Sunday, June 08, 2008

Alas, not for crabs...

This year, it is unlikely that we'll get together to do the family crab feast, at least from what I've been told so far. Part of the reason for this is that the crab stock in the Chesapeake Bay is dwindling and so crabs have gotten more expensive and are smaller. One solution, the press has noted is to let the Bay rest for a year so that the crabs can come back. I'd gladly hold off for a summer, if it meant I could have some to eat the next year.

This raises the question, though: How to get one's Old Bay fix? Just opening the can brings back memories of crabfeasts past and boiled shrimp cooked in these spices. The smell is like a great sailing day on the Chesapeake Bay with the cool wind mingling with the salty water on one's face. It just smells like my old summer camp - with the added bonus of there being no jellyfish around.

When going through my mother's recipe file a few years ago, I discovered this dish. It came about long after I'd moved out of my parent's home, but it seemed to be come a new favorite. It wouldn't have made it to the card file if no one had enjoyed it. I wish I could have found the author of it, but the Internet couldn't turn up the source.


It comes from The Washington Post "Food" section. Each week, they feature a speedy, flavorful meal to put together for dinner. I've pulled quite a few of their suggestions and prepared each successfully. I have to applaud their recipe-tester for this. I've had almost no misses in that category and have come up with some new favorites.

In this dish, the spices mingle with the Old Bay and cornmeal to create a light but spicy coating for the chicken. The meat ends up having a nice kick to it. The cucumber-yogurt-sour cream sauce cools it down for a great counterpoint. I wouldn't say that this meal is kid-friendly, but it might bring to mind summers spent on the Eastern Shore for Mom and Dad.

Old Bay Chicken with Cool-As-A-Cucumber Sauce

Prep-time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 adults

Sauce Ingredients:
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely shredded
1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt (Greek yogurt is best)
1/4 c. low-fat sour cream
1/4 c. minced fresh chives OR
2 Tbsp each minced green onions and minced fresh dill
salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Assembly:
Shred cucumber on the large side of a box grater. Don't worry if seeds get in there. To remove seeds entirely, cut cucumber in half prior to grating it and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Squeeze liquid out of shredded cucumber and put into a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the salt, pepper and cayenne. Fold together. Sparingly add the remaining three ingredients. This may be prepared ahead and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld together. Stir again before serving.


Chicken Ingredients:
1/4 c. cornmeal
2 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
4 boneless chicken breast halves, sliced into strips
2/-3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Assembly:
Mix together everything except for the chicken and the oil.


Dredge (i.e., dunk in the spices and completely coat) the chicken breast strips in the dry ingredients. I actually did a double coating for this step.


Heat oil in heavy pan. Place chicken in pan and cook for 3-5 minutes per side until the strips are cooked completely through. A cast iron pan is great for this and makes the dish one that you could even cook outdoors on a grill, rather than heating up your house.

Serve immediately, with cucumber-yogurt-sour cream sauce on the side.

Buon appetito!

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