June 2, 2016

Blog the Thirty-seventh: Chicken Cutlets Fancy

Three Ways 
(Plus bonus rollatini)

I once read on a NYC subway that it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, it takes an Italian family to come up with a good chicken cutlet recipenot a nucleus of 2 parents, 2 kids, 3 cars, a dog & a nannybut a sprawling Italian family of aunts, uncles, and cousins that crosses not only the five Boroughs, but an ocean and a century, with transatlantic runners and gentile grafts. 

That commercial you have running in your head now of three generations of well-manicured women looking lovingly at one another across a casserole is not what I mean either.  Rather, as the founding fathers of the American republic understood that the best means to manage contention was to let contending interests contend until mutually canceling extremes give way to a mean, likewise recipes in my family contend until a family consensus pronounces sentence by acclamation—vox populi, vox Dei—dialectical contention giving way to general emulation.

My mother never liked my Aunt Rose’s chicken cutlets with white mushrooms and onions, which I love, so she never makes it, but I learned it from my aunt long ago, and I love to make it for dinner parties for gentile friends, who love it. For holiday dinners my mother loves to make her cutlets topped with tangy onions, which I’ve never liked and never make, even though the rest of my family all like it.  Aunt Rose’s daughter, my cousin, told me she has recently taken to making her mother’s cutlets with my Baby Bella mushrooms garlicky instead of her mother’s button mushrooms with onions, which if you ask me is not really her mother’s recipe at all, but a new recipe all her own.  Liking her mother’s recipe, I didn’t like the idea of hers, until I tried it on myself one night, with a difference I’ll tell you about, and now I like it precisely for its difference.  I’ll give you all these recipes here and you can pronounce and acclaim for yourself, as if a people.

That’s how new recipes come about among my people—some vary phenotypically; some cross-pollinate; some hybridize; others die on the vine.  Funny thing is, I’m not sure where the chicken cutlets ones stem from.  Their transatlantic origin was probably the sundry recipes for veal scaloppini in classic Italian haute cuisine.  Such was the fare of restaurant banquets.  Veal in Italy is remarkably tender (coming from piteously infantile calves), sliced remarkably thin, and is remarkably expensive.   Yet for all its celebrated tenderness, its taste is quite ‘delicate’ (a euphemism for plain), which not only allows for but calls for sauces—hence haute cuisine. 

But my mother didn’t like veal, and it’s a good thing, because her budget couldn’t afford it.  The affordable substitute was chicken cutlets, I guess, which offered the same blank canvas of ‘delicate’ flavor.  What else could explain the wild innovating?  No one in my family would just make up their own tomato sauce.  Where does my cousin get off making up her own chicken cutlet recipe?  Yet, it happened.  And I’m here to tell the tale.

Speaking of expensive, we never waste our money buying chicken cutlets, which aren’t at all affordable.  Rather we buy chicken breasts at half the price (or less, on sale) and slice our own cutlets.  Depending on thickness, you’ll get two or three cutlets from each breast (you can opt to cut away the chicken “tender” underneath for separate use).  These days I always brine my breasts, whether frozen or fresh, in ¼ c. salt to 1 qt. water, whether all day or for several hours only.  Then I rinse and dry each, lay it out on a board, lay my whole hand with even pressure over the whole of it, and with eye lowered to the cutting plane, use a long sharp blade to slice two (or three) even cutlets, then salt and pepper both sides of each cutlet.

Chicken cutlets are a staple of my family’s holiday fare, usually the light but tasty counterpoint to some pricey (yet less popular) chunk of meat (you always have to have more than one meat on a holiday, with complementary vegetables for each).  Cutlets are often also the fallback option for kids and for Gentiles who have married in yet refuse to eat what we eat, be it lamb, fish, or whatnot.  (With all due disrespect, I maintain a standing objection to cutlets at Christmas Eve’s fish feast.)

Now granted that I disparaged chicken cutlets not too long ago by calling them “bland food for bland souls,” I was really making fun of the souls, not the cutlets.  Chicken cutlets in fact, like virtue and Goldie Lox, are excellent when just right, but also admit of too little and too much.  Too little is the pale meat with pallid seasoning that restaurants keep on hand for pale souls; too much is chicken cutlets alla parmigiana, which is like putting lipstick on a pig, except it’s just a chicken, so you can’t recognize it anymore once it’s doused with sauce.

