I’m a great fan of convenience foods. I mean convenient unprocessed whole foods like ground meats and poultry. Ground chicken is especially nice because I can flavor it with spices for breakfast patties, or add thyme, egg and milk-soaked bread crumbs to make a meat loaf or cutlet patties.
This recipe is a bit on the fancy side because you make a delicious tarragon cream sauce to spoon onto the cutlets. But if you don’t want the cream sauce, just leave it out. Add the tarragon to the ground chicken instead of the thyme, and you’re set.
You have a lot of wiggle room when making meat cutlets. Don’t want chicken? How about ground beef, pork or turkey instead? The technique for making these patties is exactly the same. The only change is in the seasonings you choose.
I like to give the cutlets a light coating of flour so that they’ll cook up with a thin, beautiful brown crust. Coat your patties with flour just before browning them or the coating will be pasty instead of crisp. That’s because the moisture in the meat turns the flour in the coating into a gummy mess if it sits too long before cooking.
The tarragon cream sauce is a classic French deglaze sauce. After cooking the patties, you pour off the cooking fat, add wine and chicken stock to the pan, and cook away. The liquid bubbles as you stir over heat and causes any flavorful browned bits stuck to the pan to release. That’s called deglazing.
You cook the wine and stock until it has reduced in volume by about half before adding the cream and tarragon, and cooking a bit more until the cream has thickened into a lovely sauce. That final bit of butter you add at the end pulls all the flavors together and makes an especially smooth sauce. What’s so great about these deglazes is their taste and how quickly they come together. Once you’ve made one deglaze, you can master them all.
Ground chicken cutlets with tarragon cream sauce
Makes 4 servings.
1 ounce fresh bread crumbs (½ cup loosely packed)
¼ cup milk
1 pound ground chicken
½ cup grated yellow onion (use the large holes of a box grater)
1 teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 large egg
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 small cloves)
Flour for coating the cutlet patties
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Tarragon cream sauce
⅓ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
Droplets of fresh lemon juice, if needed
1 tablespoon soft butter
1. For the cutlets, mix the bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl and let stand about 10 minutes, until the milk is completely absorbed. To make fresh crumbs, remove the crusts from a slice or two of day-old baguette or country loaf, cut the bread into cubes and turn them into coarse crumbs in a food processor or blender. You want to wind up with pieces of bread about ⅛-inch in size.
2. Put the chicken into a large bowl, and add the soaked crumbs, grated onion, salt, pepper, thyme, egg and garlic. Beat well with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. (May be made a few hours or even a day ahead; cover and refrigerate).
3. When ready to cook, sprinkle about ½ cup flour onto a sheet of wax paper. Divide the chicken into four lumps. Wet your hands and shape each lump into a ¾-inch-thick patty about 3 ½ inches in diameter. Set the patties on an unfloured section of wax paper.
4. Put the olive oil and butter into a large (12-inch) non-stick skillet and set the pan over medium heat. While the fat heats up, quickly dust the patties with a light coating of flour. When the butter foam subsides, put the patties into the skillet. Cook 4 minutes, carefully flip the patties over with a metal spatula (patties will be nicely browned), and cook another 4 minutes on medium heat. Transfer the patties to a side dish and tent with foil to keep them warm.
5. Pour out the cooking fat, but don’t disturb the browned bits in the pan. Set the pan over medium high heat and pour in the wine. Stir and scrape up any browned bits as the wine bubbles. Add the stock, reduce the heat to medium and cook a minute or two until the liquid in the pan has reduced by half. Add the cream and tarragon and continue cooking until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Take the pan off heat, taste carefully, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, if necessary. Swirl in the soft butter and the sauce is ready to serve. There will be about 2 tablespoons sauce for each patty.
6. Put the cooked cutlets onto heated dinner plates, top with the sauce, and serve at once with vegetables of your choice. Glazed carrots and sautéed spinach go very well with the cutlets.