The other day, when I was trying to come up with a way in which to disguise chicken, I happened upon a bag of panko breadcrumbs at a local upscale grocery store. I’m not upscale, but I frequent the store because I like to see how the one-percent lives, and because it’s down the street from my house.
I picked up the bag of über-hip crumbs and detected tiny red and green specks in it. Always one to tackle a mystery, I read the label. The specks turned out to be sun-dried tomatoes and basil. The price was $4.99 for six ounces. At the time, that seemed reasonable, so I tossed the bag into my cart. Fortunately, sanity returned halfway down the aisle. Five dollars for breadcrumbs? I’m a person who refuses to pay $5 for a cup of fancy coffee, and I was going to pay that much for breadcrumbs? As I put the bag back onto its shelf, I remembered that I had sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and bread at home. I could make my own fancy-schmancy breadcrumbs.
One thing I didn’t have at home was panko. I wasn’t even sure what panko was. I had heard Hollywood chefs talk about it, but nobody from Hollywood was going to be eating my chicken. Multi-grain bread was good enough for my audience of two.
Once I got home, I soon learned that the cost of the breadcrumbs was mostly for labor. After toasting a loaf of bread and cutting it into cubes, I put half of the ingredients into my food processor and hit “grind.” No sooner had I pressed the button than the top of the food processor popped off and red-and-green-flecked bread cubes exploded up into the air and landed on my head.
After cleaning the kitchen, washing my hair, and donning a hockey helmet, I reloaded the machine with the remainder of the bread, tomatoes and basil and hit “grind” again. This time, I was rewarded with beautifully flecked, perfectly ground breadcrumbs. Visions of gloriously prepared chicken breasts danced before my eyes.
Inspired by my success, I put the bags of frozen french fries and peas back into the fridge and decided to make fresh side dishes. While the chicken baked, I whipped up fresh garlic mashed potatoes and lightly sautéed asparagus as accompaniments. I had outdone myself. In all honesty, outdoing myself only takes putting down the take-out menu and turning on the stove. But this time, I had prepared a restaurant-quality meal that wouldn’t come with a Supersize option.
I called my family to dinner. At the table. When they saw placemats and flatware set out, they asked if they had forgotten my birthday. I made a silent promise to restrict eating in the family room, and presented the chicken breasts, glistening with golden breadcrumbs speckled with green and red flavor flecks. I stood back to accept my due.
“Ooh, aah,” my husband said without a hint of sincerity. “Can I help you bring the potatoes and vegetables over to the table so that we can eat?” I took a deep cleansing breath. “Sure,” I said.
Everyone started with the potatoes, which galled me. But I waited patiently. I couldn’t exactly say, “Try the damned chicken, will you?” It would have ruined the experience. Instead, I tasted it. The combination of the tart tomatoes, earthy basil, crunchy breadcrumbs and juicy chicken was perfection. My mouth watered for another bite. My eyes watered from success.
Finally, my husband took a bite. Then he took another. Then another. The suspense was making me antsy. My son took a bite and said, “This is really good, Mom. Isn’t it, Dad?”
My husband nodded. “The chicken is cooked perfectly and the mashed potatoes are delicious. I’m just not a fan of the coating on the chicken.” He then proceeded to scrape the breadcrumbs off the chicken into a pile next to the asparagus.
I could have gone on a tirade, and perhaps I did, but I’m not going to admit it here. All that I will say is that from now on, one of us is getting plain breadcrumbs. And tomorrow, when I experiment with flavoring mayonnaise, that person certainly won’t be getting any pesto mayo on his sandwich.