Monday, January 30, 2012

Craig Claiborne - Chicken Cutlets Pojarski

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I thought you might like to meet the man who was instrumental in helping the careers of many of the women who appear on the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game Changers in food. His name is Craig Claiborne and while he might look like a leprechaun, his life was one of contradiction and personal unhappiness. He had a difficult childhood and his adult life was plagued by demons he could not conquer. His personal story is fascinating, but rather than discuss that, I'd like to focus on his role in American gastronomy. He was food editor of the New York Times from 1957 until 1986 and was one of the first men to oversee the food pages of a newspaper. He reviewed restaurants, wrote columns and, in collaboration with Pierre Franey, wrote or edited 20 cookbooks, including the New York Times Cook Book. He, quite unintentionally, set the bar for all food journalism and criticism that followed his tenure at the paper. While he studied at École Hôtelière in Lausanne, Switzerland, he credited time spent in the kitchen of his mother's boarding house with inspiring his passion for food. The time he spent in Switzerland, however, is what got him in the door at Gourmet Magazine, where he initially worked as a receptionist. He eventually moved on to the Times and during his tenure, the country was introduced to the cuisines and chefs of France, Italy, Mexico and Asia. He also featured the work of relatively unknown writers and chefs, including Maida Heatter, Madhur Jaffrey, Marcella Hazan, Paul Prudhomme, and Zarela Martinez. Perhaps the most famous story told about him regards the $4000 meal he shared with Pierre Franey at Chez Denis in Paris. The meal, which had been won at a charity auction, was 5 hours long and consisted of 32 courses. American Express had donated the prize and because no limit had been set on the cost of the meal, they honored the bill in full, despite public outcry about its extravagance. His critics included the Pope who was outraged by the cost of the meal. Craig Claiborne died in 2000.

I went through my old files to find a recipe I thought would be ideal to highlight the work done by Craig Claiborne. I finally settled on one for Chicken Pojarski. The dish is named after the favorite chef of Tsar Nicholas I who enjoyed a version of this dish that was made with minced veal. The minced patties were served with an outstanding paprika cream sauce that sets this dish apart from others like it. I made this dish as a young woman. It was extremely popular in the 1970's because it could be made ahead of time and simply reheated for serving. It is really easy to do, but I stopped making it because of the amount of butter that is used. If you decide to try the recipe, I have one caution to share with you. Do not use ground chicken to form the cutlets. Chicken that finely ground will make them dense. It is better to cut the chicken into one inch cubes and then minced it by hand or in a food processor. If you use a food processor, pulse the meat for 5 to 8 times and then stop. The rest of the recipe is really child's play. These are very, very good and if you can get past the amount of butter that's used, you will love these cutlets. Here's the recipe.

Chicken Cutlets Pojarski
...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Craig Claiborne

2 large chicken breasts , skinned and boned
white pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
11 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water
1-1/2 to 2 cups breadcrumbs
Paprika Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons onions , finely chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
white pepper
1 tablespoon cognac
1/4 cup sour cream

1) Chill a medium sized mixing bowl in freezer.
2) Place boned chicken meat on a board and chop thoroughly with a sharp knife until fine or pulse meat in a food processor. (You can use a food processor for this but you must take extreme care not to over-process the meat as the texture of your cooked cutlets will be too heavy.).
3) Add meat to chilled bowl. Add salt and white pepper to taste, nutmeg and 5 tablespoons of the butter, melted. Mix well. Return bowl and mixture to freezer to chill once more while you prepare dredging station. Do not freeze.
4) Season flour with salt and white pepper and place on a length of wax paper. Break the egg into a pie plate and beat with the vegetable oil and water. Place bread crumbs on another length of wax paper.
5) Divide chilled mixture into 6 to 8 portions and shape each into a 1/2 inch thick cutlet. Dip one cutlet at a time into flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs. Press the crumbs gently into the cutlets then chill them until ready to cook. ( The cutlets may be made several hours ahead to this point. Keep cutlets refrigerated until ready to cook.).
6) Heat remaining butter in a large skillet and careful add cutlets. Cook until golden brown on one side then turn and cook on the other.
7) Serve with the Paprika Sauce.
8) To make paprika sauce: Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan and cook onion until wilted. Sprinkle with paprika, flour and thyme, stirring. Stir in the chicken stock, using a whisk and simmer about 3 minutes. (The sauce may be made several hours ahead up until this point.). When ready to proceed, add cream and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice, salt and white pepper to taste and cognac. Strain sauce through a sieve. Return to heat and stir in remaining butter and sour cream. Heat sauce through but do not bring to a boil. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

One Year Ago Today: Chocolate Cheesecake Squares

Two Years Ago Today: Raspberry Streusel Muffins


Unknown said...

Dear Mary was a few days that I spent more of you wonders how many I've missed I run to kiss recipes leggerele Simmy

Gloria said...

Mary, this recipe looks and sounds wonderful. I hope to try it one day. And love your story about Craig Claiborne! You have me curious about what 'personal unhappiness' he had, so I want to go look it up now!

Zee said...

This looks so delish!
I love potato cutlets but have never had chicken ones

Ana said...

I learned to cook by following Craig Claiborne's recipes in the "New York Times Cookbook." I still own the original 1971 edition, and I treasure it! Thanks for featuring a recipe by this wonderful chef. I think we can enjoy his recipes by updating them. Yes, he uses a lot of butter, everybody did back then, but now we can substitute with oil. I remember Craig changed his eating habits after he had heart bypass surgery: no eggs, no butter.

