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Cover Up, Get Creative With Chicken

Almost everywhere you dine these days, cell phone camera flashes are part of the landscape. Self-described “foodies” capture the contents of their dinner plates at rapid speed, then anxiously post it to their Instagram page. I’ll admit, I’m sometimes guilty of photographing my food, but take it one step further and capture the menu. The description of a dish called Covered Up Chicken was my latest shot, leading to a new favorite and insight into the Wonderful World of Chicken.

But first, a little about the dish that started it all. I’ve made no secret of my dislike of pale, unadorned chicken. Before I ruffle the feathers of the state poultry association, let me reassure them - I highly recommend and, in fact, love cooking with chicken; however, seeing or touching it before it’s cooked to a golden brown is not my favorite part of the process. Naturally, I was intrigued by a dish called Covered-Up Chicken.

After ordering the dish, I learned it received its name by a “covering” of flour, spices, and a thin slice of mozzarella. As luck would have it, I was able to coax the chef into sharing his recipe, which I revised a little to suit my tastes.

I learned he’d first named his dish “Undercover Chicken,” but later tweaked the name. The humorous name caused me to search for other chicken recipes with offbeat names. To my surprise, I discovered more than 100 recipes vastly different from their basic fried or barbecued cousins.

Take, for instance, Butter Chicken, devised at an Indian restaurant in the 1950's. Just like it sounds, this rich dish is created by mixing chicken strips in a tomato-like gravy swimming with loads of butter and cream.

Back in our country, we have Chicken Vesuvio. A specialty of Chicago, it’s an Italian-American dish made from chicken and wedges of potato, celery, and carrots sautéed with garlic, oregano, white wine, and olive oil, then baked until the chicken's skin becomes crispy and golden.

Who wouldn’t love an Hawaiian haystack, better known as a Chicken Sundae? To make it, top sautéed rice with chopped chicken, chicken gravy, diced pineapple, diced tomatoes, Chinese noodles, cheese, and celery. Traditionally, each topping is prepared in its own dish and presented buffet-style, then piled sundae-style on top of the rice.

Less unique, but still one of my favorite ways to enjoy the ubiquitous bird is Orange Chicken. To make this tangy, crunchy dish, I coat chopped, battered, and fried chicken pieces in a sweet orange-flavored chili sauce and allow it to caramelize into a glaze. Served over a bed of fried rice and vegetables, it’s a tangy dish that satisfies my craving for something different.

Before automatically roasting, grilling, or frying, consider taking chicken to the next level. Transform it into a dish with a funny or at least, more exotic name. According to the Mississippi Poultry Association – and me – you won’t leave the dinner table hungry.

Covered Up Chicken

2 pounds chicken breasts, about 8 slices

2 bell peppers, thinly sliced

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon onion salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper,

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups chicken stock or broth, warmed, more if desired for sauce

8 slices of Mozzarella or favorite cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, onion salt, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper in a shallow baking dish. Season with salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and place in the flour-spice mixture, turning to coast lightly on both sides. Shake off excess.

Add coated chicken to the hot olive oil and sear until brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.

Add chopped peppers and onions to the oil remaining in the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are limp, 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour the remaining flour mixture from the baking dish into the skillet and stir to combine. Stir in the warmed chicken stock and increase heat to medium high. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat until the mixture simmers. Add the chicken and stir to combine with vegetables. Top each chicken breast with a slice of cheese, then transfer the skillet to the oven and cook about 30 minutes or until the temperature reads 165 degrees F when measured with an instant-read thermometer. Add additional warmed chicken stock or broth if desired to create more liquid for serving with a side dish.

Taste, add salt and black pepper as needed. Serve over rice, orzo, or favorite pasta.

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