Dan’s Chicken French

In response to requests from some of my readers, today I’m featuring my own Chicken French recipe. As many of you know, Chicken French is considered a regional dish from the Rochester NY area, and almost every Italian American restaurant in town serves their version of this popular dish. Interestingly, Lista’s never did have it on the menu. Possibly because the dish was relatively new in the mid 70’s and Lista’s closed its doors in 1980.

Since locally this dish is featured in Italian American restaurants, one might think it a traditional Italian dish. But from what I have learned it doesn’t appear in traditional Italian cookbooks or in the restaurants of Italy. Although articles have been written about the roots of the dish, there is still some controversy as to the origin. And it seems that Chicken French may be a dish that was created out of necessity.

In the 1950’s a dish called vitello alla francese — veal prepared in the French style — was being served in some upscale New York City restaurants. Similar to the traditional veal piccata, which is also made with a wine and butter sauce, vitello alla francese was made with the addition of lemon… and was dipped in an egg batter. This dish made its way upstate to the more casual Italian American restaurants and was generally called veal francese or simply veal french. Then in the 1970’s when the consumption of veal was being protested, some clever restaurateurs substituted the benign chicken breast for the controversial veal cutlet and voila — Chicken French was born!

Once Chicken French hit the local menus its popularity grew quickly and people soon found their personal favorite spots to dine on the dish. The recipes varied slightly from chef to chef and generally was determined by the use of the more assertive sherry versus the subtler white wine. And the ratios of wine to lemon to butter seemed to give one place advantage over the next. Although it is truly a matter of personal preference… I happen to like sherry wine and a bit more lemon in mine.

All that being said, I personally had never heard of Chicken French, let alone eaten it, until my Dad began his second career at Brockport College. Where it was, of course, a popular dish at the on-campus restaurant and catered banquets. 

The funny thing is, when I first learned to make Chicken French I just assumed it was called that simply because it was made like French Toast dipping the cutlet in egg batter and pan frying it.

A few notes before you use this recipe:

Remember chicken breasts come in all sizes, so if you are using those gigantic breasts from the Family Pack at Wegmans then you may want to butterfly them to make the meat easier to pound…and you need to pound the chicken. You want a thin cutlet so it cooks quickly and evenly, and by pounding the meat you will also break down any connective tissues that may cause the chicken to be tough.

As I mentioned above, I prefer to use a dry sherry wine for my chicken french. (Taylor is a good inexpensive choice for cooking.) Even a bottle of cooking sherry will do in a pinch. But if you happen to have a good dry white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc then by all means use that instead.

Fresh lemon juice is always the best choice — but the bottled stuff works in this recipe. And remember to adjust to your taste (you may want to only add half the lemon at first, taste and add more to suit your palate).

Make extra sauce if you’re serving guests. People like extra sauce, so think ahead and double the sauce ingredients (chicken stock, wine, lemon, butter) and cook some in a separate pan if needed. 

Dan’s Chicken French

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 generous servings

4 Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast Halves – pounded to 1/4 inch

1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
Salt and Black Pepper – to taste
2 Eggs – beaten
1 tsp Parsley Flakes
2 TBSP Olive Oil (more as needed)
4 TBSP Unsalted Butter – divided
1/4 cup Dry Sherry (or to taste)
1/4 cup Lemon Juice (or to taste)
1-2 cups Chicken Stock

1. Place chicken breast halves (one at a time) in a large zip top bag and pound with the flat side of meat mallet or other flat heavy object until they are about 1/4 inch thick and even.

2. In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk eggs with parsley flakes.
3. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil and 2 TBSP butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam. Swirl pan to combine oil and butter.
4. Dip each chicken portion into the flour mixture first, then into the egg mixture, and gently lay them into the skillet. Allow room to turn over. Add additional olive oil as needed.
5. Sauté the chicken breasts, turning over once, until golden brown about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the skillet and set on a large platter or baking pan.
6. In the same skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 2 TBSP butter, stir in the sherry, lemon juice, and 1 cup chicken stock. Bring the sauce to a simmer, dissolving any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet as you stir. Return the chicken breasts to the sauce, and gently simmer until no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Add additional chicken stock as needed.
7. Serve the Chicken French with any remaining sauce spooned over top.

