Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato and Chicken Panini with Tarragon Aioli
Much of the satisfaction I get from cooking is from the happiness it brings to the people to whom it is served. I try not to be too freaky about it, but I am always watching and waiting as I serve a meal, impatient to know, do they like it? Actually for me they have to love it. Unless the words delicious or amazing are mentioned, the recipe never gets made again. When I got engaged and moved into my first apartment, I was extremely delighted to have an eternal taste tester/victim, subject to all my concoctions. In the first few weeks, hours were spent planning meals and sorting through recipes and ideas. I think I called my husband every day for a month to ask about the review of the day’s lunch, often becoming severely aggravated if it had not yet been eaten, keeping me awaiting the consensus. But even after all the people I had catered for and taught, family, friends and strangers alike, I had yet to impress my new customer to my satisfaction standards. Then came the night of true betrayal. I remember the dish he ordered, a goat cheese stuffed pork chop in a wine reduction, at a high-end restaurant we had never been to before. One bite in and he uttered a sentence I will never forget, ” this is the best thing I have ever tasted.” Needless to say, years have gone by and lunch nowadays is often the frozen type. But the challenge to satisfy my toughest customer is not over; I will never attempt THOSE particular pork chops, but I do attempt to recreate meals we order out that receive these special comments. It’s a jealously thing, I try until I can replicate the dish, or better yet, make it tastier in my own way. This panini is one of his “favorites” at one of our favorite restaurants, and for good reason, its one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. Making this at home is not easier or better or cheaper than ordering it in, but it is a challenge I had to take. I feel I have adequately met the challenge, will share it with you since you do NOT have access to this restaurant and will now return to ordering it in on nights when I am feeling lazy. I still refuse to attempt THOSE pork chops, the memory is still too painful…
Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise. You can make it from scratch. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I add garlic to good quality store-bought mayonnaise and I call it aioli.
To make the tarragon “aioli”:
- 3/4 cup organic olive oil mayonnaise
- 1/4 clove of garlic ( I don’t like it too pungent in this recipe)
- 1 bunch of tarragon, minced
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor or mortar and pestle combine ingredients until thoroughly combined and homogenous.
For the panini: Serves 2 as the main entrée or 4 with soup or salad
- 3/4 cup tarragon aioli ( see above )
- 4 thinly sliced chicken cutlets from 1 large chicken breast
- flour, beaten eggs and fresh breadcrumbs for breading ( about 1-2 cups of each)
- canola oil for frying
- 1 small red onion, sliced paper-thin using a mandoline or very sharp knife
- 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
- 2 plum tomatoes, sliced thinly
- 2 large square artisan/rustic/bakery rolls – the good crusty kind
Prepare a breading station by placing flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in separate shallow containers. Season each with salt and pepper. Place each thin slice of chicken in between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet. Remove plastic wrap and bread the cutlets by dipping in flour, then egg and finally in breadcrumbs. Lay cutlets on a cooling rack over a sheet pan and leave uncovered for 20 minutes to allow the breading to dry. In the meantime prepare the other ingredients. Heat enough canola oil in a saute pan to reach 1/4 of the way up. Fry the cutlets until golden brown. Lay on paper towels to remove excess grease. Cut the rolls in half diagonally and then cut each half horizontally so you have 8 pieces total.
Spread tarragon aioli on each piece of bread. Then give 4 pieces tomato and the other 4 sliced onion. Top the onion pieces with chicken and mozzarella. The order doesn’t REALLY matter but I have found the tomato on one end provides nice moisture and the onion on the other side gets mellow when next to the cheese. The cheese also helps to hold the chicken onto the top piece of bread.
If you have a fancy sandwich press or a George Foreman grill, you know what to do from here. If not, do as I did: Place sandwiches in a lasagna size pan and top with another pan of the same size. Place something heavy and oven safe (dutch oven,heavy pot,brick) on top to press it down and bake at 350 until crisp – about 15 minutes.
– The Cooking Teacher