Japanese Flavor-Pounded Chicken

Time for another fieldtrip.  However, this one isn't local.  Come on, let's pack our bags and head to Hearth, Marco Canora's restaurant in Manhattan's East Village. You see, I have recently acquired Canora's new cookbook, A Good Food Dayand already I am licking my chops, thinking about my next trip to New York (which let's be honest, has been almost 20 years since I drove the wrong way down a one-way bridge at 3 a.m. in Queens, terrified of the Big(gest) City, and while I am certain my confidence in navigating urban streets has increased with my subsequent living abroad and in large US cities, the siren call of New York City is one that I don't even need binding to the mast in order to resist. However, should I find myself sailing those seas headed into Gotham, you better believe, I'll book a seat at Hearth).

Sometimes, when I am walking by a restaurant, I stop to look at the menu. Imagining an unlimited budget and a bottomless belly, I fantasize what I would order from each part of the menu. Today at Heath, I am thinking that I'll start with the Braised Octopus (although the Bone Broth Tasting looks mighty good) followed by the Seared Sea Scallops or maybe the Veal and Ricotta Meatballs--just so I can have some of the Cacio e Pepe Polenta. For dessert, I'll take the Buttermilk Panna Cotta, please. No, wait, make that the Apple Cider Doughnuts. Oh no, go ahead and have the chef choose five cheeses for the cheese plate. With their daily-changing menu, I'll have to come back to fantasize about the spring or summer offerings soon.

This cookbook, however, is not a restaurant accompaniment, as so many popular (and wonderful) cookbooks are these days: I am looking at you Prune, The Slanted Door, Flour and Water, and Bar Tartine. Instead, it's Canora's awakening to satisfying, everyday cooking that won't lead to gout (which he details that he suffered as a chef who did not watch what he ate) and just might help you balance the "good for you" with "the just plain good" without sacrificing taste or health. With Tammy Walker (a health coach whose recipes you can find here), Canora whipped up a cookbook that is not gluten-free (but is gluten-aware), not low-fat (but is consistent about which fats are better for you), not exclusively whole-grain (but is a champion of farro, quinoa, barley, freekah), and not sugar-free (but is in favor of honey and naturally occurring sugars). This is no diet cookbook, but one for everyday cooking that is just right. Further, the cookbook is comprehensive, taking you from breakfast, through salads and main entrees, right into dinner.

Of course, I had to cook what was on page 215. Canora's headnote bemoans the dry, tasteless chicken breast that becomes the staple of the heathy diet; he set out to change that. By pounding the flesh thin, you increase surface area and decrease cooking time, thus increasing moisture retention. By pounding in the flavor mixture, you ensure that every bite has a little zap, pow, zing of spices or oil or herbs. (I made the Japanese variation, but he also includes versions of Tuscan (sage, rosemary, lemon, garlic), Maple Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, maple syrup), and Indian (cumin, turmeric, onion, coriander), among a few others). Finally, he suggests serving the chicken atop a bed of greens dressed with a little vinegar and oil. The hot chicken will wilt the greens a little, producing something he deems a little "magical." I, however, served mine with a side of sauteed spinach upon which I drizzled a little of his soy-ginger vinaigrette (recipe below as well). This meal felt satisfying (all those umami flavors!) yet really healthy. And let's face it, we eat with our eyes as much as with our stomachs. That chicken breast looked huge, and about halfway through I was full.

Not to worry, I have been cooking from other parts of the book as well.  Highlights include Blueberry and Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes, his plethora of smoothies (to which I have been adding missing greens such as kale and spinach--let's be honest here, smoothies are a disguise for healthy salad for breakfast in my book), Cacio e Pepe Popcorn, and the Warm Lentil Salad.  All of them have so far been solid entries into my diet this week, but let's face it, the star was those pancakes.  Seriously, I made the whole batch, froze what I couldn't eat, and have been popping one into the toaster every morning this week for a quick breakfast. I was a little suspicious (buckwheat? Clearly that meant these would be heavy and hearty), but the buttermilk lightened these right up. Next stop? People, he has a recipe for Liver and Onions. You know I love liver. The Moroccan-Spiced Eggplant Soup might be a star in the summer. And I cannot wait until zucchinis and tomatoes are bursting from their vies because the Chickpea Crepe Sandwiches with Zucchini, Tomato, and Mozzarella will definitely become a summer staple.

This new cookbook seems as if it will be a consistent go-to for everyday, healthy food. And I didn't even have to go to New York.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Japanese Flavor-Pounded Chicken

Adapted from  A Good Food Day

Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp dried seaweed granules (dulse, kelp, nori, any kind works)*
4 tsp soy sauce or tamari
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
1 Tbsp canola oil
4 lemon wedges

*I didn't have granules, so I just took a sheet of nori and crumbled it up.  Worked fine.

1.  Starting at the thicker side, make a lengthwise cut into the top two-thirds of a chicken breast, stopping before cutting all the way through. Fold it open like a book (the chicken breast should still be in one piece). Put the breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it out on both sides with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, working from the inside out, until it's spread to double its original size and about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

2.  In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, ginger, seaweed, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Divide half of the mixture evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap again and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip the breasts, rub the remaining herb paste into the other side of the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp canola oil over high heat. Wait 2 minutes, or until the oil is smoking hot, add 1 chicken breast, put a weight on it (a teakettle or a heave pan) and cook for 45 seconds. Flip add the weight, and cook for another 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate, and let it rest for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each flavor-pounded chicken breast just before serving. 


Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette

Makes scant 1 cup

2 Tbsp rice vinegar 
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup olive oil

1.  Add all of the ingredients to a screw-top jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake well to combine.


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