There you have it, Dan’s Chicken French. A classic recipe that is both simple to prepare and elegant to serve. Served with some seasoned rice and a green vegetable (think broccoli, asparagus, or haricots verts) makes this an everyday meal. Presenting on a bed of angel hair pasta or sauteed greens will make it work even for special occasions. So I hope you get the chance to make it for your family or friends sometime soon. And don’t forget you should tweak the flavor by adjusting the amounts of sherry and/or lemon to suit your particular palate.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Bread… and more Bread



Like most Italian-American restaurants, Lista’s brought bread to the table before the salads and entrees… served in a napkin-lined basket with those little ‘pats’ of paper-wrapped butter on the side. It was actually French bread that we served — because the long, narrow loaves were easier to slice and they fit better in the small baskets. We also had this stainless steel bread warmer (about the size of a small microwave oven) with a lower drawer that held distilled water and an upper drawer that bread slices were placed in. On the side was a handle or lever (like a slot machine) that was pumped to produce steam which quickly warmed the bread so that when it was brought to the table it would easily melt the little butter pats.

Now as you can imagine, over the course of days, there would be some bread left over and since restaurateurs are a frugal lot, there was a need to find a use for day old bread.

So today I want to give you two simple recipes from Lista’s that helped us solve the bread problem, and may even help your family re-purpose that day old loaf sitting on your counter.

Introducing the Crouton!  Apparently created in 17th century France as a way to make stale bread more palatable, the crouton (or “little crust”) has been around for centuries.  (Ah, but in the early days of Lista’s, croutons were purchased in large boxes and they resembled the kind of thing that is sold at thanksgiving to make ‘stuffing.’ Not very appealing by today’s standards. Of course today we have become kind of ‘crouton snobby’ with umpteen different varieties and options on store shelves… but I digress.)

Somewhere along the timeline, Lista’s began making their own croutons and the resulting crunchy little bread cubes were so popular that customers would order them by the bowlful to munch on while waiting for their dinners.

At Lista’s we actually deep fried our croutons; after allowing the bread cubes to air-dry for some time, they were submerged in the deep-fat fryer until they were crispy and deep brown — then they were seasoned while still hot and allowed to come to room temperature before storing in airtight bins for use on salads, etc.

Since I prefer not to deep fry at home I have written the recipe with a stove top method. However, If you own a deep fryer, then by all means use it for the authentic experience. Unfortunately, baking the croutons really won’t give you the same results.

Lista’s Croutons

Prep time: 5 minutes – plus drying time up to 2 hours
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes: lots of croutons!

1/2 loaf Day-old French Bread – cut into 1/2″ cubes (about 3-4 cups)
1/2 cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin) – more as needed
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp Dry Parsley (optional)

1.  Cut day old bread into 3/4″ cubes using a serrated knife.  Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and allow to air dry for at least 2 hours.
2.  In a large deep skillet or frying pan — heat all the oil over medium heat.
3.  Add the dry bread cubes and stir to coat with oil — continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the bread cubes start to brown and get crunchy.  (When using a deep fryer follow manufacturers instructions to deep fry bread cubes at 350º F until golden brown and crispy – drain on paper towels before continuing with step #4)
4.  Transfer the browned croutons into a large bowl and sprinkle immediately with seasoned salt, grated Romano and parsley.  Shake or stir to distribute the seasonings evenly over all the croutons.  Serve with your favorite salad or soup.
5.  Allow extra croutons to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.  Can be frozen up to a month if desired.

Even though we served lots and lots of croutons at Lista’s, the leftover bread situation continued… Welcome Bread Pudding!

This old fashioned, homey, dessert (somewhat akin to the ubiquitous Rice Pudding found on so many diner menus) became the answer to the day-old bread dilemma.

And as Bread Pudding found its way into the hearts of many of our customers, my Dad became somewhat of a bread pudding artiste, creating several interpretations of the sweetened bread, milk and egg mixture. Dad made the traditional style with cinnamon and raisins, plus apple-walnut bread pudding, chocolate bread pudding, and even a cherry-berry bread pudding. Sometimes he would cut it into cubes and layer it into vanilla or butterscotch pudding like a parfait. Customers looked forward to seeing Dad’s bread pudding on our fabulous salad bar. Later, when Dad worked for SUNY College at Brockport, he took the bread pudding recipes with him and it became just as popular with the faculty and students there.

You can be just as creative when you make bread pudding at home — but here is the basic Lista’s Bread Pudding recipe to start with.