I think the genius of my Aunt Rose’s recipe is the wonder that chicken cutlets are so plain on their own (which is why my family always breads them with seasoned bread crumbs), and white button mushrooms are so plain on their own, you wonder where all the tastiness comes from?  It’s a sort of natural miracle.  Sure there are lots of onions, sure there’s butter, sure there’s white wine and chicken broth, but all that’s pretty white and light too.  Yet in the end the deliciousness of this dish is far more than the sum of these its pale parts. 

One of the reasons I don’t like my mother’s recipe is that there’s no miracle to it.  You bread and fry the cutlets as usual; then sauté lots of onion down to a sweet soft mulch that you season with vinegar and sugar, for an all too popular sweet ‘n sour taste, and just top the fried cutlets with the stuff.  The flavor is not educed from or integrated with the cutlets, just superadded, as it could be to most anything else.  It’s kids’ stuff.  Well, my mother likes cooking for kids, and I guess her recipe has the scriptural warrant, Let the children come unto me.  (But not on Christmas Eve!  I say Let them eat fish.)

As for my cousin, I didn’t like her messing with genius, especially her own mother’s. But maybe it was inevitable, because following in her mother’s footsteps, she’s often cooking in large quantity for a holiday and finds it convenient to top the fried cutlets with the sautéed mushrooms in a baking pan in advance, and finish them in the oven later with sprinklings of white wine.  I guess my mushrooms garlicky (an instant family hit and classic) were an easy substitution for her mother’s button mushrooms and onions. 

But when I make her mother’s recipe for a half dozen Gentiles, I do it in a pan on the stove, with gradual layering and progressive integrating, so the substitution was not so natural.  However, when I adapted her idea to my stovetop method, and used plain floured cutlets rather than breaded ones, I liked it a lot, and so did my gentile friends.  It remains to be seen what the family has to say about it.

My Aunt's Chicken Cutlets
with White Mushrooms Oniony

For all that I rail against the pale, I prize my dishes in bianco (“in the white,” as my people say) as the delicate part of my dinner party repertoire, and I delight in particular to make them for Gentiles, in honor of their paleness.  Besides, tomato makes it too easy to make food taste good.  Cooking to tasty in bianco requires more finesse.

Finesse demands that you keep your white mushrooms white.  The way you do that is to boil them for one minute in salted water with the purgative juice of a lemon.  Slice the (well rinsed) mushrooms thickly.  Then dunk them in rapidly boiling lemon water for not more than one minute (the water may not even have a chance to return to the boil); then drain and lay out on paper towels to dry.  You want lots of mushrooms, at least a large 16 oz. package per pack of chicken breasts.  You can prep your mushrooms as far in advance of frying your cutlets as convenient.

Thin cuts of delicate meat are vulnerable to drying out, hence toughening, and flouring or breading is thought to militate against both.  Traditionally, one first dips cutlets in flour, then eggs (beaten with a dollop of milk, salt, & pepper), and finally bread crumbs.  My cousin keeps the ancient faith and avows that pre-flouring keeps the breaded cutlets moister.  I’ve lapsed (having embraced the novelty of brining) and just do egg and then bread crumbs—although my filial conscience may be more troubled than I admit, for I have recently taken to adding a few tablespoons of flour to my mound of 4C Seasoned Bread Crumbs, as if by that cereal oblation to forfend materteral furies.

I use my mother’s convenient method of pouring out bread crumbs on a disposable paper towel (instead of a plate or bowl), then use the edges of the towel to roll in the tablespoons of flour.   Be sure to press your cutlets into the floured bread crumbs, for even coating.  As you bread the cutlets, melt a fad wad of butter (1T)  into an expansive pool of light oil in a broad skillet over medium/medium-high heat.  When the melted butter foams lively, lay in a few cutlets at a time, leaving them breathing space.  They should sizzle cheerfully, but gently.  Leave them be until you see them coloring at the edges; then peek under to see if their faces have tanned and gilded at the edges; as soon as they are, turn and gild the other side as well.  Lay out the fried cutlets overlapping in a braising or deep frying pan.

