Tuscan Butter Chicken (Pollo al Burro)
A few years ago I did a railway tour of Italy. I did it mainly because I hadn't been to Italy before and choosing one city to visit proved too difficult, so I thought 'fuck it, save up and see them all' - or major ones anyways.
It's hard to say which city was my favourite, each city had their own character and their respective regions had their own cuisine. Italian cuisine is fiercely regional. Each region has its own ingredients and staple meals which suit their terrain and climate, and region-to-region, Italy can vary greatly in these! This Italian dish, which is relatively unknown compared to the likes of carbonara and lasagne, comes from Tuscany, and embodies the Tuscan way of eating.
Tuscany is a huge countryside province consisting mainly of farmland. A lot of Tuscan families were generally poor and lived off a diet of home-grown vegetables. Meats were considered a luxury and so you won't find a lot of meat in Tuscan cuisine, especially red meat. Families that could afford to keep some livestock would usually keep a small number of chickens, and so you will find chicken dishes more so than red meat dishes. Milk was ready available, and so you encounter a lot of dairy in Tuscany - including excellent butter. Pollo al Burro is the embodiment of Tuscan produce, and as typical to Italian cuisine, is very simplistic, but bountiful in flavour. It really is all about the produce, not the skill.
I had this dish in Florence, in a small trattoria called 'Trattoria Sostanza'. it's the ultimate place I recommend eating if you visit Florence. Try and book ahead as it is very small and fills up fast. It's not fine-dining at all, and the place it a little pared back - I love that. There's no BS. If you want to go to the toilet you have to walk through the chef's kitchen - there's no veil between chef and food, which is the way it always ought to be with eating. I ordered this dish, Pollo al Burro, which involved lightly battered chicken breasts, cooked in bath of searing hot dairy butter infused with garlic and oily herbs. It's cooked and served in a bashed-up metal bowl. The resulting dish of food is golden and incredibly rich - perfect with fresh bread and dark green vegetables.
TUSCAN BUTTER CHICKEN (POLLO AL BURRO)
- 2 chicken breasts (free-range, this dish is all about best quality chicken)
- 1 free range egg
- 3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
- 2 heaped tablespoons of ground semolina (optional)
- 150g salted butter (or unsalted with salt to taste)
- 1 clove garlic
- Few springs of fresh rosemary and thyme
- Black pepper and salt to taste
- To start with, preheat an oven to 180C - now prepare the butter bath. ideally you need a dish which is hob-suitable and oven suitable, so you can easily transfer between the two. In Florence it was served in a bashed-up metal dish - I use a mess tin, like the ones you use for camping! Place 150g of the cubed butter into the tin and heat gently on the hob until melted.
- While the butter is gently bubbling, prepare two bowls: add an egg to one and beat lightly, and to the bowl other add plain flour and ground semolina (the semolina is optional, it adds a nice golden sweetness to the batter, if you don't have it, 3 tablespoons of flour is just fine).
- Dip each chicken breast into the flour mixture to gently coat, then dip briefly into the beaten egg, and then back into the flour mixture to coat. Place on a sheet of tinfoil while you bread the other chicken breast.
- The butter should be gently seething and bubbling. Add 3 whole cloves of garlic into the butter, you can leave the skin on, but just press it under your hand to crush it. Add in a few springs of thyme, and a leafy sprig of rosemary. Some fresh sage is also nice in the autumn/winter. Add the chicken breasts into the bubbling butter and maintain a medium heat for about 5 minutes. The butter doesn't have to cover the chicken completely.
- After 5 minutes, turn the chicken breasts over to allow the other side to cook. Immediately transfer the dish to the oven to cook for 15 minutes. This ensures a slow, gentle cook and allows the butter to caramelise and intensify in flavour. The resulting chicken should be golden and lightly crisp.
- Serve in the dish you cooked it in with fresh, crusty bread, and some dark green vegetables. My favourite are wilted spinach with nutmeg or some blanched kale in winter.