Off on a caper…

In Recipies on January 21, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Over the years, I’ve made several variations of tapenades. A tapenade contains black or green olives, capers, and anchovies as a base. One of my favorite variations include sautéd mushrooms, shallots and a splash of cognac for rolled flat steaks of beef. For fish, I use more green olives than black in my blend and go a little heavier with the capers.

It is the caper that makes the spread a true tapenade. In the French dialect used in the south of France (Provençal), the word for ‘caper’ is ‘tapenas’.

Capers are immature peppercorns and they’re a staple part of recipes in North Africa, Sicily, and Greece. They can be sweet to extremely pungent, depending on their origin. Because they’re typically preserved in brine, it’s sometimes important to give them a quick rinse before adding them to a recipe to avoid over-salting the dish. It’s also a good idea to taste a single caper before adding the called-for amount to your recipe; flavor intensities can vary greatly.

Tapenades are not just for use in stuffed or rolled meat or fish. They can also be served as a condiment or a spread for crackers or crudités where they are a sort of ‘poor man’s caviar’.

A few notes before we get started.

The chicken breasts for this recipe should be very high quality. Most frozen or supermarket chicken has a huge amount of water injected into it. Consequently, when they are cooked they tend to swell up like footballs. My most recent preparation of this dish failed the ‘eye appeal test’ when the waterlogged chicken breasts all but exploded during cooking. They tasted a great as always. But they looked pretty beaten up.

When you are cooking the breasts, be careful not to allow the pan to overheat and burn the glaze or the sugary juices from the fruit in the tapenade. Burning will give the finished sauce a very bitter flavor and ruin the dish.

I modeled this recipe from one from Chef Jacques Pepin. I used two dried prunes instead of a dried apricot. There was also sufficient oil in the anchovy packing to permit me to omit adding extra olive oil to the tapenade. If you add too much oil, the tapenade tends to fall apart easily. So, it’s better to go a little ‘dry’ for quality sake.

Finally, use some care in splitting the chicken breasts. Cut them from the ‘tender’ side. You’ll recognize the correct side because a small flap of meat (the tender) is attached to it. Carefully cut the breast to make a deep pocket. You can also pound the meat flat with a mallet. This is particularly helpful if the breasts are plump.

Here we go!

4 chicken breasts, split

2 TBS olive oil

1 C mixed green and kalamata olives

1 TBS rinsed capers

1 clove garlic or 2 TBS chopped shallot

2 dried prunes

1 1-oz can anchovies and their oil

1 lb white mushrooms, thickly sliced

½ to ¾ C white wine

2 TBS unsalted butter

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, process the olives, capers, anchovies, prunes, garlic (or shallot) into a coarse paste. Season with a bit of black pepper and allow the mixture to stand at room temperature while you prepare the chicken breasts. Doing so will allow the flavors to blend nicely.

Pre-heat your oven to 180F. Spread equal amounts of tapenade inside the cavity of each breast. Fold the breast back over the tapenade (or allow the ‘pocket’ to close). If the breasts are extremely ‘floppy’, you can tie them up with a bit of butcher’s twine to keep the tapenade mixture from falling out.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil to it. When the oil shimmers, gently lay the breasts into the oil. Slide them a bit a few seconds after placing them to ensure that they do not stick. Cook the breasts in the oil for about two minutes, then cover. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, or until the breast turns golden. Turn the breasts and re-cover. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Remove the breasts to an oven-safe glass platter. Place them in the warm oven while you sauté the mushrooms.

Add the mushrooms to the pan that the chicken was cooked in. Add a bit more olive oil if it is dry. Quickly sauté the mushrooms until they just begin to soften. Pour in the wine and stir briskly to de-glaze the pan. The pan should not be dry. Check the chicken platter for juices. Pour these into the sauté pan. There should now be about ¼” of liquid in the pan. If there is not, add more wine or a 50:50 mix of wine-water to the proper depth. Reduce the heat to simmer and stir in the butter. Continue to stir until the butter and juices form a smooth emulsion. Check the seasoning for the sauce and add salt and/or pepper as needed.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and spoon the mushrooms and sauce over each breast. Garnish with chopped parsley leaves. Serves well with pasta, wild rice, potatoes, or long-grain white rice.


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