Lista’s Bread Pudding

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12-15 servings

1 loaf day old French Bread – cut into 1″ cubes (about 6-8 cups cubes)
1 quart Whole Milk
4 Eggs – lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1 cup Raisins (optional)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 stick Butter – melted

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.
3.  In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter, brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon until well combined — pour over the bread cubes.
4.  Let the bread soak in the milk and egg mixture for about 15 minutes — then using your hands, or a large mixing spoon, stir the bread mixture until well combined and the raisins (if using) are evenly distributed.
5.  Pour the melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking pan – tilt to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
6.  Pour the bread, milk, egg mixture into the prepared pan.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes, until the liquid has set.  The pudding is done when the edges are starting to brown and pull away from the pan.
8.  Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or even ice cream.

There you have it, Bread… and more Bread — two ways to use up that day old loaf. I hope you enjoy these easy to make recipes. Let us know if you remember those Lista’s crouton and tell us what you think by leaving a comment here — liking us — or sharing on social media.

And until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes


Popular in the USA during the 1940’s and 50’s, Retro Favorites #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes is one of those comfort food items that you unfortunately don’t often see anymore.

While varieties of croquettes are found in the cuisine of many cultures around the world, the word “croquette” is derived from the French croquer meaning “to crunch.” Recipes for croquettes were noted in France as early as 1691. But it was Monsieur Escoffier who began writing down the recipes in the late 1800’s.

Originally considered a delicacy for royalty, the croquette became widely known as a way for chefs to use up leftover cooked meats and vegetables. Generally, a croquette combines meat or vegetables with seasonings and bread crumbs; which is then shaped as a cone, cylinder, ball or patty, and fried in oil or fat. Many of the fussier recipes use a rich bechamel (white) sauce as the base, but here we will use simple mashed potatoes.

Chicken Croquettes would never have been seen on the Lista’s menu, so this is another recipe I learned to make by watching — not a TV show — but my Uncle Jerry Lista. 

My Dad had two younger brothers and a younger sister. While both my uncles were involved in the restaurant over the years, my Uncle Ray eventually lived and worked near Buffalo and I didn’t see much of him. Uncle Jerry, on the other hand, stayed in Brockport for many years, and our families were often together.

Uncle Jerry was a vibrant, fun-loving, hard working man who easily made friends and always had an off-color joke to tell. And like my Dad, he had a strong culinary aptitude. At different times Uncle Jerry applied his cooking and management skills in some of the better restaurants in the Rochester area. His specialty was steaks and seafood, so when Lista’s expanded in the 70’s to add a char-broiler kitchen, Uncle Jerry ran the show and I got to see up close that he was a truly masterful cook.

Uncle Jerry was also a great home chef, and it was in his kitchen that I learned how to make these Chicken CroquettesI remember standing in the kitchen watching how Uncle Jerry mixed the ingredients and carefully hand formed each croquette explaining that traditional croquettes are cone shaped, so that’s the way he made them. He also told me that the proper way to make a croquette is to use a thick white sauce and add the meat, veggies, bread crumbs, etc. then form them and fry them… but as a short cut he often used leftover mashed potatoes and baked them in the oven (and I still prefer them made that way).

Sadly, Uncle Jerry passed away in 1998 only 3 days after his 61st birthday. He is missed. 

Uncle Jerry’s Chicken Croquettes

Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 30-45 minutes
Total time: 2-3 hours with chilling
Makes: 12-15 croquettes

2 cups Prepared Mashed Potatoes – cooled
2 TBSP Butter – melted
1/4 cup Milk or Chicken Broth
1 tsp Dry Parsley
3/4 tsp Salt
3/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Poultry Seasoning

1/4 cup Plain Bread Crumbs
1/2 small Onion – minced
1 large Egg – beaten
1 1/2 cups Roasted Chicken Meat – finely chopped
3/4 cup Panko Crumbs
1 large Egg – beaten
1 TBSP water
Olive oil cooking spray

1. In a bowl mix together the potatoes, butter, milk, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and parsley until combined but not smooth (you want some texture). Add 1 egg, minced onion, and ¼ cup plain bread crumbs. Mix to combine. The mixture will be sticky. Fold in the chopped chicken until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
2. When you’re ready to make croquettes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper and cooking spray.
3. In a shallow bowl or pie plate beat the remaining egg with 1 TBSP water. In a second bowl or pie plate add the panko crumbs.
4. Make an assembly line starting with the croquette mixture, egg and then breadcrumbs with the baking sheet at the end.
5. Using your hands, take about 1/3 cup of the mixture and form into cone shaped croquettes (or the shape you choose).
– Dip, coating all sides, in the egg mixture.
– Roll in the panko and coat evenly. (Panko crumbs make a crunchier coating.)
– Place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet (reshape cones if needed) and repeat making the rest of the croquettes. Generously spray the croquettes with olive oil cooking spray. 
6. Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes until nicely brown and internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees F.
7. Serve with homemade or store bought chicken gravy or the traditional white sauce recipe below.

