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  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive

April 16, 2007

Surviving the Chicken and Bacon Caper


This same kind of thinking sometimes applies to the kitchen – there are two kinds of dishes, those that require constant attention, and those that prefer to do their work without too much meddling from you.


It would be tempting to dismiss a dish that is full of complex flavors that is cooked in a short period of time as a fussy, prissy prima donna. Instead, these dishes are often misunderstood, and have the soul of an artist – stormy and complicated.


When it comes to these dishes, preparation is key. Once you begin cooking, there will be inertia to continue cooking and not stop. You will cook and feel compelled to cook, and to pause even to slice up an egg is to risk bringing down the entire house of cards. The sorrow you will feel!


We are confronted by that here, with a pasta recipe that includes players as vast and eclectic as bacon, chicken and capers.


First chop into pieces an onion, a couple of yellow hot peppers and some mushrooms. Then, cut your bacon into short, thin pieces slightly larger than a wooden match. And, cut a chicken breast into one-inch cubes.


Then, set aside a small can of sliced black olives and perhaps one-eighth a cup of capers.


A word here on capers. Perhaps at some point, you saw someone frolicking in a happy, light-hearted manner. Perhaps you asked them what they were doing, to which they perhaps answered, “Why, I’m capering about.”


Do not mistake caper for capering. The two – noun and verb – bring different meanings that have nothing to do with each other. A caper, the kind that now confronts you, is a bud from a caper plant. If you have them, they undoubtedly came either packed in brine or salt, and have a peppery taste to them. You will want to rinse them, or there will be nothing about them that would bring to mind frolicking of any kind.


With preparation now complete, fry your bacon over medium heat. When it is crisp, remove it to a paper towel, and drain most of the grease from the pan.


Add to that grease one-third a cup of olive oil and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Put a pot of water on to boil.


As with everything else, there is a place for all kinds of pasta. The presence of chunked meat suggests that perhaps something long and stringy is unwise. A better choice would be farfalle and even better would be the always-whimsical rotini.


Back in the skillet, it’s time to add the onion, hot pepper and chicken chunks. Sprinkle in thyme and oregano. Stir over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked.  This is long enough that the hot pepper and onion will themselves soften, without searing the chicken on the outside while leaving the inside soft, pink and full of salmonella goodness.


Once finished, add olives and capers. The most notable immediate impact will be a visual oomph. Appearance will better reflect a fairly complicated blend of flavors. Such symmetry!


Add your bacon and allow your sauce to warm, but not for too long. The capers will lose some of their caper-y quality.


You perhaps now recognize the need to prepare ahead of time, since the dominoes will fall in rapid succession, requiring your near-constant attention.


Now, if things have gone according to mental plan, the pasta will be al dente (slightly stiff) right about the time your sauce has warmed. Drain your noodles, but it would be wise to retain a little bit of the water.


Blend pasta and sauce together. If your pasta defies your attempt to saucify it, add a little bit of your pasta water. Careful! Too much, and you have soup.


You are not yet finished. Your dish is good, but there is something missing, a glue to hold it together. You might take a bite and wonder, “Yes, I can see it. Slightly bitter and slightly salty. But there is something missing to fully bridge the gap.” If the thought strikes you to mix in some shredded Romano cheese, then you, sir, have a mind for food.


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