Sunday, January 22, 2012

Italian "fried" chicken and aglio olio

Growing up, one of my favorite meals was Italian fried chicken and aglio olio. Aglio e olio literally means garlic and oil in Italian. Aglio olio is a common dish in Italy and is a mix of spaghetti with garlic and chili flakes that have been heated in olive oil. Another common way of making it is by adding anchovies. Since my father was not a fan of the anchovies (or the chili flakes), he made his a little differently by adding walnuts, which is the start of how I make mine. As for the chicken, my dad would make his in an electric skillet and shallow fry it in about 1/4" of olive oil. In my revised version, the ingredients are all the same, but my cooking method requires less oil. The best part of this meal is that it is SO simple to make and only uses a couple of basic ingredients.

For the chicken, you will need:
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (equally sized breasts)
Skim Milk
Seasoned Bread Crumbs (you can make your own, but it is just as easy to buy them from the store)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

When prepping the chicken, remove all of the visible fat. I like to "pound out" the chicken a little bit, but you do not have to worry about this too much as you will be finishing the chicken in the oven. The most important thing is to make sure that all of your breasts are the same size.

Turn on your oven to 375 degrees.

Set up 3 dipping stations: Place your flour in one of the stations (season it with a little s&p), then in another beat together 2-3 eggs and a splash of skim milk with a fork. If you are making more than 4 breasts, you might want to use 4 eggs and a couple splashes of milk. Add the seasoned breadcrumbs to the 3rd station.

Turn your burner on to medium-high heat and place an oven safe skillet (large enough to fit all of your chicken breasts) on the burner and add just enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Pat dry the breasts with a paper towel and then dip each one in the flour first, shaking off the excess, then the egg mixture and then the breadcrumbs to coat. If you like a crispier coating, dip it in the egg and breadcrumbs a second time. Place on a plate and then do the others. Once they are all done, place them in the skillet and cook on each side 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Then transfer to the oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork.

Once it comes out of the oven, place the chicken on a plate that has been double-layered with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

For the aglio olio you will need:
Spaghetti (whole wheat or better yet, gluten free)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I use about a 1/4 cup per 8oz of pasta)
Crushed Red Pepper
Haricots Verts (or just plain ole green beans) cleaned, trimmed and cut in half
Parmesan Cheese to grate over the pasta

Rough chop the walnuts and garlic and set aside in a small bowl. I like my aglio olio with a lot of garlic, so I use about 7 cloves per 8oz of pasta, but you should use as little or as much as you like. For the walnuts, I use about 1 and 1/2 Tbsp, but again, use as many or as little as you like. Add about 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper to the garlic and walnuts.

Cook the pasta as directed, making sure to salt the water once it comes to a boil. When the spaghetti has about 4 minutes left to cook, place the olive oil in a small skillet on medium-low to medium heat. After you have done that, go ahead and add the haricots verts to your pasta so that they cook the last 2-3 minutes with your pasta.

Drain the pasta and beans and place on a large pasta plate or in a serving bowl. Take the oil off of the heat and test that it is hot enough by adding just one piece of the chopped garlic. If it sizzles, then add the garlic, walnuts and crushed pepper. You will want to gently move your pan around to get an even cooking on the mixture. It is important to make sure that your oil is hot enough to hear them sizzle, but not so hot that it has begun to smoke. If the oil is too hot, it will burn the garlic making it bitter. Once you have "cooked" the mixture in the oil for a couple of minutes, pour it over the pasta and beans and mix with a pair of tongs to coat all of the pasta. Top it with a little parmesan and enjoy.

By using heart healthy fats like olive oil and walnuts, this dish is great in moderation. The haricots verts are a nice addition of color and taste and help make sure that you are getting a serving of vegetables with your meal.

Once you give the meal a try, comment back with your thoughts on the dish and anything that you did to change it up.