To make Basic White Sauce (about 1 cup):
Melt 3 TBSP Butter in a small sauce pan, add 3 TBSP Flour and whisk until smooth. Cook “roux” for 3-5 minutes on med-low heat. Slowly add 1 cup Milk – whisking the entire time until incorporated. Continue to cook whisking occasionally until thickened. Season with Salt & Pepper to taste. Spoon over Chicken Croquettes before serving.

There you have it, Retro Favorite #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes with a small tribute to my uncle. This basic recipe works great with leftover mashed potatoes or you can whip up some instant potatoes instead. It’s best to use roasted chicken since it has more flavor — so the meat from a supermarket rotisserie chicken works great! And during the Holidays you can use that extra turkey or ham. So next time you have some leftovers why not give this recipe a try.

Note to my Gluten Free friends: I really like Metropolitan Gourmet Gluten Free Organic Breadcrumbs (I found them at Wegmans but they’re not listed on the website).

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #3 ~ Strawberry Pretzel Salad


Retro Favorites #3 Strawberry Pretzel Salad is probably my best loved childhood dessert. Yes it has an odd name, but then again, I didn’t name it. When I look back in the old cookbooks most people did, and still do, refer to it as “salad.”  Actually, I was never sure what it was called and just called it “that strawberry pretzel thing I like.”  But whatever the name, when I was a kid, it was always present at church pot luck suppers and picnics at Mrs. D’s house.

Mrs. D was my Mom’s close friend and coworkers at the local Catholic school. She seemed to be the only person, outside of family, that we ever spent much time with. I remember going over to her house several times over the summers to gather with a few other families (more of my parents friends) for back yard cookouts.

Mrs. D’s family was also Italian American so there was definitely plenty of food around, and beer, and bocce.  The kids, of course, would be chasing each other with squirt guns or water balloons or sticks or whatever; while the men would be hanging around the grill and beer cooler, and the women would be sitting in the shade talking about the men; their latest fad diet, or the recipe for whatever they brought to the party.  It was at those gatherings that I realized I enjoyed hanging around the women chatting about recipes and cooking techniques more than running around with the other kids. To this day, in most social situations, I will still gravitate toward those foodie conversation. I might not know much about football or politics, but I can definitely tell you how to make a wonderful pasta e fagioli!

The thing I love about Strawberry Pretzel Salad — other than it bringing back childhood memories — is that it has those classic combinations of sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy all in one. And who doesn’t love a cool and refreshing strawberry dessert in the summer?

If you’ve never had this dessert I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it is. If you have had it, and you remember it fondly, then I hope you take time to make it again and share with your family or friends.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Prep time: 20 min.
Cook time: 10 min.
Total time: 2-3 hours with chilling times
Serves: 12-16 servings

2 cups Crushed Pretzels (about 8 ounces)

3 TBSP Sugar
3/4 cup Butter — melted

1 cup Sugar
2 (8 oz) packages Cream Cheese — softened

1 (8 oz) container Whipped Topping (like Cool Whip)

1 (6 oz) package Strawberry Gelatin
2 cups Boiling Water
1 (16 oz) package Frozen Strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Make Crust: Place pretzels in a zip top bag and crush with a rolling pin or other heavy object. In a bowl, combine the crushed pretzels, 3 TBSP sugar, and melted butter. Press into bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Bake in center of  preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
3. Make Filling: In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped topping. Spread evenly over pretzel crust making sure you get filling all the way to the sides of the baking dish. Refrigerate until chilled (at least 30 minutes).
4. Make Topping: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a large bowl. Mix in frozen strawberries and stir until thawed; Refrigerate until partially set (about 30 minutes). Carefully spoon strawberry topping evenly over cream cheese filling.
5. Refrigerate finished dessert for 1-2 hours or until firm. Cut into squares and serve with additional whipped topping if desired.

There you have it, Strawberry Pretzel Salad (dessert)!  And I hope this either reminds you of how much you like this recipe — or it becomes a new favorite. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy the crunchy, creamy, salty, sweetness of it as much as I do.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #2 ~ Quiche “Lorraine”

“Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” said Bruce Feirstein in 1982. Too late, I had already been making and eating quiche for some time by then.

