Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chicken Mozzarella Sandwiches with Ridiculously Rich Marinara

I know when I have something special on my hands when I drool a little just thinking about blogging about it.

It all started on Sunday when I suddenly craved a fat, chicken parmesan sandwich dripping with hearty red sauce - the kind of sandwich you need at least a dozen napkins at the ready and a frosty Italian beer to wash it down with. The only problem was I have a bizarre prejudice against sandwiches with breaded meats in them. Call me crazy, but breaded meat inside more bread just seems like overkill. If you take the time to make a lovely, crunchily textured chicken parm, why hide it in a sandwich?

I decided right then my chicken wouldn't be breaded, but instead be browned in a skillet, then left to simmer in a warm, tomatoey sauce. The right side of my brain kicked in, and the result was a homemade ragu that makes me tear up a little just thinking about it. Let's just say it starts with 3 thin strips of bacon snipped into a hot pan. See what I mean?

And even though I'd never made this sauce before, there was something incredibly familiar about it. Two days later when I heated up the leftovers in the microwave, it was even better than it was the night of its conception - smokey and sweet and tangy from those incredible San Marzano tomatoes. That's when it hit me - I'd gone and made some sort of Italian/BBQ sauce hybrid! Leave it to a Texan, I guess. So, while this started out as a sandwich post, the sauce quickly took center stage. I actually want to be buried with a jar of it, tied with a pink ribbon and a porcelain spoon.

Actually, there's nothing earth-shattering about adding bacon to a ragu. Italians add pancetta to their sauces all the time. I now think the key to my sauce's addictive, lip smacking flavor is the fact that I added a cup of red wine to it, then boiled it and boiled it until there was almost nothing left but a few reduced teaspoons-full, swimming alongside the sauteed chopped onions (now stained a deep shade of purple...fellow red wine lovers know the color.) So, while you're used to reducing 'by half' or 'by a third' when it comes to cooking with wine - trust me on this recipe and keep on keeping on until the wine's almost gone. It will pay off in dividends, providing a richness that can't be achieved any other way.

Chicken Mozzarella Sandwiches with Ridiculously Rich Marinara
Serves 2


3 thin slices bacon
2 chicken breasts, dredged in flour, salt and pepper.

2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, diced
bay leaf
1 pinch each - dried sage, oregano, thyme
pinch sugar

3/4 cup red wine

1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 (28 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes, WITHOUT JUICE
1 (14 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes WITH JUICE
pinch sugar

2 fat, cushy sandwich rolls (whole wheat French has a nice complimentary sweetness)
4 hefty slices fresh mozzarella cheese, or provolone, or aged mozzarella

Add a tablespoon olive oil to a large, rimmed skillet ( if you're adding mozzerella later - ideally you want a handle-less pan , a la a Le Crueset.) Using kitchen shears, snip in the bacon (about half inch chunks) and cook over medium heat until cooked but not crisp - 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to a plate.

Add a couple more tablespoons olive oil to the pan (enough to coat) and add the chicken breasts, cooking 4-5 minutes per side until golden brown. Transfer to plate with the bacon and set aside. Add the onions, garlic, dried herbs and bay leaf to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and cook until onions soften and become translucent. Add pinch of sugar, stir in to incorporate, and cook for one more minute.

Add the wine to the pan, and raise heat if necessary to bring to a boil. Allow to come to a full, raging boil for a few minutes, then lower heat slightly so that it's still bubbling away but not as violently. Keep over a low boil, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes or as long as it takes to reduce to just a few small spoonfuls worth (as mentioned, you'll basically be left with a bunch of purple onions in a tiny bit of liquid.)

Add the tomato paste, tomatoes (with and without juice), and another pinch of sugar. Stir in to incorporate, then season with a little more salt and pepper. Again - raise the heat if necessary to bring to a boil, and boil away stirring occasionally until you've got a sauce on your hands. You will know you've got a sauce when you're no longer staring at the watery mess in the pan wondering how on God's earth it will ever become a sauce. Suddenly it will thicken and leave a wake behind your stirring spoon - somewhere around the ten to fifteen minute mark. Once this happens, add the bacon back into the sauce as well as the chicken and any juices from the plate. Stir in and let meld over low heat another 20 minutes or so (if sauce is evaporating/reducing too much - just put a top on it)

At this point, top the chicken with thick, meaty slices of fresh mozzarella and put the entire skillet in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, until cheese is melted. (IF MAKING SANDWICHES, ADD 2 SOFT WHOLE WHEAT ROLLS OR MINI FRENCH BREAD LOAVES DURING THE LAST FIVE MINUTES ON A SEPARATE TRAY TO HEAT THROUGH. THEN SLICE IN HALF AND STUFF WITH CHEESE COVERED CHICKEN AND SPOON OVER EXTRA SAUCE.)

1 comment:

Haley said...

Oh dear Lord.... I need this sandwich right now! Seeing as I am actually living in Texas I think you should send me this new marinara/bbq sauce hybrid to test....