Chicken Sauteed with Cremini Mushrooms, Lemony Kale, and Parmesan

tonyr_pot_k  Kathy asks: I want to upgrade my weekly chicken saute of caramelized onions and sherry. It’s gotten a little blah! Any ideas for a quick, healthy chicken saute (breast meat preferably)?

tonyr_cook_k Tony’s take: Kathy, your weekly set-up sounds pretty good, so an “upgrade” is all relative. I can point you in a different direction, though, something I’ve been doing myself lately with chicken breasts to up the good-for-you quotient. The method is simple: brown cubes of boneless breasts. Then saute cremini mushrooms and kale (use Tuscan kale, which is both more delicate and less frilly than the conventional stuff) and toss the whole lot with Parmigiano and lemon. The technique is probably similar to the one you’re using, but the kale and mushrooms make the meal healthy and nuanced and kinda dressy. Here’s how:

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Bettering chicken breasts: I like to use a couple of tricks to cover up chicken breasts’ main drawbacks: namely, they dry out quickly and can be plain in flavor. To solve the former, toss chicken with a light film of some sort of starch (here, all-purpose flour) to coat the lean meat and keep it moist. And to bump up chicken, think of it as a blank palette which you can surround with dynamic pairings, like the vegetables, mushrooms, and citrus here.

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– Wilting (Tuscan) kale: I find that less is more when it comes to cooking kale, an approach that keeps the greens’ texture and vitamins intact. The trick is to make sure you slice the greens thinly so they wilt quick and easy. I like to get a jump on this process by tossing strips of kale with lemon juice and salt before adding to the saute. Stem and thinly slice the leaves (almost like you would a chiffonade of basil) and then toss with salt and a little lemon juice, and let sit for at least 5 minutes (and up to 30 minutes), before adding to the saute.

THE RECIPE (Serves 4 to 6)

1. Prep the chicken: Rinse and pat dry 1 1/4 lb. chicken breast (boneless, skinless). Cut in 1-inch pieces and sprinkle with 1 tsp. kosher salt and 3/4 tsp. black pepper.  Set 1 cup all-purpose flour in a shallot bowl, dredge the chicken in the flour (using tongs or your fingers), and shake to discard any extra flour.

2. Wilt the kale: Stem and thinly slice 1/3 bunch kale (preferably Tuscan kale); so you get about 4 cups (cut more kale as needed). Add 1 Tbs. lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon) and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and toss well. Let sit for 5 min to wilt.

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3. Saute the chicken: Set a large heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat for 1 min. Add 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and once it’s shimmering hot, about 30 seconds, add half of the chicken, evenly spaced. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, undisturbed, until the chicken starts to brown, 1 to 2 min. Flip and cook until the other sides brown, 1 to 2 more min. Transfer to a large plate and repeat with 1 Tbs. olive oil and the remaining chicken.

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4. Quick braise: Still over medium heat, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and 3/4 lb. cremini mushrooms (quartered lengthwise) to the pan, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and cook, undisturbed, until the mushrooms start to brown, about 2 min. Add 1 shallot (finely diced) and cook until the mushrooms soften and the shallot browns in place, about 2 more min. Return the chicken to the skillet, pour in 3/4 cup chicken broth (or water is fine), raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring. Add the wilted kale and cook, stirring, until it becomes soft and tender, 1 to 2 min. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano and 1 Tbs. lemon juice and some chopped fresh herbs (I like thyme). I also like to add 1/4 cup creme fraiche for a touch of richness, though you can skip it. Then season with S+P and more lemon juice to taste and serve with a crusty baguette.

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