Quiche, that creamy egg pie with the distinctly French sounding name, gained popularity in the U.S. around the 70’s and 80’s. Originally coming from the Lorraine region, quiche has its roots firmly planted in French cuisine. Actually, I read that Lorraine was once a possession of Germany so the origin of quiche may have its roots in the German word “kuchen.

Quiche “Lorraine” is my Retro Favorite #2 because I fondly remember watching reruns of “The French Chef” on PBS WGBH out of Boston and since Quiche Lorraine is one of Julia Child’s signature dishes I’m pretty sure that’s where I first learned to make it.

According to Julia, the original quiche Lorraine only contained eggs, cream, seasoning and bacon (usually lardons or the French poitrine fumé – not the heavily smoked and salted American bacon) …and no cheese at all! 

Still, the recipe I’m posting here is my version of Quiche “Lorraine” as it evolved over several years of my cooking career.  I have chosen to make this quiche with bacon, Gruyere, and onion, so I guess my recipe is really an illegitimate grandchild of a true quiche Lorraine, and therefore I have called it “Lorraine” (imagine the air quotes) so you know it’s not a literal interpretation.

When choosing bacon I prefer the uncured kind and thick cut if you can find it (it will have a more meaty, less salty/smoky flavor).  I love Gruyere cheese but any good Swiss will work — or combine 2/3 cup mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack and 1/3 cup Parmesan. You can also choose to use shallots or scallions in place of the onion. And you can certainly make this using a store bought pie crust or your own favorite crust recipe.

When I think of quiche it reminds me of the brief time I worked at SUNY Brockport in 1981. Just after we closed Lista’s Restaurant my Dad started his second career working for the college dining services where he oversaw the Gallery restaurant and eventually the catering department. One summer, when I was between jobs, Dad landed me a prep-cook job at Brockway dining hall. As a young non-union worker I wasn’t looked upon with much favor by the other cooks so I pretty much stayed in a corner and did my work. After a few weeks my supervisor decided I would be better off cooking in the Rathskeller (the bar on campus) where I made a variety of pub foods including, believe it or not, three types of quiche! I always thought quiche was strange company for the usual fare of pizza, burgers, wings, potato skins and mozzarella sticks. Still it was at that bar in the basement of the college union where I practiced and perfected making quiche.

Dan’s Quiche “Lorraine”

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Serves: 4-6

1 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Butter (1 stick) – cut into ½” dice and chilled
1/4 cup Ice Water (as needed)
8 oz. Bacon (preferably uncured) — cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup Onion — diced
3 Eggs
1 1/4 cup Half & Half
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
Pinch of Ground Nutmeg (optional)
4 oz. Gruyere Cheese — shredded (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Make the crust: Whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the chilled butter pieces and work it into the flour until it’s well-distributed (some larger pieces will still be visible). Tossing flour/butter mix with a fork (or your fingers), drizzle in the ice water until the dough starts to come together. Squeeze the dough in your hand — if it holds together easily without crumbling it’s ready (if it is still dry or pieces break off easily add a bit more water until it’s totally cohesive).
3. Gather the dough into a ball and gently pat/shape into a rough disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

3. Roll out pastry to fit a 9″ pie plate and flute edges. Prick the bottom and sides several times with a fork. Place a sheet of foil over pastry and weigh it down with dried beans or pie weights making sure the whole bottom is covered. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully lift the foil and beans out of the crust. Discard beans. 
4. Make the filling: In a skillet or medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until they begin to crisp (about 10 minutes). Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Leave 1 TBSP bacon fat in skillet and saute onions until translucent and tender (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
5. In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, half & half and seasonings until fully blended.
6. Evenly distribute cooked bacon over bottom of prepared crust; evenly distribute sauteed onions over bacon, and evenly distribute shredded cheese over onions.
7. Slowly pour egg mixture over the bacon/onion/cheese until it fills the crust completely but doesn’t overflow.
8. Bake quiche in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until fully set (knife inserted near center comes out clean) and nicely browned on top. Allow to rest 10 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

There you have it, Dan’s Quiche “Lorraine.” This always goes well served with a nice green salad as a light meal or is a great addition to a brunch menu. With a little extra work you can press the crust into mini muffin tins and make a great appetizer for a party. I hope you give it a try and as always I would love to hear your comments.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”