And I’ve been added to yet another watch list.

Chicken Ham and Basil What?

Picture coming eventually. Mr. P. ate the designated model.

Every now and then I create something other than a person, and I’m beside myself with smug delight over my new oeuvre. A few weeks ago I found a recipe for Chicken Prosciutto on my go-to site for new recipes, and I remembered having seen some prosciutto in the deli bin the previous month. I didn’t have sage on hand, but had some basil, and instead of Fontina, figured I could substitute a parm/mozz blend. (Un)forunately, a quick call to Mrs. Hamilton confirmed my fear that no lunch meat can stand up to three weeks past its expiration date. I may have detected a slight note of confused distaste in her tone; I know one probably assumes I’m a freshness tyrant, but I was genetically blessed with a cast-iron stomach (except when gestating), and worked in fast food as a teenager, so I’ve developed an it’ll-cook-off outlook toward food-borne pathogens. The tradeoff is that I’m pathologically obsessive about meat temperature, and I’ve turned off the scald-proof mechanism on my kitchen sink (soap should serve as a backup when washing dishes; the water should be hot enough to burn off all bacteria).

So the only thing my refrigerator had in common with Chicken Prosciutto at this point was chicken. I borrowed a few of the techniques from the found recipe, slicing each breast into two fillets before pounding them to one eighth of an inch, and frying the basil leaves in a stick of butter, using them in the chicken, and frying the chicken in the resulting basil butter. But here’s where I went a little I-wonder-what-would-happen-if…

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed, sliced into two fillets each, pounded within a millimeter of their lives
6 thin slices of deli ham (I used Hannaford Inspirations Wildflower Honey Ham, because I’m Frasier)
12 fresh basil leaves
1 stick butter
1 C breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten in a shallow bowl
6 long, thin slices of mozzarella
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Once foaming, add the basil leaves and let them fry for 1 minute, then turn and fry for another 30 seconds before transferring the leaves to a paper towel. Turn the butter down to warm. Trim a pounded chicken fillet of any fly-aways, then lay 2 basil leaves on top. Place a slice of ham on top of that, folding in any edges that protrude. Fold the bottom third of the fillet to the center, hold it in place while folding the top half down as far as it will reach, and secure with a toothpick. It should be packed up tightly enough to prevent anything from sliding out the sides. I will refer to the resulting unit as the briquette (loaf, knuckle, and chicken fist were runners up).

Assemble all of the briquettes before starting to cook. Mix up the breadcrumbs with some salt and pepper, and spread them out on a large plate. Increase the heat on the basil butter to medium-high and add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil to the pan, swirling to incorporate with the butter, and give it a minute to get hot. Dip a briquette in the beaten egg, then coat completely in the bread crumbs, packing them into the sides. Immediately place it into the hot butter/oil. Repeat for the remaining briquettes, and once the last one goes into the pan, flip the first one over with tongs, and proceed to flip the others at thirty-second intervals, in the order they went in. After the final flip, cook for an additional 2 minutes, then check one to verify doneness (I like to designate Billy the Kid’s portion as the tester, as I have to cut it up anyway). Transfer the briquettes to a wire rack placed over a pan or cookie sheet, top each with mozzarella, and broil on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the cheese is melted and hinting at browning.

As with all breaded and fried proteins, have lemons or at least lemon juice on hand. Since each briquette is half a chicken breast, you can serve them in decadent pairs — just remove the toothpicks upon plating unless you happen to be spite-hosting. In that case, set the table with disposable linens, invite at least 1 vegetarian paramedic, and combine 10 drops of Visine with the bottled lemon juice. You’ll want to have a lawyer on retainer, but that’s just good sense in general.

I’ll eventually stop outdoing myself.

Inside Out Chicken Cordon Bleu

Chicken breasts are vehicles. The reason they’re so versatile is that they’re the carnivore’s equivalent of tofu. Even at its freshest, plumpest, and pinkest, a skinless boneless chicken breast is as inspiring as a soda cracker. After my most recent biweekly stare-down with a package of three halves, I decided to do a little engineering on the standard cordon bleu. On paper, a collaboration of chicken, ham and cheese looks aces, but I’m routinely disappointed with overly salty, dry, cakey, loaf-shaped gut bombs (I obviously fail to adhere to the fool-me-once policy regarding menu selection). When confronted with a dilemma, I often ask myself, “what would George Costanza do?” So, using the same ingredients, more or less, I made the exact opposite of cordon bleu, and my fantasy materialized. Get ready to use every pan in the cupboard.

For two (one of you always doubles up)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C plain breadcrumbs
1 C whole milk
1/2 C grated Gruyère cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 thin slices of ham (lunch ham) finely chopped
1/3 C vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper

Set your oven to 200. Get out your tenderizer and go to town on the chicken. Try not to tear as you go, but take the opportunity to work out anything you’ve got going on. Pound to 1/2″ thick.  Heat the oil in a large, deep pan over medium-high until hot. Mix the breadcrumbs with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, then spread them out on a large plate. Dip each breast in the beaten egg and coat, then cover in bread crumbs, packing them into any resistant areas. Depending on how much room you have in your pan, fry the chicken in shifts for about 5 minutes on each side, until completely cooked, then transfer them to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain for 1 minute. Move them to a cookie sheet and stick them in the oven.

While the chicken is frying, sauté the ham and a pat of butter in a small pan over medium heat. When the ham starts to brown, transfer it to a bowl and set it somewhere on the stove to keep warm. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and heat over low. On another burner, heat 2 tbsp butter in a medium pan over medium-low and once the foaming subsides, add the flour and quickly whisk with the butter to form a roux. When the roux turns tan, start pouring in the heated milk slowly, whisking constantly until the sauce is even and lump-free. Take advantage of the chance to say béchamel a few times. Fold in the cheese, allow it to melt, then add the ham and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the chicken with a generous amount of sauce on top and spoon it around the plate, á la Top Chef. There’s enough going on here, and the single-unit presentation works so well; let’s not complicate things with a vegetable.

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