My people – the Chapins – are renowned throughout all recorded history as having NEVER thrown anything away. Through the generations various offspring are forced to inherit. And guilted into never parting with the useless items they inherit.
When my mother downsized after my father’s death, I inherited. I have a pair of ice shoes, metal contraptions that fit over somebody’s size 10 boots in 1927 that were used to safety navigate icy sidewalks. I have antique wooden golf clubs, which would be thrilling if I played golf. I have a vintage top hat still in its original box. I have a lovely oil painting of a gentleman that nobody in my extended family can identify.
However, there is one thing I inherited that I do not use for its original purpose but which has become indispensable in my kitchen. It is a very large wooden mallet. I don’t know what it was used for or who owned it. But it is the best meat pounder ever invented.
Like most cooks, I had invested in a very nice meat pounder actually manufactured for that purpose – the kind with one flat side and one dimpled side. My wooden mallet puts it to shame. In fact, I threw the modern version away a few years ago. So when I want to make something like chicken piccata, which requires very thin pieces of meat, I bring out the mallet.
I am almost embarrassed to show you a picture of the mallet. It’s pretty big. I imagine someone used it to pound fence posts into the earth on one of our southern Illinois farms. Or maybe it was used with a wedge to split wood. I don’t know. I pound chicken with it. It’s a good and noble purpose.
So, chicken piccata. I am in love with all things that involve lemons and capers and this involves both. It’s simple to make, elegant to behold and utterly delicious. If you don’t have a giant wooden mallet on hand, you can either use a regular meat pounder or, in a pinch, a heavy pan. Even if you don’t want to mess with pounding out thin slices of chicken, just use regular chicken breasts and cook them for a bit longer. The thing here is the sauce – lemon, white wine, turkey or chicken stock, capers, butter. I always serve it with pasta dressed with a little herb butter because the sauce also permeates the pasta and that is always a good thing.
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from two medium lemons)
½ cup turkey stock
1/3 cup capers
2 tablespoons butter
Pound chicken breasts until they are thin between two sheets of plastic wrap. Put flour, salt and pepper into a large plastic bag. Shake to combine. Add chicken a few pieces at a time to coat. Shake off excess flour.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and sauté until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a 170-degree oven.
Pour out any excess oil from the skillet and add the wine and garlic. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the lemon juice, turkey stock and capers. Continue cooking until that mixture has reduced by half. Add the butter and swirl to combine. Add the chicken back to the pan and coat with the sauce.