet might take slightly less time to cook than a chicken cutlet (and neither option takes particularly long to cook because both are very thin) so be prepared to pull it out of the pan pretty quickly. There are no other changes to the recipe ingredients or preparation, so its easy to make the substitution.
When choosing a wine to use for this dish, pick something you’d drink (NOT a grocery store “cooking wine”). Choose something dry, and not particularly sweet, because the sweet flavor will be further concentrated during the cooking process. I usually use pinot grigio because that’s usually what I keep in the house, but you could also use a sauvignon blanc or any other dry white wine. Plan to serve the remainder of the bottle with dinner, then you’re not opening a huge bottle of wine for one small recipe quantity.
The recipe has one ingredient in it that you may or may not be familiar with: capers. My grocery store usually stocks these in the same aisle as the pickles, olives, mustard, and other condiments. Capers look like this:
…and you should not omit them from this dish. I know they seem unusual if you’ve never had them, but give them a shot because they are necessary to produce the proper flavor for the sauce (otherwise its not “piccata,” its just a lemon and butter sauce). Capers will keep in your refrigerator for a very long time, so don’t worry about them going bad before you can use them up. Before you add them to the dish, capers should be rinsed under cool water because they are packed in a salty brine. I put the necessary quantity in a little sieve and run them under the tap for a few seconds.
salt & pepper
4 thin, boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets (cut from two breast halves, see the photo above)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed & drained
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
juice of two smallish lemons
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup unwhipped heavy cream (not coffee creamer), or you can use half-and-half if you're out
Sprinkle salt and pepper over the surface of the chicken cutlets. In a deep skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté the cutlets in the olive oil, turning once, until they are lightly browned on both sides and the chicken is just barely cooked through. (Don’t overcook the chicken - err on the side of slightly less done because later we’ll return the chicken to the pan to reheat it.) Remove the chicken and set it aside. Reduce the heat under the pan to medium.
(Anyone who says you cannot brown in a nonstick pan hasn't tried these nonstick pans. They're awesome. Love my Anolon Advanced cookware.)
While the chicken is cooking, place your capers in a small sieve and rinse them under cool running water. Drain them, then give them a rough chop. Set the chopped capers aside for later.
Add the wine and lemon juice to the same skillet, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. It will probably be bubbly and noisy when you add the liquid – keep stirring the pan! Cook the liquid for several minutes over medium heat until it has reduced by about half.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the butter, rinsed capers, and the cream or half-and-half. Stir to incorporate the ingredients and melt the butter. Once the dairy products have been added to the pan, take care to avoid allowing it to boil (you may need to reduce the heat further).
Return the cooked chicken to the pan and heat it through, just long enough to bring the chicken back up to the proper serving temperature.