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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Pricey picatta can be cooked on cheap

Years ago, my wife and I travelled with an employer and his wife to the Bahamas for a business trip, which was a lovely five days at The Atlantis on Paradise Island in Nassau. The goal was to observe the hospitality facets of this massive property and to help us gauge how to improve things at the property in Ocean City.
After the first four days of eating on-campus, I convinced everyone to eat lunch at Fish Fry, a small gathering of restaurants in Nassau that attracted tourists and Bahamians alike. I kept asking the locals where they ate (surely they didn’t venture to The Atlantis for their dining-out adventures), and in unison they mentioned Fish Fry.
It was here that I learned how to shuck live conch, although I didn’t do it myself. All you need is a hammer with a claw and a boning knife and – voila! – your scorched conch (a Bahamian specialty) is shortly at hand.
We happened upon the food village at 10 a.m., and I was excited to try some indigenous foods. The only place that was open was a little conch shack and there were already four or five locals sitting, eating and drinking Kalik Beer.
The others in our party were fine with waiting for Goldie’s, so I went to a bar stool alone, ordered a Kalik and “whatever they’re having.” Everyone laughed, because the house specialty was literally one item: scorched conch.
I watched, sipping my beer, as the gentleman behind the counter gracefully shucked the conch, cleaned it and then delicately smashed it with a tenderizing mallet. In hindsight, I think it was the head of a sledgehammer, but you get the gist. The conch was then finely cut and doused with a Scotch Bonnet hot sauce, sour orange and lime – as simple as it gets.
It was delicious.
But this story is not about conch. Nor is the picture that of scorched conch. But it all happened on the same trip. In fact, it was the chicken upon which I dined that motivated me to get off The Atlantis campus to try some local foods.
On our third night in the Bahamas, we ate at the property’s Italian restaurant, a sister property to the flagship in Manhattan. I ordered the chicken scaloppine with lemon and butter, a close second to my favorite Italian dish, chicken picatta.
My employer was raving about the massive portion size of this dish at the New York location, enough to serve three people, so I was excited. But when the plate came – the plate that had a fairly steep $37 price tag – the serving was puny. There were maybe six ounces of chicken on the plate.
It was delicious, but I vowed to find out what exorbitant chicken prices the property must have been paying to rationalize the plate cost.
The next day, I introduced myself to the executive chef of the property who promptly set me up for a tour with his executive sous chef, Rosie. She was great and spared a better portion of her morning going through every restaurant and facility on property. I kept asking about chicken prices and she kept asking, but no one knew.
Finally, a purchaser was able to pull up the per-pound cost of boneless, skinless chicken breast at the property. It was a staggering $3.75. No, I did not type that incorrectly. The chicken dish had around a 5 percent food cost in the chicken. Even with the other ingredients, we’re talking about a 10-12 percent cost on the plate, well below the standard 26-36 percent in most restaurants. It was then that I was told that the property as a whole celebrated a 9 percent food cost.
It was a powerful lesson for me, in that I made the assumption that things are overly costly in an island economy. I asked my boss if I could charge so much for the portion and he just laughed. Not quite.
Years later, I still fondly remember that trip, and when it pops into my head, my thought doesn’t go straight to the chicken scallopine, but rather the picatta, the more evolved cousin to this magnificent dish that helps to keep memory and story alive.
Chicken Picatta
Serves 3, normal-sized portions
1# Chicken breast, boneless and skinless
Salt & Pepper
Flour, as needed
6 Tbsp. Grass-fed Butter
Olive oil as needed
1/2 c. Dry white wine
1/2 c. Brown chicken stock
3 Tbsp. capers
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
Minced Italian parsley
Slice chicken horizontally into thin slices and lightly pound with a mallet to tenderize.
Season chicken and dredge (lightly coat) with the flour.
Heat half of the butter in a pan on medium-high heat until sizzling subsides.
Add a touch of olive oil and add chicken carefully.
Cook until brown and turn, cooking for approximately another three minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
When all of the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and pour out fat, leaving the fond or goo at the bottom of pan.
When the pan is nice and hot again, deglaze with white wine and reduce by half, which will not take long.
Add stock and reduce again by half.
Add capers, lemon juice, zest and parsley and pull off heat.
Serve sauce on the chicken and that’s it.