Stick to baseball, 9/2/17.

For Insiders this week, I wrote four pieces. I broke down the Astros’ trade for Justin Verlander and the Angels’ trade for Justin Upton. I put up scouting notes on prospects from the Yankees, Phillies, Jays, and Rangers. And I looked at five potential prospect callups for September. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

At Vulture this week, I looked at five major Game of Thrones-themed boardgames, not just reskinned games but several original titles like the excellent GoT Card Game. For Paste, I reviewed the Tour de France-themed boardgame La Flamme Rouge, which is light and good for family play. And here on the dish I reviewed the strong app version of the two-player game Jaipur, a steal at $5.

I’m trying something new this week, and if you find it useful I’d appreciate your feedback. I get a lot of press releases on boardgames from publishers, so I’m including the best of those at the end of this run of links along with boardgame-related news items. These will include Kickstarter announcements that look interesting to me, and if I’ve seen a game at all I’ll indicate it in the blurb.

This is your regular reminder that my book Smart Baseball is available everywhere now in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook formats. Also, please sign up for my free email newsletter, as my subscriber count is down one after I removed that one guy who complained about the most recent edition and called me a “tool.”

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/27/17.

My one Insider piece this week was on Luis Robert, his deal with the White Sox, and the poor history of Cuban position player free agents. I did not hold a Klawchat, and will have another mock draft up on Tuesday.

Smart Baseball continues to sell well and I am very grateful to all of you who purchased it. I have about 100 signed bookplates that I can send out to readers who’ve bought the book, and I’ll get that info to everyone soon – probably in my next email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Chicken cutlets (The grade 20 cook, part one).

My latest mock draft is up for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat this afternoon to discuss it. I also appeared on the Dbacks Insider podcast (direct link to mp3) with my friend and former colleague Steve Berthiaume to talk about the Dbacks’ options at the first pick.

A friend of mine confessed to me recently that he’s completely incompetent in the kitchen – a “(grade) 20 cook,” in his terms, and asked me for a suggestion on a book or even a few go-to recipes for someone with kids who wants to learn how to cook. I made a few suggestions from my cookbook recommendations post, but was thinking about the most basic, extensible meal I make that most kids would like. The answer kind of came from my own childhood, even though I’ve modified the recipe from the way my mom made them: chicken cutlets. Here’s my recipe, written and explained for someone who has as much experience as a cook as Craig Counsell and Dan Jennings had as managers.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are derided by most chefs, for good reason – they have no taste of their own (unless you’re buying heirloom or pasture-raised birds), and because the meat is so lean, it dries out very quickly. Most cooking methods do more damage than good, as the protection provided by the skin and bone is lost. You can marinate it in something strong (citrus works well, like orange-garlic-soy) and grill it, but you almost have to undercook it and let carryover finish. But chicken breast meat fries beautifully, especially if you break the breasts down into a more amenable shape.

Chicken cutlets are thinly sliced pieces of breast meat, ideally pounded slightly to give them even thickness. I season them, dip them in beaten egg, and then press them into panko bread crumbs before pan-frying them. They require no particular skill and no specialized equipment. You don’t even have to measure anything.

Most good supermarkets sell chicken breasts already sliced into cutlets, and any butcher should do that for you on request. If you have a good chef’s knife and a steady hand, you can buy boneless skinless breasts and cut them into cutlets yourself; it’s a horizontal cut, parallel to the cutting board, and therefore more dangerous than most knife cuts you’ll undertake. I typically get three cutlets from a half breast, two the length of the breast half and one smaller one sliced off the top. However you get your cutlets, you want to pound any thicker parts out so that each cutlet is as close as possible to a uniform thickness. I have a metal mallet for this, but a ceramic custard cup or even flat-bottomed mug or glass will work too (cover the meat with plastic wrap before pounding). If you buy whole breasts, however, make sure you pull off the tenderloins, the narrow pieces on the underside of the breasts. You can cook them as you would the cutlets, but you have to do it separately.

Season each cutlet liberally with salt (preferably coarse) and pepper. You can add other seasonings if you’d like; paprika works well, including smoked Spanish paprika, as does cumin. Michael Ruhlman has a similar recipe in his book Egg where he coats the cutlets with Dijon mustard before they hit the egg wash, but I haven’t tried this yet. Any dried spice will work well here because it will get to bloom when hitting the hot oil.

Now set up your assembly line. In a wide-bottomed bowl, beat two eggs until well combined, as if you were going to scramble them, adding a pinch of salt before you beat them. Take a dinner plate and spread a layer of panko bread crumbs over it – you can use other bread crumbs but panko gives a superior texture.

