A few nights ago, Scott Conant’s daughter wanted a “very famous burger” from a “very famous fast-food restaurant” for dinner. His kids don’t really eat much processed food, so instead, he challenged himself to make a healthier version of the recipe at home.
The result? He says he did a pretty good job and that his daughter was content. Either way, it’s pretty fitting that Conant, who gained notoriety as a Food Network judge on such competition shows as Chopped, is put through the paces in his home kitchen.
“My family definitely challenges me in the kitchen more often than not,” confirms the award-winning chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author. “Those are the fun — and best — aspects that keep me on my toes.”
And that’s just the way he likes it. For Conant, who owns Mora Italian in Phoenix and the Italian-inspired steakhouse Cellaio in the Catskill region of upstate New York, time spent in the kitchen and around the table with family is sacred. It’s what defined his childhood growing up in New England with his Southern Italian grandparents, what inspired him to pursue a career in the food industry, and what defines his daughters’ childhood today.
“[The table] is where I’ve watched my children grow up and where I’ve watched my parents grow old,” says Conant, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and two daughters. “I’ve always been a bit of an observer, watching the conversations and how they have evolved over the years between my kids and my family. That has affected my life profoundly.”
While the life of a restauranteur means he’s often away, Conant cooks as much as possible when he’s home. One staple at the Conant table is the humble chicken cutlet. Pounded thin, coated with seasoned flour and breadcrumbs, and then shallow-fried until crispy, it’s Conant’s all-time favorite thing to eat. He’s proud to say that his daughters are 100 percent on team chicken cutlet, too. The challenge (there’s that word again) he faces is how to prepare the dish in a way that serves up variety — and some vegetables.
An answer is this recipe for chicken cutlets with burrata and melted baby-tomato sauce, from his latest cookbook Peace, Love, and Pasta: Simple and Elegant Recipes from a Chef’s Home Kitchen. Conant originally prepared the dish on the Today Show, and after getting positive viewer feedback, decided to make it for his daughters. They loved it and it has since become a key player in their family dinner rotation.
The recipe deceptive in its simplicity, pulling together a delicious array of flavors and textures with a few perfectly balanced elements: crispy chicken and creamy burrata, with a tart hit from the tomatoes. Conant says to think of it as a riff on chicken Parmesan that has better flavor because of the melted sauce and milky acidity brought in from the cheese. It’s also, he points out, easier to prepare because the cutlet doesn’t need to return to the oven after the cheese is added.
Challenge accepted. Here’s how to make it.
Chicken Cutlets With Burrata and Melted Baby-Tomato Sauce
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
4 cups (320 g) panko
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
4 boneless chicken thighs or breasts, pounded 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick with a meat mallet
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (½ stick/55 g) unsalted butter
4 to 5 sprigs thyme
1 recipe Melted Baby-Tomato Sauce (see below)
1 cup (100 g) burrata, at room temperature
In a shallow bowl combine the flour and a pinch of salt. In a second shallow bowl, beat the eggs with a splash of water and a pinch of salt. In a third shallow bowl, combine the panko, oregano, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Lightly sprinkle salt over the chicken thighs, then dredge one seasoned chicken thigh in the flour, making sure to coat both sides evenly. Shake off excess flour, then dip the thigh into the seasoned egg wash, making sure to coat both sides evenly. Let excess egg mixture drip off then dip the thigh into the panko mixture, pressing down to coat the chicken thoroughly with the breadcrumb mixture on both sides. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the chicken.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan set over medium heat and add the breaded chicken cutlets, working in batches if necessary. Cook until the breading is golden brown on the bottom, 7 to 9 minutes, then flip and add the butter and thyme to the pan. Cook the second side of the cutlets until golden brown, basting with the browning butter, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate and lightly sprinkle salt over each one. Repeat until all the cutlets have been fried.
Divide the cutlets among four dinner plates. Spoon melted baby-tomato sauce over the top, then add a few spoonfuls of burrata on top of the tomatoes. Season with additional salt to taste and serve immediately.
Melted Baby-Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3½ cups (840 ml)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic
½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups (580 g) mixed cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
In a sauté pan, heat the oil slightly over low heat. Add the garlic slices, oregano, and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds. Before the garlic has taken on any color, add the cherry tomatoes to the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, season with a pinch of salt, and continue to sauté as the tomatoes release their juices. Once the juices and the pectin from the tomatoes have combined with the oil and have started to form a nice sauce (about 8 to 10 minutes), stir in the basil. Remove from heat and adjust the seasoning with salt. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days, until ready to use.