Now, for purity of flavor and clarity of color, you want to strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, to remove fallout crumbs.  Let the oil rest in the bowl for even finer particles to settle out, while you chop lots and lots of onion. 

Figure on a jumbo onion per large pack of mushrooms.  Slice each longitudinally first, then cut away root below and pompidou above, and pull away outer skin.  Lay each half flat‑side down on a cutting board, halve the half horizontally once or twice, then slice it fine latitudinally, to produce a mound of onion hair.

Onion sliced, rinse the skillet with hot water and wipe it out with a paper towel; then gently pour the oil from the bowl back into the skillet, but not all, leaving behind dark distillate.  Now plump another fat wad of butter into the pool of strained oil, and turn on the heat to medium.  Scrape your mounds of sliced onion into the skillet and shower with salt.  Then cover, and let the onion heat up to a sizzle.  When you hear sizzling, turn the onion over and over in the buttered oil, and cover to sweat the onion to glistening.  Then uncover, and keep sautéing, cheerfully, not vehemently, until the onion turns golden sweet. 

Now add in the par-boiled mushrooms, with showers of salt, and flip and fold them into the onions and the onions into them.  Heat the mushrooms to a lively simmer, and cook away all the water they shed.  When they start to fry at a cheerful sizzle, season them with grindings of black pepper and perhaps a pinch or two of gentle dried herb, such as dried marjoram, basil, or thyme; taste and correct for salt as well.  Sauté them to glossy. 

Then feed them a stream of chicken broth all along the circumference of the pan, to puddle in the middle.  Let the chicken broth heat up to a lively simmer before tossing the mushrooms in it.  Fold in a big handful of freshly chopped parsley as well.  Cook the mushrooms down again to sizzling and glossy.  Taste, correct for seasoning, and if you’d like to, you could feed it yet another puddle of broth. 

When you feel ready for topping the cutlets with the mushrooms, first turn on the heat to medium under the braising pan with the cutlets in it, and then turn up the heat to high under your skillet, to bring the mushrooms to a passionate sizzle.  Feed the mushrooms sizzling passionately a stream of light white wine all along the circumference of the pan, enough to rise to a pool in the middle above which the mushrooms peer.  When that white wine heats up to a lively simmer, the mushrooms are ready to pour over the cutlets in the heated braising pan.  (Or, alternatively, in a baking pan, to finish in the oven later, at your convenience.)

After adding the mushrooms, cover the braising pan with lid ajar and adjust the heat for a gentle simmer.  Keep it simmering gently but steadily, turning over the cutlets and mushrooms once, carefully, so as not to lose any breading.  It shouldn’t take long for everything to cook down to tender, satiny, and lovely, probably 15 minutes, perhaps as little as 10, perhaps as long as 20.  They’ll yield tenderly to a probing fork when they’re ready, needless to say, and you don’t want to overcook them to chewy.  If you’re going to reheat later on the stove to serve, err on the side of less cooking now, to retain more moisture for later, and later heat gently and minimally with cover barely ajar.

As you see, they’re not so much white as golden.  Think white gold.

My Cousin's Chicken Cutlets with 
my Dark Mushrooms Garlicky

I suspect the inspiration of my Aunt Rose’s chicken was the Italian restaurant staple (not to say cliché) Chicken Marsala.  Marsala is a sweet dessert wine from Sicily and its taste often upstages the chicken, the way oak does heavily oaked wines.  Chances are my aunt substituted white wine because that’s what she had at hand, but as we’ve seen many times before in this blog, Art loves accident, and in this case the effect of the substitution is translucency:  the chicken tastes like chicken, even if decked out for a party, with just the right amount of cosmetic and jewelry to show her to advantage.

