Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
It's hard to beat the satisfaction that comes from mastering a new recipe. I spend hours each week scouring cooking websites and blogs looking for inspiration, trying to find a unique dish or a way to use the trendy ingredient of the moment. Buying unfamiliar products and attempting new cooking techniques is always a risk, but the payoff of a successful creation fuels my desire to innovate in the kitchen.
That said, with all the time I spend looking for recipes that are hot, new and exciting, I sometimes forget how satisfying it is to return to the classics.
During a recent trip to visit my parents, my mother asked what I'd like to have for dinner. Did I want to try this great new spaghetti squash recipe she'd found on the Internet? Or we could improvise with this season's en vogue superfood grain, she suggested. But as a young adult returning home, I wanted something that tasted like childhood. So we settled on a dish I'd eaten hundreds of times growing up: chicken piccata.
Piccata isn't fresh or contemporary by any means, but it is versatile and can be made with chicken, veal or any thin cut of meat or fish. The dish is elegant in its simplicity and equally appropriate for a last-minute weeknight meal for the family or as the centerpiece of a long-planned dinner party.
To ensure quick, even cooking, either purchase cutlets or pound halved chicken breasts thin. Make sure your pan or skillet is hot and don't skimp on butter and olive oil when browning the chicken.
Sautéed garlic and shallots deepen the flavors of the buttery sauce, while freshly squeezed lemon juice tempers its richness. Chopped Italian parsley and a dry white wine add complexity. Pickled capers add a pop of briny flavor and crisp texture. As an added bonus, these components lend themselves to a wide variety of wine pairings.
Although every element of the dish beckoned for a white—the high-acid lemon, herbal parsley and salty capers—I wanted to see how it would fare with a red. I chose a lighter wine, a Dolcetto d'Alba, that hadn't seen a touch of oak and came from a cooler vintage, making it lean and racy. Still, it was not a good match. But hey, you'll never know if you don't try!
I then moved into more expected territory with two whites, the first from France's Savoie region and made from the local Jacquère grape. Notes of mineral and stone fruit intermingled in the glass, along with a layer of salted butter. It more than sufficed as a complement to the piccata, but I wanted a bit more zip to match the piquant garlic and parsley.
I found that acidity and spice in a fruity Grüner Veltliner from Austria. Bright, lemony citrus notes enhanced the fresh flavors of the sauce while cutting the richness of the butter-cooked chicken.
Pair with a crisp white wine such as Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Trocken Wachau Terrassen 2014 (89 points, $16).
Total time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total cooking time: 15 minutes
Approximate food cost: $11
1. Carefully slice chicken breasts horizontally and cover in plastic wrap. With a mallet or the back of a small frying pan, pound all 4 pieces to a thin, uniform thickness. Season cutlets generously with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour. Shake off excess flour and set aside.
2. Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, carefully place 2 of the cutlets on the pan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Repeat with the 2 remaining cutlets, adding more oil and butter if needed.
3. After removing the chicken from the pan, reduce heat to medium and cook shallots in remaining oil and butter. After 3 minutes, add the garlic and 3 tablespoons of white wine. Use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits from the pan while the wine reduces. After 2 to 3 minutes, add lemon juice, capers, parsley and 1 tablespoon butter. Remove from heat and continue to stir until the butter is melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken and garnish with thinly sliced lemon and fresh parsley. Serves 4.