Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
The one thing I never order in restaurants is chicken breast. This is a lean cut of meat and when cooked without the skin, as is the norm, it can be very dry. However, there are ways to overcome the problem: you can sous-vide the meat or, as I advocate in the following recipes, salt it. The most important thing to remember, though, is do not overcook it.
Chicken parmesan (pictured)
4 medium-sized chicken breasts withthe drumette portion of the wing attached but the breastbone removed
50 grams fine sea salt
25 grams sugar
100ml whole milk
About 150 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
Cooking oil, for frying
For the sauce and toppings:
20ml cooking oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
500 grams chopped Italian tomatoes (I like the Pomito brand)
250 grams mozzarella cheese
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper'
Put the salt and sugar into a large bowl and add 350ml of boiling water. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, then leave at room temperature until tepid. Add 200 grams of ice cubes and stir until they're almost entirely melted.
If the skin is still on the chicken breast, remove it, but keep the skin on the wing. Cut a slit where the drumette bone meets the breast, detaching it partly (this helps it cook more evenly).
Place the breast on a chopping board with the wing uppermost and to your left (or to the right if you're left-handed). Use a very sharp knife to butterfly the breast meat: slicing parallel to the cutting board, through the middle and towards the wing, cut the breast almost in half, stopping so it's still attached by a seam of meat. Open the breast like a book and place it between two sheets of cling-film.
Use the flat side of a meat mallet to gently pound each breast to flatten it slightly and even out the thickness. Remove the cling-film then put all the breasts in the brine making sure they are completely submerged. Refrigerate for 90 minutes.
Make the sauce. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the shallot and garlic, season lightly with salt, then cook over a low flame until soft. Add the tomatoes, then heat over a medium flame until simmering. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste. If the sauce is acidic, stir in a little sugar.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut the mozzarella into eight pieces. Put the flour in one bowl and mix in some black pepper, but don't add any salt (because the brine is salty enough). Put the milk in another bowl. Pour oil to a depth of 2cm in a skillet and heat to 180 degrees.
Remove the chicken from the brine and dry it with paper towels. Dredge a breast in the flour, making sure it's entirely covered, then shake off the excess. Dip the breast into the milk, then dredge again in the flour and shake off the excess. Put the breast wing-side up in the hot oil and fry until lightly browned (about two minutes). Turn, then fry the other side until it's cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
Put the breasts in one layer in a heatproof serving dish. Ladle some of the sauce over each breast then top with two pieces of mozzarella. Bake at 200 degrees until the cheese is hot, then serve.
Chicken cordon bleu
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 very thin slices prosciutto
4 thin slices gruyere
Fresh sage leaves
1 large egg, beaten
Fine dry breadcrumbs, for dredging
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cooking oil, for frying
Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and butterfly them as in the above recipe. Unfold the breast, place it between two sheets of cling-film, then use a meat mallet to pound it as thin as possible - less than 5mm thick. As you pound it, the cling-film will bunch up in places, so smooth it out occasionally before continuing. By the time you finish, the meat should be much wider but thin. Remove the cling-film that's on top and sprinkle salt lightly but evenly over the meat, then cover it again with the cling-film and smooth it down. Flip the breast over so the unsalted side is on top, then peel away the second sheet of cling-film. Place prosciutto over the meat, trimming it, if necessary, so it fits within the breast, leaving a border of about 1cm at the edges. Lay the slice of gruyere over half the prosciutto, so it's only on one side of the breast, trimming it to size if necessary (when it's folded over, you'll have two layers each of chicken breast and prosciutto and one layer of gruyere). Lay a few sage leaves over the gruyere. Carefully fold the breast in half so the prosciutto, gruyere and sage are fully enclosed, then press on it gently to flatten it. Cover with cling-film and pound the edges of the breast to seal in the filling. Repeat with each breast. Chill for at least an hour.
Pour oil to a depth of about 1cm in a skillet and heat to 180 degrees. Remove the cling-film from the chicken breasts, then season both sides with black pepper. Dip the breast into the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumbs, pres-sing them into the meat so they adhere. Pan-fry the breasts on both sides until golden brown and cooked through.