By Chip Prehn
Cooking can be something of an inconvenience during the busiest times of the ecclesiastical year. For lay leaders and parish clergy, the fall is as busy as any other season. The program year has begun! The parish is back: meetings and follow-ups, conversations long and short, and the need to make careful preparations to ensure that things are done just the right way. Leaders face much hustle, bustle, and too little time to imagine what to prepare for dinner.
I should like to share one easy yet delicious recipe for a main course in the autumn. While one could make all the principal ingredients of this dish from scratch, and you could draft your own barnyard, free-ranging chicken for the cause, each of the following ingredients is found in grocery stores across America.
In the meat section of your local store, find pieces of “thinly cut” chicken breast. You may use pre-cut pieces of pork tenderloin (delicious!), but you will need to thin them out substantially by pounding them with a meat tenderizer. Put into your shopping basket limes or lime juice, butter (not margarine), brown rice, canned black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, flour, herbs (see below), and a large bottle of green tomatillo-based sauce (e.g. Herdes company). If you plan to serve margaritas with your dinner, use the mix you can find with the frozen orange juice, a good tequila, and orange liqueur. I always buy grated cheese, which you can use as flavorful garnish on the top of your entire affair.
Soak your thin chicken slices in a shallow pan of lime juice, then dredge the meat through herbed flour. Into the flour I always add: cumin, garlic powder, thyme, basil, cracked black pepper, a pinch of curry powder, and a wee bit of salt. A cup of white flour ought to do it. (In my cooking and dining, I do love to crack my own sea salt or the pink Himalaya stuff, but — guess what? My physician offers an important caveat: most of us do need the iodized salt for proper thyroid function.)
Put a cup of rice into a deep saucepan with two cups of water. Add a pinch of salt. When the water comes to a boil, put a top on the pan, turn the heat down very low, set your timer for 45 minutes, and do not touch that top until the timer goes off. Put your black beans into another saucepan, put on the top, and, in about 30 minutes (i.e., when your rice is about 15 minutes from being done, turn the heat on low. (If you do not have a gas stove, you can ask for that at Christmas.)
A large frying pan with a top is best for cooking the meat. While you soak the meat in lime juice and thoroughly flour it, you will raise very good heat under your frying pan and place about five thin slices of real butter thereupon. When the heat has produced the butter’s noisette (the hazel-nut color of Francophile tradition), put your chicken into the pan. You will need to turn your meat to the other side in about two minutes only.
Once your chicken is “done,” pour all of that green sauce into the pan, smothering your meat. I usually sprinkle some cayenne pepper over the concoction at this point. (My wife does not like the red pepper in this dish. Early in our otherwise happy marriage, she exclaimed, “[Expletive], Chip! You are the [expletive] King of Cayenne!” To this I replied that our just-born oldest son must then be the Prince of Pepper, the Duke of Garlic, the Earl of Oregano, etc. We were newlyweds then; now she is the Queen of Cayenne.)
Put the top on the pan and let the whole thing simmer for a short while, about 20 minutes. You’re almost done! Check your black beans. Do not pull the top off that rice yet. Get large dinner plates ready. If you can arrange some Rodrigo over your sound system (or the Rolling Stones), that would be a nice touch. Naturally, your spouse has assisted you by making a sumptuous salad. Since you’ve already poured the margaritas (very good for you if the tequila is of high quality), you don’t have to think about that again — unless your guests demand another round. You can pledge — lying — half the tequila this next time. (This will usually result in folks opting for another round.) You may now put your cheese in a bowl.
You are ready to serve. On each dinner plate, put a couple scoops of rice, a generous spoonful of black beans, a piece of chicken (or pork-loin), and the grated cheese.
You are serving “Pollo de La Gloria.” I named the dish for some friends with a ranch by that name in South Texas. I humbly submit that this Tex-Mex meal is utterly delicious. And it took you less than one hour to prepare and serve. You can’t beat that with a stick, and your dinner guests will enjoy the experience long after.