So when my cousin said that my dark Baby Bella mushrooms garlicky were even more delicious, my doubts were grave.  I typically make my mushrooms garlicky as a side to steak, so it seemed to me likely both their darkness and garlic would upstage the light taste and texture of chicken, as does Marsala.  I also didn’t like the idea of losing a recipe I like to this unfilial upstart.  So I decided to refashion it as a variation, by omitting the seasoned breadcrumbs, since I figured that the mushrooms were already plenty flavorful, and the native smoothness of the bare chicken cutlet would give it more immediate presence.  To my surprise, it worked well.  Whereas in the former dish the chicken tastes decked out for a party, in the latter it steps out on a buff guy’s arm.

Another variation is that this recipe is easier to make, especially if you buy pre-sliced Baby Bella’s, which I only ever do if their white flesh looks white ‘n fresh and I plan to use them the same day.  Whether I buy them whole or sliced, I rinse them well by shaking them vigorously in a colander under running water until all dirt disappears from sight.  Then I dump them on a paper towel to dry off.  There’s no reason to pre-boil them in lemon-water, because they’re not white, and don’t need to be.  They’re dark, because they want to be.  And you should always want what your food wants, if you want it to be good.

As usual, we’re first going to gild the cutlets, then sauté the mushrooms in the same oil, and finally return the cutlets to the pan with some white wine to finish cooking with the mushrooms.  I call this ‘braising’, using the term in an extended sense.  I like to gild in a broad skillet and layer the gilded ingredients in a chef’s or braising pan to finish cooking in together, but you can do it all in one pan, if you hate dishwashing.  Start by pouring out into a broad skillet an expansive pool of olive oil, half extra virgin and half light, along with a fat wad of butter (1T+).  Turn the heat on to medium/medium-high, and heat the oil until the butter first melts and then works itself up into a foam. 

Meanwhile, flour the cutlets, for a transparent crust.  My cutlets start off, as usual, as brined breasts I’ve sliced into cutlets, blotted dry, and seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper.  To flour them, I pour out a mound of flour on a paper towel, sprinkle it evenly all over with big pinches of coarse salt and generous grindings of black pepper, and top it with some tablespoons of seasoned bread crumbs, for a little texture.  Use the corners of the paper towel to mix the mound by rolling it back and forth on itself.

Lay each cutlet on the mound of seasoned flour and use your palm to press flour onto it, both sides; then dangle it from one end to shake off excess.  Lay the cutlets into the heated oil, with breathing room, to sizzle cheerfully—neither languid, nor vehement, but cheerful—until their edges color.  Then peek to see if they’re gilded; as soon as they are, turn them over to do the same.  Lay them out overlapping in a high-sided pan.  I use a chef’s or braising pan and finish them on the stove; my cousin uses a baking pan and finishes them in the oven.

Once the cutlets are gilded and set aside, lower the heat under the skillet and add the sliced mushrooms with another fat wad of butter and showers of salt.   Cook the mushrooms over low heat to draw out their water.  Once the water is shed and the mushrooms simmering in it, turn up the heat to high to boil off all the water.  Meanwhile, chop much garlic.  Figure on a small clove per person, or a medium clove per chicken breast, or a jumbo clove per 8oz. pack of mushrooms, or as much as you like.  I like to halve each clove first, and then flat‑side down, first slice a couple of times lengthwise, then horizontally fine, for a mound of garlic bits. 

When the mushrooms sizzle lively in the oil because their water has cooked off, add the garlic bits along with generous grindings of black pepper.  Flip and fold the garlic into and with the mushrooms, and then lower the heat to a cheerful sizzle.  Sauté with frequent flipping to savory.  Meanwhile, roughly chop fresh parsley.  When the mushrooms smell and taste delicious, fold in the parsley.  Breathe and be pleased.  Taste and correct for salt and pepper. 

To finish this dish on the stove, turn on the heat to medium under your pan of cutlets, so as to ready it to receive the mushrooms.  Then turn up the heat to high under the skillet of gently sizzling mushrooms, and when the skillet has worked itself up into a passionate sizzle, drizzle a stream of light white wine all along the circumference of the pan, to rise in the middle as a shallow pond for the mushrooms to peer over.  When the wine has worked itself up into a lively simmer, pour all out over the chicken cutlets. 