For the cooking vessel, I use a 12-inch cast-iron skillet; both iron and oil are poor conductors of heat but excellent insulators, so once hot, they’ll hold their heat well. You can use any skillet or saute pan that is deep enough to keep the oil from splashing or spilling over the sides. Pour about ½ inch of oil into the skillet – olive oil is the best for flavor, but anything would work, even shortening or duck fat or beef tallow if that’s how you roll although I admit I’ve never tried the last two – and heat it over medium to medium-high heat until you can see the surface of the oil shimmering and perhaps even catch a wisp of smoke. (It’s about 350 degrees F.)

Once the oil is at temperature, you’ll need to work quickly, so you want all of that setup ready before you turn on the stove. Take each cutlet, dip it in the egg wash, hold it up for a few seconds to let the excess drip back into the bowl, then press each side into the bread crumbs. Lay it gently in the pan – don’t let it drop unless you enjoy getting hot oil all over you. You should hear sizzling immediately; if you don’t, the oil isn’t hot enough. Fit no more than three cutlets in the pan at once, often stopping at two, because each cutlet you add drops the oil temperature, and crowding the pan will result in the chicken steaming rather than frying. If the oil is at the right temperature, the cutlets will require about two minutes per side; at 90 seconds, check by lifting up a corner with tongs or a spatula, flipping them (gently!) if the bread crumbs are a deep golden brown.

Tongs are ideal, but if you use a spatula, the safe way to flip anything in a saute pan or skillet is to use a fork or second spatula on the other (raw) side to hold it up against the first spatula. Just don’t confuse the utensils: Once something has touched raw chicken, it can’t touch anything that’s cooked.

When you remove the cooked cutlets from the skillet, you have two options. If you’re serving them immediately, move each cutlet to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off some of the excess oil, then serve. You can also hold them in a warm (200 F) oven on a sheet pan if you need to wait a half-hour or so before serving. They keep well as leftovers; reheat them in a 350 degree oven rather than the microwave to restore the crispness of the exterior. One serving suggestion of many: Top them with fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and some crushed red pepper and serve them on a crusty baguette.

Chicken with bitter orange marmalade.

This recipe happened largely because of Paddington.

I’ve been reading my daughter one chapter of Paddington a night for the past few weeks – we’re about to start book four, Paddington At Large – and she kept asking about marmalade, since she’d never had any. Of course, I read a book set in London that involves marmalade and I think true English marmalade, which is made with bitter oranges (like Sevilles), so I pick up a few blood oranges (also bitter, but I think less so than Sevilles) and make some gorgeous but definitely bitter orange marmalade, which my daughter, of course, does not like. So now I have nearly two pints of the stuff and no idea what to do with it.

My first thought was duck breasts, but I’m the only one in the house who’d eat those, but I know orange and chicken go quite well together too, so I bought a whole broiler-fryer (which usually means a bird between three and five pounds; this one was about four and a half) and decided to somehow put the orange marmalade and the bird together. I took some inspiration from Richard Blais’ lemon curd chicken recipe (from Try This at Home) and an old Jamie Oliver recipe that put a compound butter with herbs and lemon zest under the chicken skin and made a compound butter with orange marmalade.

This recipe is a little rougher than most of mine, for which I apologize but, for better or worse, this is how I cook these days. You may choose to brine the chicken first, a process that I find helps the white meat a bit but does nothing for the dark meat; pulling the chicken at or before the breasts reach 160 degrees will still result in moist white meat without requiring that extra step.

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup to 1 cup bitter orange marmalade
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kosher salt or more as needed
1 chicken, 3-5 pounds, without which this recipe would not make much sense

1. Make the compound butter: Combine the butter, marmalade, thyme, pepper, and coriander in a food processor until well-mixed. If the mixture is too soft, chill briefly in the refrigerator; you want it to be soft enough to rub over the chicken, but not pourable.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Clean the bird and pat dry with paper towels. Loosen the skin gently with your hands, down to the joints that connect the thighs to the drumsticks.

3. Season the bird liberally inside and out with salt. No salt = no taste.

4. Place the chicken in a roasting pan. Rub the compound butter all over the chicken, mostly under the skin and over the breast and thigh meat, saving about a fourth to a third of the butter to rub over the outside. If you get any butter on the sides of the pan, which I do every single time I roast a whole chicken and put butter or lemon curd in it, wipe it off with a damp paper towel, unless you enjoy scrubbing with steel wool. Pour a cup of water in the bottom of the pan to avoid smoke from the drippings. You can also stuff an aromatic like half an onion or lemon in the cavity of the bird.

5. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Turn the heat down to 325 and continue roasting until the breast meat measures 158-160 degrees. You’ll get a few degrees of carryover when you pull the bird from the oven. If the bottom of the pan becomes dry at any point during the roasting, add a little more water – you don’t want that stuff to burn because it’s the foundation for a good, quick gravy.

6. Optional: If you want to make a gravy or sauce, deglaze the pan with white wine or brandy, then boost it with some chicken stock and simmer hard until reduced by about half. You can thicken this with any starch you like; I love tapioca starch because it’s clean on the palate and easy to integrate. For any starch but flour, just dissolve 1 tsp or so in 2 tsp of water, then whisk into the hot liquid. Flour is best integrated with fat, so knead it into some softened butter and whisk it in. Add lemon juice, 1-2 tsp, and salt or pepper to taste.

Sear-roasted chicken breasts with orange-brandy sauce.

Chat today at 1 pm. Yesterday’s hit on the Herd is now online (and already out of date!).

I’ve adapted this recipe from the February 2009 issue of Fine Cooking – my favorite cooking magazine, and the only one I’ve received over the last five years – with a few tweaks and fixes, although the core concept is the same. It helps to brine the chicken ahead of time, but I don’t think that’s strictly necessary, since the sauce itself has so much flavor. The dish is excellent over couscous (we use whole wheat), which soaks up any excess sauce on the chicken. With about five minutes to go in the oven, I’ll throw some asparagus spears, sliced into two-inch lengths, into the pan and toss to coat in the pan juices and rendered chicken fat, then let the asparagus finish roasting with the chicken.

The recipe would also work great with salmon; skip the brine, sear 3 minutes on the flesh side, then flip and roast until cooked through.

1 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, split into two halves*
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (navel or Valencia)
3 Tbsp salt
1 cup water

1 medium shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup total)
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brandy or cognac
1 (more) cup orange juice
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 orange, peeled and sliced into segments

*Yes, your butcher can split this for you, but if you own a chef’s knife, just flip the whole breast over and do it yourself to save a few dimes.

1. Combine 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup water, and salt, stirring until dissolved. (You can also heat 1/2 cup of water, dissolve the salt in it, then cool it down with ice to end up with a cup of water.) Place the chicken breasts in the brine for one to two hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken breasts from the brine and pat dry. Season with salt and black pepper. In an oven-safe skillet or saute pan, heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil until hot but not smoking, and sear the chicken, skin side down, until well browned, 4-5 minutes. Flip and sear on the second side until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Place entire skillet in the oven and roast until 160 degrees in the center, 15-20 minutes.

3. Remove the skillet from the oven and place on a stove burner. Take the chicken out of the pan and place on a plate, under tented foil, to rest. Drain all fat from the pan and add 2 Tbsp butter and the shallot to the pan. Cook over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan (I use a wooden spatula) to remove all browned bits.

4. When the shallots have softened, turn off the heat and add the brandy. Return to medium heat and cook until most of the brandy has disappeared from the pan. Add 1 cup orange juice and cook over medium-high at a brisk simmer until thickened and reduced by half, then add the chicken broth and cook until thickened again.

5. Turn off the heat and add the parsley, 1 Tbsp butter, and orange segments, swirling to mount the butter in the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sauce over sliced chicken.

Chicken Paillards with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

A simple main course that comes together in 20-30 minutes. To make it a little more luxuriant, start by chopping 3-4 slices of bacon and rendering it in the skillet, using the fat to cook the chicken and adding the bacon pieces to the final dish.

1 pound chicken breast, sliced into paillards (scallopine) and/or tenderloins
Flour to coat
2 Tbsp vodka
¼ cup chicken broth
¾ cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp fresh strained lemon juice
3 Tbsp chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 200°.
2. Heat about 2 Tbsp of olive or vegetable oil in a large skillet.
3. Pat the chicken paillards dry. Season with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess. Working in batches, pan-fry them for roughly two minutes per side until browned on the outside and just barely cooked through. Hold them in the oven while you prepare the sauce.
4. Drain any remaining fat from the pan and turn off the heat. Deglaze the pan with the vodka, scraping quickly to dissolve any fond, and then add the chicken broth (before the pan goes dry) and boil until reduced by about half.
5. Add the lemon juice, tomatoes, and cream and heat through. Return the chicken to the pan, spooning the sauce over the meat. Top with parsley, season with salt and pepper, and serve with pasta or rice.