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Fast Food My Way: Chicken on Mashed Cauliflower with Red Hot Salsa

It sounds weird, right? I have to admit that's partly why I chose it; chicken and cauliflower with salsa? Really?

But it works. Crazy as it sounds, the combination is a good one. It's easy to put together, and the three elements work together to make a successful dish.

Of course, if you don't like cauliflower, this recipe isn't going to work for you. I think it's an underrated vegetable, myself. It can be quickly steamed or boiled, and then all it needs is a smidge of butter or oil, some salt and pepper, and voilà: a side dish that's versatile and tasty.

Pépin calls for a small (about 1 pound) head of cauliflower in this recipe, but I could only find larger, 2-pound heads, so I cooked the whole thing. I think that a smaller head of cauliflower might not actually make enough for 4 servings, so I recommend that you use the greater amount.

The chicken is shallow-poached on the stovetop, and doesn't get browned, so it's not terribly attractive all by itself. It needs to be covered with the salsa before it looks appealing. It stays nice and moist, however -- poaching is a good method to use when you want tender chicken.

The salsa is a subrecipe, and when I first read it, I thought perhaps Jacques Pépin was still too French to really get the idea of fresh salsa. He tells you to add ketchup! Wow, I thought. That'll never work.

I was wrong. The ketchup blends right into the salsa, intensifying the tomato flavor without screaming, "Hi, I'm ketchup!" The only thing I'd try differently next time would be perhaps to give the salsa a few pulses in a mini-chopper before serving it atop the chicken breasts. It's a fairly chunky-style salsa, and I think that a somewhat smoother sauce might be nice with this dish. But even as-is, the salsa tastes great and really livens up the chicken and cauliflower. Pépin doesn't use quite enough of it, however; the recipe as written in Fast Food My Way calls for 1/2 cup of Red Hot Salsa, meaning that there's only 1/8 cup for each serving of chicken and cauliflower. I've revised the recipe to use 1 cup, or nearly half, of the full Red Hot Salsa recipe, which yields 2 1/2 cups. Make the entire recipe, and then use as much as you like to flavor the chicken.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 head cauliflower, about 2 pounds
3 Tbsp butter
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 oz. each)
3 Tbsp water

For the sauce:
About 1 cup Red Hot Salsa (recipe below)
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch salt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives, optional

Bring about 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Remove the green leaves and central core from the cauliflower, and separate it into florets. Add the cauliflower florets to the boiling water, cover, and cook over high heat until very tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, and while the cauliflower is in the colander, use a knife to cut through the cauliflower to coarsely chop it. Return it to the pan, and add 2 Tbsp of butter and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Set aside until serving time.

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the remaining 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Arrange the breasts in a single layer in a skillet and add the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and the 3 Tbsp water. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside, covered, for 3 to 4 minutes longer to finish cooking. Don't peek, since you don't want to lose the residual heat in the pan.

For the sauce: Mix the salsa with the olive oil and salt. Pour whatever juices have collected around the chicken into the sauce and stir to combine. (If you want a smoother sauce, put it in a mini-chopper or food processor and pulse it a couple of times, just to make it slightly less chunky.)

To serve, divide the cauliflower among four plates. Slice each chicken breast in half, and arrange 2 halves on top of each bed of cauliflower. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, and sprinkle with chives, if desired.

Red Hot Salsa
2 cups diced (1/2-inch) ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup minced jalapeño or serrano pepper (use more or less depending to how hot you want the salsa)
1/3 cup chopped onion, rinsed under cold water (or use green onions, which need no rinsing)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp finely chopped or pressed garlic
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp water

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.



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