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Lemon Fried Chicken with Tart Salad Topping
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
“Why on this night do we dip twice, and on other nights, we dip only once?” asks the youngest child as part of the Four Questions at the seder, seeking an explanation of the mysteries encoded in the ritual Passover meal.
And the head of the family answers that on this night we dip bitter herbs into haroset to remind us of the mortar the Jews used to build Pharaoh’s cities and the bitterness they suffered. We dip vegetables in salt water or vinegar to commemorate both the joy of spring and the tears of the Jewish slaves.
But when did we dip once? In ancient times, when the diet of the Jews comprised mainly bread--and heavy bread at that, often made from barley or other coarse grains--they dipped the bread in vinegar, onions, or bitter herbs (the maror of the seder plate) to make the leaden starch more palatable and more digestible.
Arugula was then collected wild by the poor. Purslane--a lemony-flavored, small-leafed green currently gracing mesclun salads--and cress were gathered and later cultivated by Jewish farmers. Jews dipped rough bread into the sharp greens or combined them into a sandwich. (In some Haggadahs, Ashkenazi Jews, unfamiliar with this erstwhile Mediterranean custom of dunking, have changed the question to “. . . and on other nights, we dip not at all?”)
“Lo, this is the bread of affliction,” the Haggadah refers to the matzoh. And after a few days of the coarse, unleavened bread in every guise imaginable, we too, like the ancients, need spring’s sharp greens coursing through systems now sluggish and logy.
In this adaptation of a popular Milanese dish, we reenact the dipping one more time: the crisp, matzoh meal-coated chicken is dipped into a salad of tart greens, tomato, and onion.
For the Cutlets
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil, for frying, plus 1 teaspoon
About 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 to 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken cutlets, trimmed of fat and gristle and pounded lightly to a uniform thickness
2 large eggs
1 cup matzoh meal, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
For the Salad
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes, diced (1 cup)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons fine-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sharp salad greens (such as arugula, watercress, endive, radicchio, sorrel, flat-leaf parsley, or purslane, or, preferably, a mixture of these), washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
Accompaniment: lemon wedges
Prepare the cutlets: In a large bowl, blend together the garlic, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken, toss to coat thoroughly with the mixture, and refrigerate to marinate, covered, for 1 to 2 hours. Or marinate in a resealable plastic bag. Turn the chicken occasionally in the marinade to ensure even flavoring.
Beat the eggs well in a wide shallow bowl or pie pan. Stir together the matzoh meal and lemon zest and spread on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate. Taking one cutlet at a time, dip it into the beaten egg, coating well on both sides. Let the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Dredge the cutlets on both sides in the matzoh meal mixture. To prevent loose crumbs from falling off and burning in the hot oil, pat the cutlets firmly on each side so the matzoh meal adheres, then place them on a rack and let stand for about 15 minutes to set the coating.
Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the cutlets (in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding the pan), and sauté them for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden and cooked through.
Transfer the cutlets as they are done to a paper towel--lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil, keeping them warm, if necessary, in a 200 degree F oven, until the rest are done.
Prepare the salad: In a bowl, combine the tomato, onions, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the greens and toss well.
Serve the cutlets topped with the salad, accompanied by the lemon wedges.
Cook’s Note: Divide the seasoned matzoh meal in half. When the first half becomes ragged with little clumps of egg from dredging the cutlets, replace with the reserved fresh half.