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Friday, August 5, 2011

Piccata this, piccata that, a Dover sole story, and a note about asparagus and eggs

Eons ago, when I was a doctor's wife and on a different budget, we had a favorite upscale restaurant. When I walked in the waiter didn't ask, he just said, "Dover sole and sauteed spinach." It was my favorite ever meal. In more recent years, my then-boss, the dean of the library, included me in a dinner to entertain a candidate for the position of assistant dean. (I really liked the candidate and am pleased to say she's now assistant dean.) But the special of the day--at another upscale bistro--was Dover sole, and I ordered it. To my chagrin, I later learned that it was a $45 dinner item. I apologized profusely to my boss, but she was cool about it.
Now I've learned to cook myself a Dover sole dinner for under five dollars. I simply use the piccata technique on it. Accord to The Food Lovers Companion, a bible for me, piccata is Italian for a veal scallop or seasoned and floured veal quickly seared and served with a sauce made from the pan drippings, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. The note adds that chicken may also be cooked that way , and I've done that.
Years ago I cooked chicken piccata for a very southern man I was dating, and he said, "Bless your heart, you bought boneless chicken." I wondered what his ex-wife had been feeding him. But if you use chicken, you need to use bonesless breast halves and pound them as flat as you can without tearing. Dip in flour seasoned with salt and pepper (or as one recipe suggests a mixture of flour and corn meal), cook quickly in a mix of butter and olive oil (butter burns and olive oil splatters--the mix is supposed to avoid both these evils); remove the chicken breasts from the pan and tent to keep warm. Add a bit more butter if needed and lemon juice--why bother with parsley? But you might add capers--a nice finishing touch.  Pour over the chicken and serve immediately.
You can see the point of this story: I use the same technqiue with Dover sole. Cooking fish, don't get the pan too hot because the fish will stick. It is much more delicate than the chicken and tends to fall apart when  you turn it, so I don't often do it for company except my daughter who loves it and forgives if her fish is in pieces. But if you can get just the right touch of brown on it and turn it in one piece, then drizzle it with that lemon butter, it is a dish fit for kings.
I figure you can use the piccata technique on a variety of meat and fish; in fact, somewhere I have a recipe for lamb steak piccata. But it would have to be pounded flat to come out a lot more tender than the lamb steak I cooked tonight. I doused it with lemon and olive oil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Seared it in a hot skillet and then baked 20 minutes in a slow oven. It was cooked more than I usually like lamb but the flavor was delicious--it just didn't cut with a fork as the recipe advertised.
My note about aspargus and eggs: several days ago I posted about putting scrambled eggs over asparagus. The other night Sue, my former and much-missed neighbor, came for dinner and that's what I fixed. My mom used to serve asparagus on toast, so I started with a base of toasted and buttered sourdough bread. Next came oven-roasted the asparagus (no more than ten minutes at 350, doused with olive oil and salt and pepper), and then the eggs. In spite of suggestions about adding capers and hollandaise sauce (way too rich), I stuck to smoked salmon in the eggs. Sue likes them as I do--soft scrambled, or as she says a Canadian friend calls it, "just caught." It was delicious. Recently I fixed salmon and eggs for Colin, my oldest, and added tomatoes and scallions, which he carefully picked out, explaining, "I want the salmon to be the main event." So that's why I went with simplicity--and I'm glad I did.
Happy cooking.

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