Let the mushroom broth come to a lively simmer in the heating pan of cutlets before lowering the heat for a gentle simmer, covering the pan ajar to let steam escape.  Simmer the cutlets down to glossy, turning them over with the mushrooms once or twice.  It may take as little as 10 minutes, or as many as 20, but surely less than thirty.  Don’t overcook them, or they’ll dry and toughen.  As soon as they yield tenderly to a poking fork, they’re ready, so let’s hope you got their pan sauce glossy by then as well.  A blog can’t teach you timing—only experience can.

If you want to finish the cutlets in the oven, you’ll have to check with my cousin.  I figure she does them at 400; maybe covers them loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil at first, until they get steamy, and then uncovers them for the final 5.  No doubt she judges “by eye” when they look ready—that’s an official recipe direction in my family: “you have to judge by eye.” 

My Mother’s Chicken Cutlets 
with Sweet 'n Tangy Onions

I want to complain some more about my mother’s recipe before giving it to you.

In the first place, chicken cutlets breaded with 4C Seasoned Bread Crumbs, fried up crispy, and served fresh out of the pan, are so delicious just as they are, I think you need a good reason to do more, and I’m not convinced my mother has one.

I suspect her inspiration for this recipe was the recipe for tuna steak with tangy onions that my father brought back from Sicily.  Now that recipe has good reasons for it:  tuna steak is liable to drying out, and those onions help either militate against it or mitigate it when it happens.  Also, tuna has the meatiness to stand up to the vinegar tang of the onions and show well in the standoff.  But cutlets cooked right are moist and tender on their own and don’t need the help; meanwhile, their flavor does not stand up to the tangy onions—rather they are domineered by it as mere substrate.  This seems to me disrespectful of the chicken. 

Of course, mothers are always ready to do whatever pleases their darlings, or at least whatever gets them to eat.  Their affection or desperation obliterates culinary conscience.  But I don’t have children, so I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for them to cajole against conscience.  In fact, I blame this recipe as the gateway dish to the smorgasbord that the ancient Christmas Eve fish feast has turned into.  What started off as one cutlet dish for the kids and Gentiles who “don’t” eat fish (read “won’t”) has burgeoned into Swedish meatballs and whatnot, not to mention the sorts of vegetable that go with this food rather than fish.  The monstrous hydra at the base of the soul has conscripted both man and beast to cater to the least (read “worst”) among us. 

Then there’s my mother’s sophistry.  She feels obliged to do something “special” for the holidays.  As delicious as fried cutlets are on their own, they won’t “look” fancy enough, nor does she in fact want to be at the stove frying them up fresh, so this dish is an easy way to look fancy with a lot less work than, say, my Aunt’s Rose’s cutlets with mushrooms.  Well, I’ll grant my mother’s topping the cutlets with tangy onions is better than smothering them with sauce and mozzarella, but it’s still just slathering on flavor, for the sake of looking fancy more than tasting better.  I wonder if she herself eats them.

But other people like it, she’ll no doubt protest.  One could claim in her defense that the voice of God must approve too, as the voice of our people has.  But the Roman Church teaches that the sensus fidelium only declares itself when the whole people of God, from Pope to pauper, acclaim an ancient belief de fide.  Well, this recipe ain’t ancient; and as a culinary Cato of my family, I withhold assent.  For that matter, I’ve just decided not to give you culinary kids this recipe after all, because I do not have that soft spot in my heart for you.  If you want it, the short recipe is given below—let your mommy make it for you.

My Mother’s Cutlets with Sweet 'n Tangy Onions”

Perhaps I need a paragraph reflecting on my animus to this recipe.  Of course this will amount to auto-therapy on the World Wide Web of dubious advisability, not to say taste, but maybe I can have another paragraph dealing with that later. For the moment, let me acknowledge a tinge of choler in my animus to this recipe, notwithstanding the sensible and yet overdetermined culinary reasons (not to mention syntax) given for it.  In lieu of paying a therapist to reflect me back to myself, maybe I can reflect upon myself.  Maybe.  

