serves: 6 servings
Starting with a base of garlic and olive oil, similar to many of my pasta sauces, you build layers of flavor, toasting the garlic, peperoncino, and capers on the pan bottom, then draw the components together with broth and reduce the liquid to perfect saucing consistency. It's all done in less than 15 minutes. The added challenge here is that you must cook six plump chicken breasts to perfection, in the same pan, in the same short time. The chicken takes up most of the room, so the hot spots will be harder to find. More important, you need to control the heat and timing with care: the chicken has to caramelize lightly at first, then, as the sauce comes up around it, cook to doneness in a couple of minutes of high heat braising. You'll be thickening the sauce with bread crumbs in the exciting finale too-so it's good to have all the ingredients ready to go.
6 chicken breast halves, skinless and boneless, about 2 pounds
¾ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
½ cup flour, for dredging the chicken
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 garlic cloves, sliced
¼ teaspoon peperoncino
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup Vegetable broth
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, freshly chopped
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
Trim the chicken breast halves of all bits fat, skin or connective tissue with a paring knife. Do not cut off the tenders-the small loose flap of muscle on the underside of each half-but flatten them firmly against the larger piece, to form a neat oval.
Sprinkle both sides of the breasts with salt, using about 1/2 teaspoon in all. Spread the flour on a piece wax paper and press and toss each breast to coat lightly on all surfaces; shake off excess.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and all the butter in the pan over medium heat. When the butter is almost completely melted, lay the breasts in the pan, with space between them. Let them cook in place, without moving them, until they're sizzling. After 2 minutes or so, lift the first breast you put in the pan and check the underside. You want it to be lightly tinged with brown (not merely pale, but not brown all over either). Cook longer if needed, and then turn all the breasts over when they've just begun to color. Quickly scatter all the garlic slices into the spaces between the chicken, turn the heat up slightly, shake the pan and stir the slices around in the hot fat so they separate. After a minute or a bit more, when the garlic has begun to sizzle, sprinkle the peperoncino flakes in a hot spot; toast for a minute; then spill the capers in several hot spots around the pan. Give the skillet a few good shakes to distribute the seasonings and run the hot juices all around the breasts.
Raise the heat another notch: when everything's sizzling hard, pour the red wine vinegar into the open spaces and shake the pan to spread it. Let the vinegar sizzle and reduce for a 1/2 minute or so, then pour in the broth.
Cook at full blast now, quickly bringing the liquid to a boil. As it cooks, drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of oil all around the pan and sprinkle on another 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Let the sauce bubble and reduce for a couple of minutes, shaking the skillet frequently, then sprinkle the bread crumbs into the sauce (not on the chicken) and stir and shake to mix it in. Within a minute or two, the crumbs will thicken the sauce visibly; cook, shaking the skillet, until it has the consistency you like. Turn off the heat, scatter the parsley over everything-and shake the skillet again.
Serve right away. I usually bring the pan to the table and serve family-style. For a more formal presentation, spoon a pool of sauce onto a warm dinner plate, place a breast half on top and moisten with a bit more sauce. Serve the chosen vegetable in the same plate.