|Baked in the background and pan-fried in the foreground.|
We have a weird relationship with meat in this house. Neither of us is vegetarian (we don’t subscribe to the preachy dogma of PETA devotees), but we don’t really eat meat. Or rather, we very rarely cook it. However, if we go out to eat, the gluten-free option is usually something along the lines of roasted chicken & potatoes, which I happily devour. We do seek out vegan/vegetarian restaurants, as it’s a style of food we are comfortable with and they are often frankly better than a conventional restaurant about ensuring that my meal is gluten-free. Of course, on the off chance that we do cook meat, I make an effort to purchase local, free-range, and/or organic meat, in the name of taste, eco-friendliness, and supporting the local farming community.
I’ve been puzzling over our meat-eating pattern for some time now, wondering if we should take the plunge to full vegetarianism. For the record, I was vegan for almost a year in college, so I am not a stranger to alternatives to the “nearly vegetarian” diet. Also, I’ve been pegged as a vegetarian by just about everyone my entire life (really, no clue why), and have learned to play the part. Ultimately, I decided that our current “almost meatless” diet suits us fine.
In our house, meat is a treat. If we have guests, I roast a chicken. (And then make chicken salad the next day, followed by chicken stock and soup the following day. Nothing is wasted!) Back when we had access to a Trader Joe’s, we purchased a packet of nitrite-free applewood-smoked bacon every few months as an indulgence. That bacon showed up in most dinners for almost a week, two strips at a time: spaghetti carbonara, bacon crumbles in salad, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with herbed goat cheese, bacon-ginger-molasses cookies, etc. We felt like royalty. Meat is never the focal point; but we do enjoy it as a flavor enhancement to a variety of dishes.
For this reason, I would never subscribe to the paleo diet, even though it is gluten-free. We don’t enjoy eating meat in that quantity, can’t afford it, and don’t see an animal protein-heavy diet as an environmentally sustainable option. (Could you imagine the entire human population consuming two chicken breasts at every meal? It simply wouldn’t work.) I’m not knocking the lack of refined sugars and heaping helpings of vegetables a paleo diet prescribes, or how it helps people build muscle when paired with a workout program. It’s just not my style.
All this to say that tonight we had a treat: I made gluten free chicken strips. These are a fantastic quick dinner, and J absolutely adores them. (He mentioned tonight that the main attraction is dipping. My friend’s not-quite-two-year-old shares this timeless sentiment.) So when I want to surprise J with a quick dinner, this is my go-to meal. We paired with yogurt sauce tonight, though they are equally good with ranch dressing or plain old ketchup.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
- 2 c. cornflakes
- 1/3 c. almond meal
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- sprinkle of pepper
- 1 tsp. dried herbs (I like 1/2 tsp. thyme + 1/2 tsp. sage, but Italian seasoning is nice, too)
- 1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp. water
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp. rice flour
- oil for cooking
- Cover each chicken breast with a piece of plastic wrap and pound gently with a mallet or a rolling pin until it’s an even 3/4″ thickness. Slice each breast into 1″ strips. Place cornflakes in a Ziploc bag and crush gently with a rolling pin until they’re just small shards.
- Mix crushed cornflakes, almond meal, salt, pepper, and herbs in a small bowl. Have beaten egg on hand in a small bowl. Mix cornstarch and rice flour together and pour onto a bread plate.
- Now it’s time to bread your chicken! Dip each piece in the flour mixture and coat evenly, brushing off anything that doesn’t stick. Dunk floured chicken into beaten egg to coat, and then toss in breading mixture, rolling around to coat completely. Repeat for all chicken strips.
- To cook in a skillet: Preheat skillet over medium heat; pour in 2 tsp. oil. When hot, add half of chicken strips and fry until crisp and golden, approximately 5 minutes. Turn and cook another 5 or so minutes on the other side. Cut into the thickest piece with a paring knife–if the juices run clear, it’s done. Repeat to cook remaining chicken.
- To cook in the oven: Preheat oven to 450F. Brush a bit of oil into a small baking dish (like an 8″ x 10″ jellyroll pan). When oven is hot, place breaded chicken pieces on the pan so they aren’t touching one another, and bake for 15 minutes, until beginning to brown on the bottom. Test for doneness, and allow to cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
- 1/4 c. plain yogurt
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a hefty pinch of: garlic powder, onion powder, dill, paprika
- 1/2 tsp. very finely diced jalapeno
- a 1″ section of cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced very finely.
- Mix all together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning.