On Wednesday night we said goodbye to Oliver, one of Matt’s very best friends, who left for Germany yesterday for a post in Berlin. Matt is pretty devastated about losing his buddy for an extended period of time and is already planning our trip overseas to visit. I am also sad, not only because Oliver is a great friend, but because he’s a great co-chef.
Oliver, Matt, and I have been cooking together since spring 2005 when we first met on a study abroad program in Cambridge, England. Oliver brought an oil spattered recipe for Kung Pao Chicken with him from Berkeley to our kitchen in the cloistered tower of our residence hall in Pembroke College. The first time we prepared the dish, each of us mincing or chopping a different vegetable, it took us nearly five hours to cook. Since then we haven’t improved on the process much, it still takes us an exorbitant amount of time and if Oliver hadn’t come up with the brilliant idea to chop and marinate the meat in advance, we would never eat before 10:00 pm.
But then, the best meals always take a little time and care, and so tonight I was inspired to make a multi-step classic: chicken milanese. My dad used to make chicken cutlets all the time, as he called them. They were always a bit of a production to prepare: pounding out the meat, then lining the counter with wax paper to hold the salt-and-peppered flour and the breadcrumbs and a bowl of eggs beaten with water. I watched intently while he dipped the chicken in the flour, then in the eggs, then in the breadcrumbs, before starting on the next piece. He filled a large frying pan with a half-inch of oil and heated it until the surface shimmered and a bit of flour dropped on the surface sputtered. Then he fried the chicken piece by piece and placed them on a pile of paper towels sitting next to the stove. I stood close to the counter and picked out the small, extra-crispy pieces that he set aside for me. (Or maybe he didn’t set them aside, but I made the executive decision that they were too small to warrant saving for dinner.)
Matt loves chicken cutlets and I know he’s missing his friend, so I was pretty excited when I discovered a recipe for mustard milanese in my newest cookbook. After a long busy week of good bye dinners and happy hours, I’m looking forward to sharing a quiet nostalgic meal for two and saving the best little browned bits for Matt.
Mustard Milanese with An Arugula Fennel Salad from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
For the Chicken
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons (45 grams) smooth Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 1⁄2 cups (80 grams) coarse, lightweight breadcrumbs, such as panko (see cooking note)
Mix of vegetable and olive oil, for frying
For the Salad
3 tablespoons (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
2 tablespoons (30 grams) whole-seed or coarse Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup (80 ml) olive oil
5 ounces (140 grams) baby arugula leaves
Small fennel bulb (5 ounces or 140 grams)
 On a cutting board with a very sharp knife, butterfly your chicken breasts, and slice them all the way through, so that you end up with four thin cutlets. With a meat pounder (not a tenderizer), pound your cutlets out between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1⁄4-inch thickness. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
 Grab three big plates, and line them up on your counter. Pour the flour into the first one. In a small dish, whisk together the egg white, smooth Dijon, garlic, oregano, and lemon zest. Pour half of this mixture into the bottom of the second plate. In the third plate, spread out the breadcrumbs. Dredge each piece of chicken lightly in flour, then heavily in the egg-white– mustard mixture, and generously in the breadcrumbs.
 Repeat with second piece of chicken, then refill egg-white–mustard plate, and repeat with final two pieces of chicken. Arrange the breaded cutlets on a large tray, and chill them in the fridge for 1 hour, or up to 1 day (covered with plastic wrap). This helps the coating set.
 Preheat your oven to 175 degrees.
 Pour 1⁄2 inch of oil—use a mixture of olive and vege- table oil, or the frying oil of your choice—in a large pan, and heat over medium-high heat. Test the heat with a flick of water—if it hisses, you’re good to go. Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes on the first and 2 to 3 minutes on the second. Remove the chicken from heat, and salt and pepper on both sides while draining on paper towels. Once it’s drained, transfer the chicken to a tray to keep in the warm oven. Repeat with additional oil and remaining pieces of chicken.
 In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice and mustards together, then whisk in olive oil in a thin stream. Pour three-quarters of this into a large bowl. Add arugula to bowl. Thinly shave your fennel bulb on a mandoline, or cut it as thinly as you can with a sharp knife, and add this to the arugula.
 When you’re ready to serve it, toss the salad. Arrange one piece of chicken from the warm oven on a plate. Drizzle a few drops of the reserved salad dressing directly onto the chicken (you’ll thank me when you try it), and pile the salad on top. Season with salt and pepper, and eat immediately.