Most working people are faced with making dinner when they come home from the office.
Luckier than most, I've had a longtime reprieve from such last-minute assignments, because I not only worked at home but cooked there as well.
But no longer. Several months ago, my two associates and I were forced to move our working quarters from my relatively small apartment to more spacious quarters four subway stops away. So, although I no longer write a column with a cake baking and a capon roasting nearby and two telephones and a trio of electric typewriters clanging inches from my ear, I have inherited another problem. I must now make dinner like everybody else when I finally get home after 6 p.m.
Out of necessity, most of the meals I prepare these days are quickly cooked. But they are never fast foods in the usual sense. The collation at my table depends on shortcuts such as leftovers.
I always make an extra portion of a fresh vegetable when I am cooking, so the residual can be tossed into the next day's salad bowl with other greens. I also keep a healthy stock of fresh uncooked pasta in the freezer for instant complex-carbohydrate collaboration. And I always keep a jar of homemade vinaigrette dressing in the refrigerator, which is replenished once a week.
Sorcery With Chicken
However, real mealtime magic is having a few terrific recipes for chicken breasts. Chicken is a staple I can always count on finding at the supermarket no matter how late I arrive home.
The watchwords for chicken breast cooking are saute and poach. Do not overcook the meat; it is usually done when it is firmly springy, or when a fork produces golden juices.
Aside from a good recipe that will turn a slice of white meat into a poulet du jour in 45 minutes or less, the chicken cooker always needs a good sharp knife. Get into the habit of boning a breast and cutting up an entire bird by yourself. It is a lot less stressful on the purse strings, and with very little practice you will find yourself approximating costlier cuts like veal for scaloppine by halving a boneless chicken or turkey breast.
Merely place the breast on a wooden surface, flesh side down, and make a series of horizontal slices one-quarter to one-half inch thick. Then pound each under a heavy-duty plastic bag with the bottom surface of a skillet.
The following chicken breast variations have made some of the best fast meals I've prepared this year.
Simone Roscam is a Greenwich Village landmark, and her recipes are like the village itself--worthy of preservation and emulation. Once chef-owner of Walter's Market, she now makes her pate and creative carry-out cuisine at Bleecker and Perry in New York. SIMONE'S BRANDIED CHICKEN BREASTS
2 whole chicken breasts, boned, but not skinned
4 slices prosciutto
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil or 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or dash of dried thyme
1/4 cup Cognac, warmed
1/3 cup cold water
1 teaspoon flour
Hot cooked rice
Place chicken breasts flat, skin side down. Cover each breast with prosciutto.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook onions until tender, but not browned. Stir in garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, basil and thyme. Remove from heat. Spread mixture evenly over prosciutto slices.
Roll up breasts as tightly as possible and tie in 3 places with string. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Saute breasts until golden brown all over. Reduce heat to low. Pour warmed Cognac over breasts. Ignite (flame will be quite high). Turn chicken breasts until flames subside. Transfer breasts to baking dish. Stir water into pan juices. Pour over chicken. Bake at 350 degrees, basting frequently, 30 minutes.
Before serving, pour off juices from chicken into small saucepan. Mix flour with remaining 1 teaspoon butter until smooth. Stir into sauce. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened. Pour over breasts. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with rice. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
An East-West variant on a French classic, the following dish is the handiwork of chef Kevin Dowling of the Plum Tree restaurant in Denver. The chicken's flavor is dependent upon fresh ingredients and good strong stock, reduced until it's syrupy.
SUPREME DE VOLAILLE, DENVER-STYLE
4 thin slices ginger root
2 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned and halved
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
16 Chinese pea pods
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup rich beef or veal stock
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons white wine, optional
Sprinkle sliced ginger with salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Wipe off salt. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess flour.
Heat butter in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Saute chicken breasts on both sides until lightly golden. Transfer breasts to 350-degree oven and bake 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add green onions to skillet. Add ginger and garlic. Cook over high heat 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Cook 2 minutes longer. Add Chinese pea pods and soy sauce. Cook another 2 minutes.
Add stock to saucepan. Return chicken breasts to saucepan. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cook about 1 minute longer. Add wine, if sauce seems too thick. Serve immediately. Makes 2 to 4 servings.