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Surf and turf

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A post early on in this blog (when it was still called Marty Thyme) recalled a time many years before when I tried to make a chicken roulade for a guy I was trying to impress. I didn't know how to cook then and relied on a recipe, which I chose solely for the picture of the dish, thinking that if I followed the recipe it would turn out exactly the way it looked in the book and said guy would be suitably impressed.
That roulade had bits of tinned pineapple in it. I had a lot of trouble rolling it up and trying to secure the ends with toothpicks. With the filling spilling out, I launch the roll into the hot pan to fry it. It looked quite sad and I thought I would try to cover up the flaws (read: the bits with the third-degree burns).
So I used the syrup from the tinned pineapple to make a sauce. Now, the sauce wasn't part of the recipe, so I should get credit for being innovative with a dish when I couldn't even cook. I'll put the syrup in a pan, I told myself, add tomato purée and it will probably turn out okay since the sweet and the sour should go together. But the sauce seemed to lack something, only I couldn't figure out what.
Well, I did realise what it was in the end: Salt.
Now, many years later, if a dish wasn't salty enough, I would know immediately to add salt. I'm nowhere near an expert, but if something doesn't taste right, I could tell what seasoning adjustments to make. This has come with experience.
But for some people, many things seem strange when they're learning to cook. And sometimes, more proficient cooks don't realise that. I remember, when I provided a recipe for pancakes in one of my old cooking columns, a reader wrote in and asked if the milk I used in the recipe was sweetened condensed milk. That was probably the only type of milk she was familiar with and didn't know anything else.
(Despite knowing that, it would be impossible to cater to everyone since newspaper readers are so diverse.)
Today, I can make a chicken roulade without consulting a recipe – and, as with many people, it's all down to having done it enough times. I love anchovies and have included them in my dish this time. It's my version of surf and turf. I even did a neat job of tying up the meat in a roll.
I don't know why I tried to impress that guy so long ago since he turned out to be rubbish, but I'm glad to say my taste in men has improved along with my skill in cooking...

Anchovy and Mushroom-stuffed Chicken Roulade
Serves 2

2 skinless chicken breasts fillets, about 200g each
1 large red bell pepper (capsicum)
2 large romaine lettuce leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
4-5 button mushrooms, finely diced
4 anchovy fillets
Cooking oil

Kitchen string to tie the roulade

Butterfly the chicken breasts, and pound them with a fist to flatten and even out slightly.
Halve the bell pepper and remove the stem and pith. Rub oil over the skin, place the pepper, cut side down, on a baking tray and place under the grill until skin is blistered and black. Remove from the oven and place in a bowl; cover the bowl with cling film and leave pepper to cool. When cool, peel off the skin.
Heat a little oil and fry the onion until translucent. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Stir until softened. Set aside to cool.
Soften the lettuce leaves by blanching in hot water for just a few seconds. Place into kitchen towels and dab dry.
To assemble the roulade: Place chicken breast fillets on a chopping board. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Place a lettuce leaf on each fillet and top with half a bell pepper. Spread with the mushroom filling and top with 2 anchovy fillets. Roll up and tie the roulade.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat oil in a skillet and sear the outside of the roulades until light brown. Place roulades in an ovenproof pan, cover pan with foil and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook a further 10 minutes until golden.
Make a sauce: Pour pan drippings into a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until slightly thickened. To serve, slice the roulades on the diagonal and spoon on the sauce.

Some past chicken recipes:

Coming up:
The next post will feature recipes using store-bought rotisserie chicken.

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