And maybe here's the rub:  the tension of the antimomy between my being unwilling to will this recipe off the face of the earth, and yet my being unwilling to will it in my kitchen.  (But is not this not willing itself a willing, namely a willing not to will?  And yet this meta-willing is not sublative.  How so?  Ah, poor Kant, see what comes of the will’s trying to raise itself beyond its objects!)  If I were to, out of pity for a runt, help this recipe along; or else, contrary to all inclination, help it in the interests of a catergorical imperative to self-consistency; or else, help it in obedience to a divine command to charity for the least of my people; in any case, I would add to these tangy onions fresh sage leaves.  That might well make it interesting.  I know a recipe, if not from Sacco, then from Paestum, where my mother had family by marriage, who topped fried zucchini with onions sautéed agrodolce with sage leaves, which sounds good, doesn’t it?.  And yet, I still doubt of any sublation of these chicken cutlets thereby.  But if the antimony remain unresolved, what is left for me but to blog about it on the world wide web?  For where else does one blog?

Or else, I’d add white balsamic vinegar to the onions along with sugar, and cook down to glossy before adding twice as much white wine as vinegar (sufficient to pool) along with sage leaves, and when the wine comes to a lively simmer, recombine with the cutlets and finish cooking.  That might just grow this recipe up.  Of course, the kids may no longer like it.  But when I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became a man, I put children aside.  

My Mother’s Cutlets with Sweet 'n Tangy Onions”

Upon completing the above post, I conducted interviews, in which I learned that I got some of the above history wrong, but I didn’t want to take back anything I said, because I got the truth right even if the facts wrong, so I decided to write this postscript instead.

First I interrogated my mother, hoping to get her to incriminate herself further for the offending recipe, and I learned to my surprise that not only did she not invent this recipe, she learned it from my Aunt Rose, who invented it. 

Okay, okay, but the heart of my critique was that she likes the recipe, rather than that she invented it, and that criticism stands, so I decline to recant.  Likewise, she admitted that whereas my Aunt Rose would sprinkle chicken broth on the cutlets topped with the tangy onion and finish them together in the oven, my mother just tops and leaves it at that—implicating the laziness and speciousness I impugned to her liking this recipe.  Lastly, she acknowledged that she knew of no such [ancient] treatment of onions in Sacco, and said that to find out where my Aunt Rose got the idea for this recipe I’d have to ask my cousin, an apple apparently fallen not far from the tree in culinary innovation.

Surprising facts emerged in the interview with my cousin.  As a new bride she started a book of her mother’s recipe.  The very first entry was “Chicken Marsala,” her mother’s name for the cutlets with white mushrooms and onions, except that it calls for white wine, not Marsala, verifying my speculation above about this recipe’s origin and my aunt’s happy inflection.  (By the way, my cousin confirmed that she and her mother finish all these recipes in a baking pan in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes, at first covered lightly with aluminum foil, but uncovered for the last few minutes.) 

Next my cousin read me the recipe for cutlets with “sweet & sour” onions (agrocdolce, in Italian), and there was both surprise and shock to be had there.  The original recipe called for not only lots of onions, but also garlic, introduced once the onions blush golden.  I’m not sure I think the garlic is needed, but if I try it, I’ll add only a clove for an overtone, not 2 or 3 as called for.  But then there were also a few pelati—whole peeled tomatoes.  That I find perplexing, even perturbing, possessed as I am by the notion that this is a dish in bianco.  My cousin insisted it gives the dish a nice color, but she also admitted to not adding tomato herself.   I conclude that by the omission of tomato the family recipe has clarified itself dialectically over time, reaching for the form eternally whispered to it by the voice of God.

Then there was the interesting fact that my aunt’s original recipe calls for wine as well as vinegar—half and half—which accords with a Google search of “agrodolce” that cited a classic proportion of 1 part wine to 2 of vinegar (http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-agrodolce.htm).  This same Google search verified that Italian agrodolce recipes originate from Sicily, to which the Arabs brought sugar when they conquered parts of the island in the 10th century, ruling it for two centuries before the Normans took it.  So the remote origin of this recipe, as I suspected, is Sicilian, and when I consider how much closer my mother’s version is to my father’s Sicilian tuna recipe that her sister’s 1980’s cutlet recipe, I suspect my mother unawares substituted the one for the other over time. 

