Wednesday, 28 December 2011

When "Chopped" and "Iron Chef" Combine in F.H.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of cooking alongside one of my college roommates Tony in Farmington Hills. Another avid Food Network and Cooking Channel enthusiast, he and I brought together our culinary minds in a challenge that once again brought together "Chopped" and "Iron Chef". Though we didn't quite make five dishes in 60 minutes, four in 90 wasn't bad at all, especially given our required ingredients of red bananas, Grāpples and young (whole) chicken.

Before we could begin, we needed to first divide and prep the ingredients. Each of us took on at least one Grāpple (pronounced "Grape-L"), the grape-flavoured apple with the taste of grapes and the crunch of an apple (in this case, Gala). In addition, we each had a red banana grown year-round in Central America and known as Red Dacca bananas in Australia. Somehow, we ended up breaking down and dividing in half the young chicken (also known as poussin).

As Tony began work on his combination of foods, I gathered a few more ingredients that seemed (at the time) to make sense and that I wanted to somehow incorporate into my dish(es). If you can't tell from the photo above, I've pulled out some cornstarch, light brown sugar, an egg, pretzel crackers and all purpose flour.

Though I wasn't familiar with any of our mandatory ingredients, the one I was least familiar with was the red banana. It had a tougher exterior to get through; and so I needed a small paring knife to cut through the skin (similar to a young plantain, at least I think it's similar to it). The taste itself is rather sweet all the while holding its shape without being too mushy. Even though the taste was favourable, I was also most perplexed as to what I should do with it. Not having memorised any fruit-based bread recipes, I eventually settled on making a banana bread.

In a bowl, I smashed the red banana and combined it with a whole egg. To that, I added 1/4 canola oil and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Once combined, I incorporated 1/2 c light brown sugar, followed by enough flour to pull the ingredients together (about 3/4 c in the end), and then 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a pinch of salt. To this, I added 1/4 c raisins and, because the Grāpple actually tasted like grapes (if not at least grape juice), half of the Grāpple diced. Transferred to a lightly buttered loaf pan, this went into a 375 °F preheated oven for about 20 min or until it passed the clean knife test. (At first I was going to just cook the bread batter in a pan on the stove top, but with the more relaxed timing I was okay with baking it).

As the banana bread was cooking, I worked on a sauce I had planned on making ever since I realised apple and chicken were on the chosen list. Aiming for something like poulet à la crème (in which the chicken would be added to the cream sauce), I added the other half of the diced Grāpple to a sauce pan with about 1/2 c half and half and 1/4 tsp cornstarch. Brought to a low simmer, I also added about a tablespoon of zesty Ranch dressing for a varied flavour profile and creamy texture. Once combined and the apples began to soften, I added just a touch more of the half and half and a few teaspoons of water to thin out the sauce. This was then transferred to a bowl to cool. As all of this was reducing and cooking down, I settled on somehow frying the banana bread and prepped the accompanying chicken from the appropriate chicken breast; the bread would somehow be adhered to the small chicken filets (a technique I recently saw on the Food Network with fish to replicate crispy fish skin). After having recently watched an episode of Chuck's Day Off on the Cooking Channel, I decided to make chicken nuggets, the meat of which I prepped from the remaining chicken meat. In addition, I began boiling a pot of water, seasoned with some kosher salt.

By the time all of this had passed, the bread was ready to come out of the oven. I needed to get the bread out of the loaf pan and onto a cooling rack quickly so that it could be handled for the small chicken filets. It definitely smelled like banana bread, so the recipe had to have somehow turned out right. All told, I was quite lucky, especially given that at the time I didn't know red bananas are typically used for baking.

With the bread now out of the oven and the saucepan cleaned out, it was time to fry up the chicken nuggets. But first, they needed prepping. First coated in flour, the chicken pieces made their way to an egg bath (one whole egg beaten, with ground black pepper and salt). These were then added to a bowl with crushed pretzel crackers, and then fried in a shallow pan until golden brown. At this time, I also cooked the rotini pasta.

As these are already small pieces, the chicken won't take too much time to cook and, as the egg cooks, the crushed crackers will adhere to the chicken. Once cooked, these were transferred to a bowl to cool on top of some crinkled paper towel. These, I decided, would be served over a bed of rotini pasta (to which the cream sauce with Grāpple would be added), making this a dish more technically closer to Chicken Normandy than the poulet à la crème.

After Tony's follow-up turn with the pan, I fried the chicken filets chicken-side down first (to adhere the sliced bread to the chicken, I first dipped the chicken in the leftover egg bath I used for the nuggets). When the chicken has cooked (you can easily see the transformation from uncooked to cooked, pink to white) and produced a golden, fried coloured, carefully flip over the chicken-bread combo and fry the bread until crisped (just before burned). Once cooked, fry some thin slices of bread in the oil, allowing it to soak up all of those flavours. When finished, the main components are ready to be plated.

To serve the fried red banana and Grāpple bread and chicken filet, rest these on a bed of thinly sliced green apple (Granny Smith) peel (for colour, brightness and texture); plate this on the left-hand side. To complete the pasta dish, add the cream sauce to the pasta. top off with the chicken nuggets and top each with a piece of thinly sliced Grāpple peel and plate on the right-hand side. Nestled as a divider should be a slice of the fried bread.

The appetizer portion of the plate should/could resemble something more of a white fish hors-d'œuvre served on a crostini and topped off with a small piece of chive (look similar at all?). From the under crunch from the fried bread to the top crunch from the fried chicken, these little bites give way to the moist interior, aided in large part from the fact we were cooking young chicken.

As for the bread slice, it definitely could have spent a minute or two longer in the pan to crisp up but it definitely did soak up the oil and leftover pan flavours. The main course side of the plate included the satisfyingly creamy pasta with a hint of unfamiliar flavour from the zesty Ranch dressing. And the chicken nuggets (which we referred to more as popcorn chicken) worked very well with the small addition of the Grāpple peel and diced Grāpple in the sauce.

On Tony's side of the kitchen, he more successfully used his portions of young chicken by utilising the quartered pieces as individual servings for his honey mustard baked chicken, and the cut up tenderloins and extra chicken meat as small nuggets of protein for the warmed Waldorf salad. In a baking dish covered with tin foil, he first coated the chicken skin with a blend of honey and three mustards, and baked this for 40 minutes also at 375 °F. Due in large part to the tin foil keeping in the moisture and the natural moisture from the young chicken, the dish was extremely moist and the flavours were noticeable; the one drawback to covering the chicken with the foil, however, is the softening of the chicken skin which also happened in this case. While the chicken was in the oven, he cooked some rice with a mix of spices, and diced and prepped the components for his salad. As we ate my plate first, his went into the oven to keep everything warm. Unintentionally, the exterior of the portioned rice slightly dried out, providing more of a bite than dried pieces. In addition, his play on the Waldorf salad albeit served cold was served warm and worked. The warmth from the pecans and the mayo unifying everything together became slightly heavy from the heat, but the brightness from the combination of diced Granny Smith and Grāpple, along with raisins, cut the creaminess of the mayo and red banana. All told, both dishes worked themselves out in the end, and within a 90-minute timeframe and under a $10 mandatory ingredients budget. For the complete album of our cooking experience, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment