"Indeed," Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. "Have you eaten terrapin stewed with butter and chicken broth and sherry?"
"Or the Creole Tripe of New Orleans? Or Missouri Boone County ham, baked with vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire, sweet cider and herbs? Or Chicken Marengo? Or chicken in curdled egg sauce, with raisins, onions, almonds, sherry and Mexican sausage? Or Tennessee Oppossum? Or Lobster Newburgh? Or Philadelphia Snapper Soup? But I see you haven't." Wolfe pointed a finger at him. "The gastronome's heaven is France, granted. But he would do well, on his way there, to make a detour hereabouts..."
- Too Many Cooks, by Rex Stout
I am a huge fan of Rex Stout and his iconic gastronome/detective Nero Wolfe. I love the fact that he's always defending American cuisine even if I've never heard of half of the dishes he lauds. Shad roe? I've found it mentioned in cookbooks at least 50 years old but I wouldn't know where to find it today - in the US or Europe. Okay, I'm not absolutely certain I want to try Tennessee Oppossum, but his list does make me feel like I'm very unfamiliar with the cuisine of my native country. Either that or he made up half those dishes. You never know.
In any case, in my fifteen years (has it really been that long?) of living in Europe, I have frequently found myself trying to defend the charge that "America has no cuisine". As an au pair, I encountered a lofty ten year old who lectured me on the American tendency to over cook meat (this on a night when I was making pork chops, sigh) or the fact that we all "eat with our fingers". Hamburgers are not "cuisine" and anyway, they are named after a German city. I'm never very good at refuting these accusations, in part because I get so irritated that I can't marshall my thoughts clearly. It's true that we do not have a few thousand years of cooking under our belts to brag about. But then most Italians claim that the French had no cuisine to speak of either until they started visiting Italy in the 16th century and poached their ideas.
It's true that Americans have had less need to develop a cultural identity in the kitchen: we have ineherited such a rich and variegated culture from the many countries that contributed to our population that it's unneccessary. If anything, our cuisine would be defined by the ways that we have mixed different cultural traditions, or by the ways in which we have brought new world ingredients to old world recipes, to the benefit of both. My dear English husband does not consider Christmas properly celebrated unless it includes a very large turkey. Back in Dickens' days, the roast bird would have been a goose, but a tender American turkey has proven a much more popular roast bird in his home land, tender, easy to raise and much less fatty.
So what does that have to do with today's dish? Well, it was inspired in a large part by one of the Critic's favourite American dishes: the ubiquitous bar snack, the humble buffalo wings. Love them or hate them, you have to admit there is something distinctly American about them. Where else in the world would you see blue cheese and tabasco sauce combined with a side of celery? For me, it's a guilty pleasure. I hate the grease, hate the fact that it's made badly in every TGIF or chain bar in the country, and love the greasy, salty hot satisfaction of them. I've tried several times at home to reproduce the best of the combination while losing some of the grease and so far this is the best effort. I'm afraid it will never really be as satisfying until the day when I give in and deep fry it...but it is a lot healthier and still pretty tasty.
Chipotle and Blue Cheese Chicken (serves 2)
2 boneless chicken breasts (free range, organic, if possible)
4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (half a small can)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp celery salt
4-5 Tbs butter or olive oil
For the sauce:
75 grams blue cheese (I used a Rocquefort)
1 heaping Tbs crème fraîche or cream
freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap and pound them until uniformly thin - between half and three-quarters of a centimeter. Carefully place two peppers and a little sauce on each of the breasts and fold the meat to completely cover the peppers and sauce. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl. Mix the flour and celery salt in a shallow bowl. Place the bread crumbs in a third shallow bowl. Carefully dip the first chicken breast in the flour and celery salt mixture. Then equally carefully, dip it in the egg mixture, holding the fold in place so that the pepper stuffing remains safely inside. Roll the breast in the bread crumbs and set aside. Repeat with the second breast. At this point you can put the plate with the breasts in the refrigerator if you have the time: it will help the breasts to set and is also convenient if you are making enough for guests. When you are ready to cook them, melt the butter or heat the oil in a pan. Add the breasts and cook over a fairly high flame until the first side of the breasts is nicely browned and crisp, 5-7 minutes. Turn over and cook for another five minutes, or until browned and cooked through. You can gently pry apart the seam of the chicken where you have folded it over the peppers to confirm that it is white through, with no raw pink meat remaining. If necessary, turn down the heat and cook for a bit longer.
For the sauce: crumble the cheese into the cream and heat over a low flame until melted and smooth. Season to taste with a generous grinding of fresh black pepper. It probably won't need salt as most blue cheeses have a fairly high salt content.
Serve the sauce in a small dipping bowl next to the meat; it's prettier that way and also allows you to keep that crispy exterior on the chicken breast. I opted to include some freshly steamed broccoli with the chicken and it was delicious with the remaining blue cheese sauce.