As for my aunt’s 80s recipe, I shudder to acknowledge an innovation in it that thankfully died on the vine:  the recipe says that instead of sugar you can add pineapple chunks with their juice :-0. Allow me to assure you, gentile Reader, there is NO WAY that’s Italian, at least not ancient (God knows what those Italians in Italy are willing to do these days).  Whether that was my aunt’s attempt at an American twist, or something she saw on (a gentile) cooking show, is impossible to say.  I say let’s just leave in the 80’s where it belongs.  (And if it’s true that by their fruits you shall know them, I’d say my disavowal of her recipe finds vindication in this aberration.)

Turns out my cousin doesn’t make this recipe for holidays, but only for her family.  For holidays she instead likes to make the chicken “Marsala”, so called, as do I, or else chicken rollatini.  So I continue to suspect my mother (so as not to say accuse) of making her tangy onion cutlets on holidays not only because she doesn’t like the mushroom recipe, but more because that recipe is much more work (which well may be why she doesn’t “like” it).  Of course the perhaps Sicilianized tangy onion recipe that she does like turns out to be easier than her sister’s original tangy onion recipe as well.  So I leave it to you, gentle Reader, to decide whether that’s likewise why she likes it.  For my purposes, imputation suffices.


“Wait, wait, what’s chicken rollatini?”  Ah, another holiday cutlet recipe popular with kids.  My own cooking career started off about the same time as my cousin’s, and I used to ask my aunt for her recipes too.  I have vintage 80’s index cards of my own that, in contrast to my innovative cousin, I treat as a canon rather than a keepsake.  My rollatini index card calls for laying out breaded chicken cutlets and topping each with a little slice of butter, a slice of prosciutto or ham, and a slice of mozzarella.  Then you roll each chicken cutlet jelly-roll style and secure the roll with tooth-picks.  (It’s tedious business—the sort of things mothers love to do for their darlings.)  You lay the rolls out in a buttered baking pan, and top each with a little slice of butter.  Bake them until they blush golden; then moisten the rolls lightly with sprinklings of chicken broth and bake that in; finally, sprinkle evenly all over with light white wine and finish cooking.

Over time, I have found I like moist American ham better than dried prosciutto (at a fraction of the price), or better yet, no ham at all, just mozzarella.  As for the mozzarella, it melts and leaks out, which is frustrating (so be sure, btw, to use the low moisture sort for cooking, like Polly-O or Sorrento, and not fresh mozzarella).  Over time I’ve taken to using a rectangular chunk of mozzarella, around which I wrap the cutlet, tucking the sides in over it laterally, for more of an “in-a-blanket” than a jelly-roll.  Because I don’t like the tedium of this sort of portionized cooking, I sometimes try to lay the rolls so snugly in a small (well buttered) pan that no toothpicks are needed to keep them from unrolling, in imitation of an efficient laziness I once observed in my mother (an apple not fallen far?).  I butter the pan well and place it at the bottom of the oven, near the heat source, to get some browning from below.  I bake the rollatini in a hot over (425 degrees?) to get them to blush golden (25-30 min?) and then, following my mother’s lead, omit my aunt’s broth and sprinkle the rolls with white wine, lowering the heat (to 350 degrees?), to finish cooking another ten minutes in the moistening steam of the wine.

I mostly make this dish when I have some kids I want to impress, which is not often.  Now that I think of it, it’s been quite some years since I’ve made it.  Maybe I used to have soft spot that’s hardened.  Anyways, it’s gone, so I say let your mommy make this for you—but not on Christmas Eve!


