Soul food reinvented using a blend of cultural flavors
Growing up during a time where the daily aroma of fried chicken drifted throughout homes seldom locked, I recall the magical experience of tasting those crispy morsels, prepared ever so carefully by hands that had worked on railroads and cleaned the homes of wealthier families.
But times have changed, and now that we are aware of the negative health effects such as high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes that accompany deep fried delicacies, it’s time to reinvent those delicacies that connect us to our past and heritage but also compromise our physical well-being.
A few weeks ago while listening to Leela James’ “Soul Food,” where she sings, “Sip me up like lemonade from a mason jar. Make it good like some chicken fried in a pan of lard,” I suddenly got a huge craving for fried chicken and collard greens. Yes, yes. I know she’s not really singing about food.
So, after listening to the song a couple of times, I decided to head to the grocery store. My aim was to see how I could reinvent fried chicken and collards, sans the lard and deep frying.
Letting my imagination take me wherever it wanted to go, I picked up some boneless skinless chicken breasts, some frozen chopped collards, some Japanese bread crumbs (panko), Basmati rice, and some fresh cilantro. With my ingredients in tote, I then headed home and opened my cupboards to see what other ingredients I might add. When I found some white wine, I knew I was on to something.
Looking at the items I bought, which fused together African American ideas with ingredients used in many different cultures such as India (Basmati rice), Japan (panko bread crumbs) Latin America (fresh cilantro), and France (white wine), I started to envision something that combined all them into one dish. What I came up with was chicken breasts stuffed with sautéed collards and steamed rice. The dish turned out so fabulously that I served it at a dinner party with friends who awed over it and gave me total bragging rights!
The recipe is as follows; please let me know what you think.
Soul food-stuffed chicken breasts
1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts (serves four)
1 package of panko bread crumbs
2 cups of cooked Basmati rice
2 cups of sautéed collard greens
½ Vidalia onion chopped
2 Serrano chili peppers chopped
Garlic powder, salt, granulated black pepper and freshly ground black pepper or black peppercorns, tumeric (optional)
Olive oil and vegetable oil
1 quart of chicken stock
Dry white wine (Remember the rule “garbage in, garbage out.” A good Chardonnay is recommended.)
Fresh cilantro for garnish
Turn on some good music, like Leela James or Anthony Hamilton’s “Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens.”
Prepare the rice by cooking it in two cups of water and two cups of chicken stock, a pinch of salt and one teaspoon of olive oil. When the rice is fork tender (about 18 minutes), set aside and let cool.
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
Rinse and pat dry the chicken breasts, place them onto a cutting board covered with wax paper, and flatten using a mallet or frying pan (they should be as flat as possible without tearing them).
Season the chicken liberally on both sides and refrigerate.
In a small sauté pan, add olive oil and chilies and sauté until translucent and then add the collards — season lightly with salt and garlic powder and set aside to cool.
Stuffing the chicken:
Place the beaten egg and the bread crumbs in dishes to sit close at hand, like a manufacturing line.
Then, on a hard surface covered with wax paper, place a small amount of rice and collards at the end of the chicken breast and gently roll into a log shape.
Squeeze firmly to hold the log in place while dipping it into the egg and then back onto the wax paper.
Next, roll the log into the bread crumbs, still holding firmly with both hands to secure it, and then set aside for frying.
Cooking the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan with two tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of vegetable oil.
When the oil reaches 350 degrees, carefully place each stuffed chicken breast in and fry for about four minutes per side — you will have to turn the chicken using tongs.
Place the chicken into the oven and allow cook for 20 minutes.
Preparing the sauce:
To the frying pan used for the chicken, pour one-half cup of white wine, two cups of chicken stock and two teaspoons of butter and freshly ground black pepper to create a gravy, whisk the sauce firmly on high heat for five minutes, then simmer to reduce and thicken.
Remove the chicken and allow to rest for five minutes, then slice firmly on the bias into pieces.
Arrange the pieces of chicken on the plate and garnish with the sauce and freshly chopped cilantro.
Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.