Monday, June 11, 2012

Pizza Chicken

A while back, I had made some traditional Chicken Parmesan for my family. When my 3-year-old nephew asked me what it was I described it as pizza chicken. Immediately, we thought the name was clever, and thought of how it could be even more pizza-like. Memories of Mike Isabella's popular pepperoni sauce on Top Chef flooded my brain, and I decided that I should replace the tomato sauce component with pepperoni sauce to make real "pizza chicken" next time.

The sauce was incredibly easy to make and fully boasted the potent flavor of pepperoni. A mixture of salty and spicy, this was a really flavorful and full-bodied sauce... not to be approached lightly. A ladle of sauce atop each chicken breast is plenty, but not overwhelming whatsoever. This sauce would be fantastic served with mozzarella sticks, warm Italian bread, or even on a pizza! This was definitely a playful spin on Chicken Parm that would be welcome in any pizza-lover's kitchen.

Pizza Chicken
Serves 6
(Pepperoni sauce adapted from Mike Isabella from Top Chef)

Pepperoni Sauce:
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 lb pepperoni, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. fennel seed, toasted*
1/2 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
8 oz canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, crushed with their juices
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 fresh bay leaf

6 chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs beaten with 1 T. water
1 1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs
Vegetable, canola, or olive oil, as needed
8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers.

Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant.

Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the broth and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pepperoni slices will be soft, with a deeper color. Remove from the heat.

Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf). Puree until smooth. The sauce is ready to use. Or cool, cover and refrigerate or freeze. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place the flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs in consecutive dishes for breading. Coat each chicken breast first in the flour, shaking off excess, then in the eggs, and finally in the bread crumbs until evenly coated. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add a couple chicken breasts (or as many as will fit) and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes on each side until dark golden and cooked through. Cook the chicken in batches until they are all done, draining on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Arrange chicken breasts in a lightly greased baking dish. Top each breast with a ladle-full of pepperoni sauce. Do not use a heavy hand, as the sauce is somewhat salty and spicy. Top each breast with a slice or two of mozzarella. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Note* Toast the fennel seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color.


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