Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Turkey cutlet and purple mushrooms

No, they weren't some crazy controlled substance. It's just that sliced button mushrooms turn purple if you cook them in a red wine sauce.

Easter isn't one of the big holidays in my house, but it does provide an excuse to cook a nice meal. I pulled a turkey cutlet out of the freezer, thawed it and cobbled dinner together. I drew on Mark Bittman's recipe for "Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Quick Sauce" for inspiration (the recipe can be found in How to Cook Everything). The main impulse for the meal, however, was my idea of what might work; the recipe served as a useful sounding board for my ideas rather than the blueprint for the dish.

I began by melting some butter in the big skillet. Then I seared the cutlet on both sides over higher heat. I lowered the heat and sauteed the meat until it had cooked through but still had a bit of pink in the middle. I then set the oven to 200 degrees F and put the cutlet inside on a baking sheet to keep it warm while I made the sauce. Better underdone than overdone at this stage, according to Bittman.

Some more butter went into the skillet and then I sauteed the mushrooms until they had darkened. Then the wine (Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon) went into the skillet along with some chicken stock (half a cup each). I added salt and pepper to taste, as well as about a teaspoon of crushed fresh rosemary. In the initial stages, the sauce tasted somewhat thin, but as it cooked down, it got more intense in flavor.

In the meantime, I had cooked some spinach fettuccini. As the sauce reduced, I pulled the cutlet out of the oven and put it on the plate along with the fettuccini; it had produced some juice while sitting in the oven, so I added the juice to the skillet. That did the trick of adding a little something extra to the sauce's flavor. I let the sauce reduce a bit more, then poured it over the cutlet and the pasta.

The most startling thing about the result was the intense purple color of the mushrooms. It was the sort of tint you'd expect from a bottle of food coloring. Then again, anyone who's ever tried to get a red wine stain out of fabric might be forgiven for thinking that that's precisely what red wine is. Despite the brightness of the color, the flavor was less intense than a previous red wine sauce I've made using Zinfandel; no surprise there, I suppose. Next time I try something like this, I might add some balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for a more complex flavor.

The cutlet itself had a nice crisp browned coating but was tender and just slightly moist inside; just the right consistency. Its plain flavor made a good foil for the sauce and pasta. It made a fine meal for a special occasion, and wasn't half bad as a dish cooked mostly off the cuff.

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