Chicken Cutlets &
White Mushrooms Oniony

* Blanch an abundance of sliced white mushrooms for no more than one minute in rapidly boiling salted lemon water. Drain and lay out to dry.
* Salt and pepper cutlets evenly all over on both sides. Dip in egg beaten with a dollop of milk, salt, and pepper, allowing excess to drip off. Then press cutlets into a mound of seasoned bread crumbs, breading both sides.
* Melt a fat wad of butter into a pool of light olive oil and heat to foaming. Then fry the cutlets to golden on both sides, layering the gilded cutlets in a broad braising pan or skillet as you go. Once all the cutlets are fried, strain the oil and wipe out the pan.
* While the cutlets are frying, slice an abundance of onion thinly. Return the strained oil to the frying pan with another wad of butter, along with the mound of sliced onion and showers of salt. Cover, and heat up the onion over medium heat, with tossing in between, to glistening. Then uncover, and saute the onion to golden sweet.
* Fold in the mushrooms, with a shower of salt and grindings of black pepper (and maybe a pinch of dried thyme or marjoram). Saute them sizzling cheerfully to satiny. Then feed them a pool of chicken broth, and cook it in. Taste, and correct for salt & pepper. When mushrooms are delicious, fold in a goodly portion of chopped fresh parsley.
* Now turn on the heat to medium under the pan of cutlets, and feed the mushrooms sizzling in the frying pan a pond of light white wine, turning the heat up to high. When the wine heats up to lively simmer, pour out the mushrooms all over the cutlets.
* Bring the pan of cutlets up to a cheerful simmer, and with cover on ajar, simmer to tender for 15-20 minutes, very gently flipping all over once in between.


Chicken Cutlets &
Dark Mushrooms Garlicky

* Melt a fat wad of butter into a pool of olive oil, half light and half extra virgin, and heat to foaming. Salt and pepper cutlets evenly all over on both sides and press into a mound of flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few tablespoons of seasoned bread crumbs. Gently shake excess flour free and fry cutlets in cheerfully sizzling oil to golden on both sides, layering the gilded cutlets in a broad braising pan or skillet as you go.
* Once the cutlets are fried, add another fat wad of butter to the the pan and an abundance of sliced Baby Bella or Crimini mushrooms along with showers of salt and grindings of black pepper. Lower the heat to draw out their water from the mushrooms. Once they are simmering in their own water, turn the heat up to high to cook all the water away, bringing the mushrooms to sizzle in the oil.
* While the mushrooms are simmering down to a sizzle, chop an abundance of garlic to small bits. When the mushrooms come to a cheerful sizzle, fold in the chopped garlic and lower the heat to medium. Saute with much flipping until the garlic begins to blush golden. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. When mushrooms are delicious, fold in a goodly portion of chopped fresh parsley.
* Now turn on the heat to medium under the pan of cutlets, and feed the mushrooms sizzling in the frying pan a pond of light white wine, turning the heat up to high. When the wine heats up to a lively simmer, flip the mushrooms in it and then pour out the mushrooms all over the cutlets.
* Bring the pan of cutlets up to a cheerful simmer, and with cover on ajar, simmer to tender for 15-20 minutes, very gently flipping all over once in between.


Chicken Cutlets &
Sweet 'n Tangy Onions

* Salt and pepper cutlets evenly all over on both sides. Dip in egg beaten with a dollop of milk, salt, and pepper, allowing excess to drip off. Then press cutlets into a mound of seasoned bread crumbs, breading both sides.
* Melt a fat wad of butter into a pool of light olive oil and heat to foaming. Then fry the cutlets to golden on both sides, layering the gilded cutlets in a broad braising pan or skillet as you go. Once all the cutlets are fried, strain the oil and wipe out the pan.
* While the cutlets are frying, slice an abundance of onion thinly. Return the strained oil to the frying pan with another wad of butter, along with the mound of sliced onion and showers of salt. Cover, and heat up the onion over medium heat, with tossing, to glistening. Then uncover, and saute the onion down to a golden sweet mulch. Correct for salt and pepper.
* Now sprinkle the sizzling onion liberally all over with sugar (to taste). Then feed the onion a pond of white vinegar (preferably white Balsamic vinegar). Let the vinegar heat up to a cheerful simmer before flipping the onion in it. Cook the vinegar in, bringing the onion back to a satiny sizzle.
* Now turn on the heat to medium under the pan of cutlets, and feed the mushrooms sizzling in the frying pan a pond of light white wine, maybe adding sage too (be it fresh leaves or dried). Turn up the heat to high and when the wine heats up to a lively simmer, toss the onion in it and then pour out the onion all over the cutlets.
* Bring the pan of cutlets up to a cheerful simmer, and with cover on ajar, simmer to tender for 10-20 minutes, very gently flipping all over once in between.