Cook It

Cook It

Tastes Like Chicken

By Gretchen Giles

So maybe $100,000 won’t buy an outbuilding in the North Bay. OK, it won’t even net an outhouse. But it will buy a trinket or two when one considers purchases less lofty than housing. And if that 100 grand is earned by cutting up some chicken, sticking it on skewers, pouring a sugary-spiced sauce atop and pronouncing it dinner, it seems a far grander sum.

The 46th annual National Chicken Cooking Contest, held last month in Charlotte, N.C., netted a personal trainer enough dosh to purchase a whole lotta chicken. Not to sound bitter, but Camilla Saulsbury’s “Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri” recipe is really just a big string of long words meaning cut-up chicken rammed onto skewers and matted with sugary-spicy sauce. But she’s $100k richer, while this ink-stained wretch can only complain about it in print.

These cooking contests are crazy things, with aproned householders pulling down big bucks for dishes that used to call for lots of canned cream of mushroom soup to provide the secret touch. Times and tastes have of course changed, and, in keeping with our diabetic nation’s curious current sugar craze, the 2005 entries mostly feature poultry doused in sucrose. “Autumn Chicken Carnivale” combines maple syrup, pumpkin purée and crushed ginger snaps; “Sesame Encrusted Raspberry Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce” has raspberry jam and brown sugar; and fruit salsas and compotes totter through the pages like a drunken debutante.

In announcing the winners of this 46th annual, the Chicken Council also sends along a handy cookbook with winning recipes of yore and the specialties of such public figures as Laura Bush. Mrs. Bush evidently favors spicy fried chicken that is then set under the broiler with avocado, tomato and cheese slices, which is then covered in a fancy Franco-Tex roux that’s got to add 1,000 calories to what is already a heart-stopper of a protein. One presumes she eats it only on her birthday.

But complain about the money and sniff at the recipes long enough and one begins inevitably to get . . . hungry. Under the “Trends” heading is the Culinary Center of Kansas City’s extremely retro “Lemon Artichoke Chicken.” The opposite of cutting edge–Alice Waters would wince at the sound of a can opening–but dang, it does kind of look good.

Lemon Artichoke Chicken
4 boneless, skinless breast halves
6 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. chopped green onions
2 c. chicken stock
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. capers
1/4 c. chopped parsley

Mix 4 tbsp. of flour and pepper together in shallow dish and dredge chicken in the mixture. In large skillet over high heat, melt half the butter. Add onions and sauté over medium heat until softened. Add chicken to pan and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm. Add stock and wine and deglaze the pan, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half.

In a small bowl, mix remaining flour and butter. Whisk into sauce and stir until thickened. Stir in lemon juice and artichoke hearts; salt to taste. Return chicken to pan and cook, covered, until heated through. When serving with some organic, sustainably harvested starch, garnish with capers and parsley.

From the June 22-28, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.