Ellen Whyte said...

It looks very pretty with that little sprinkling of sauce.

Angela said...

The recipe looks beautiful, but I am on the Pope's side as far as the $4000 meal is concerned. ;)

Unknown said...

Such an interesting background on Craig Claiborne. $4000 dinner? 32 courses? WOW, talk about extravagant! lol
The cutlets sound amazing.. and that sauce - you know how I love sauces!!!

Kim said...

Yum! these cutlets AND the sauce looks really good! Have a nice day!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I have certainly heard of Mr. Claiborne but not of this chicken dish. It is really something I would love to try!!

From the Kitchen said...

Twice more around the block should help accept the 11 Tbsps of butter!! The sauce sounds delicious.

Once, attending The Book and the Cook in Philadelphia, Craig Claiborne was pointed out to me. He was sitting at a small corner table in the restaurant featuring a menu by Pierre Franey. We didn't meet. Pierre, however, was the perfect host.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Beautiful shot! This chicken dish has a yummy retro look to it.

Rita said...

What an interesting post; i had no idea about Craig Claiborne; he had a rough ride. Great photo od you pojarski;they have to be good.

Claudia said...

I came of age with Claiborne. My mother met him when he had sworn off butter and they both commiserated about how pie crusts have never been the same since people stopped baking with lard. This shows off his work beautifully - but it's the paprika cream sauce that sings.

June said...

I'm with Ana - I still have his NY Times Menu Cookbook from 1966 that he dedicated to Pierre Franey (and Mrs. Jean Hewitt). It was one of the first cookbooks I owned that didn't have a bunch of pictures in it (ha). A true "cook's book", I still refer to it when I'm stumped.

Eliana said...

That sauce looks to die for Mary!

The Harried Cook said...

This was such an interesting read! And LOL @ the leprechaun comment :) And the chicken cutlets look yummy!

Deana Sidney said...

Claiborne was the first NYTs writer for me. He used to perch on a stool while Franey did the cooking. Writing and tasting as the cooking progressed. Loved his columns and his passion for raising the bar on food in NYC.

I am writing a piece with him in it as part of a 2 part post, including one of his "if it were my last meal" dishes. Bravo Craig!

Great recipe. What's a little butter every once in a while?

Chelsea said...

Thank you for sharing that! You're always teaching me something new. This chicken looks so good, and a nice change of pace from the usual breaded chicken.

Chiara said...

This looks so tasty Mary! Have a good day...

Cindy@NorthofWiarton said...

I loved the read about Craig Claibourne, and I love cutlets. Wonderful day to you, Mary.

Ginny Hartzler said...

I really enjoyed the story about the banquet! And the cutlets look just divine.

Lenia said...

Great post,dear Mary!Greetings!

Gloria Baker said...

Look delicious MAry, and nice post of course!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my, this looks so lovely Mary! That sauce looks particularly delicious. :) Hope you had a great weekend.

Feast on the Cheap said...

So glad you found us at Feast on the Cheap! I actually had the pleasure of catering a party for Pierre Franey's daughter last January. It was wholly intimidating as I sauteed and braised on HIS stove, all the while his portrait on the wall, "watching" my every move! It was so much fun and I was honored to have the opportunity to cook for this legendary chef's daughter. (Who by the way, is an extraordinary home chef, herself!)

Love your posts - the pictures are beautiful and the recipes fresh and inspiring. I'll be back! Cheers! Mary Anne

Feast on the Cheap said...

So glad you found us at Feast on the Cheap! I actually had the pleasure of catering a party for Pierre Franey's daughter last January. It was wholly intimidating as I sauteed and braised on HIS stove, all the while his portrait on the wall, "watching" my every move! It was so much fun and I was honored to have the opportunity to cook for this legendary chef's daughter. (Who by the way, is an extraordinary home chef, herself!)

Love your posts - the pictures are beautiful and the recipes fresh and inspiring. I'll be back! Cheers! Mary Anne

Rambling Tart said...

I can always get past the amount of butter used. :-) I just be very, very good for the next few meals. :-) What an interesting man he must've been. I can't begin to imagine eating 32 courses at one sitting!!!

Joanne said...

What a great accompaniment to the game changers posts! I've never heard of Craig Claiborne which is sad considering all he's done for the food world!

Trish said...

I'm definitely going to try making this - the paprika sauce sounds particularly delightful!

Torviewtoronto said...

cutlets look wonderful

Tanna said...

You know, I didn't think a thing about using that much butter in the 70s. I still use butter... never going to give it up... but, I am much more judicious in its use. I know this has to be good with 13 T. ;) blessings ~ Tanna

Jill Mant~a SaucyCook said...

Thanks for sharing Craig Claiborne's story and the recipe. I grew up with a mom who was an extraordinary cook and the NY Times Cookbook was her bible. I still have her cookbook and I used to use it often. I think I will flip through it again. The sauce for this recipe looks lovely; perhaps I will try it with a tad bit less butter used in making the chicken cutlets!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I learned to cook from the books of Craig and Julia. They were my bibles and they were the teachers. I still have all of my copies of their books and when they've fallen apart, I've bought new.

Love this dish Mary and so glad you featured it today. I bet Craig is smiling somewhere right now.

Anonymous said...

I have been making this for 20 years since I got The NY Times cookbook. It is a family favorite, in fact I’m making it right now ! Another good one from that cookbook is chicken breasts in port.

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