There are two schools of thought when it comes to regionalized food.
One school of thought is that you should preserve the recipes and techniques that are synonymous with all of the various regions and cultures found around the world. That the dish “Spaghetti Bolognese” or “Pot au feu” should be recreated faithfully to the time honoured practices that have made the dish the signature dish of the area in which it was created. These traditionalists argue that preserving the dish in it’s original form is preserving culture, and that changing it whilst maintaining the name is perpetuating a lie that will ultimately dilute the truth bring about it’s eventual demise.
Pot au feu - photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The other school of thought is that food culture evolves, and through exposure to new ingredients and techniques, tastes and recipes develop to maximize the environment of the day. Culinary preservation is important to document, as history teaches us a lot about why we are what we are today, but preserving recipes for preservation’s sake is to risk losing potentially new and great dishes solely for stubbornness.
I actually take a very uncontroversial view, and believe that there is room for both. I think that we should preserve dishes exactly as they have been created for centuries, and the food world should work together to ensure that proprietors and restauranteurs worldwide who carry out these traditions are supported and encouraged to continue through future generations…almost as living museums. Whilst others use these creations as inspiration to take the dish elsewhere, in new and exciting directions. All dishes, even the classics above, owe their creation to a single departure from some other dish, so you never know when the new gun Chef is actually creating the classic dish of tomorrow. Even Lasagne, a dish that can evoke many arguments about how to create the best version, is an evolution of French and Greek recipes, with the catalyst change being the hottest new ingredient in the market place, the tomato (courtesy of Christopher Columbus).
A traditional Lasagne - Photo courtesy of Dee Catering & Logistic Services (Western Australia)
This version of Lasagne was inspired by a meal I had in a Restaurant that actually disappointed me. I saw “Chicken Lasagne” on the menu, and ordered it, but felt the intensity of the tomato based sauce totally killed the chicken in the dish. Two days later I created this recipe, or something very much like it (as I did not write the original recipe down, it was more the concept that I am replicating here). In essence, it’s a blending of a creamy chicken Alfredo or Carbonara, using Lasagne techniques and pasta. It’s one of those dishes that I make that seems to be an instant hit, yet no one seems to have joined the dots and made a version commercially yet…at least I have never seen one in any Restaurant or cookbook.
Chicken Lasagne with cream, bacon & mushrooms.
I hope you get inspired by it and give it a try. Again, don’t pay too much attention to the recipe itself, just the idea…and make it your own. Let me know what you do, and how it turns out.
The ingredients to make the magic happen...
- 1kg Chicken Thighs (boneless & skinless)
- 200g Mushrooms (Sliced)
- 200g Rindless Bacon (Julienned)
- 1 1/2 Red Onions (finely diced)
- 2 Tbsp Garlic
- 1 Tablespoons Olive oil
- 3/4 Cup White Wine (good enough to drink)
- Zest from 1/2 Lemon
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 2 Tablespoons Butter (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
- 2 Tablespoons Flour (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
- 1 1/2 Cups Milk or Cream (or blend)
- 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
- 1 Cup Sour Cream
- 1/2 Cup fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
- 150g Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2 Cups grated Mozzarella Cheese
- Salt/Pepper (freshly ground) to taste
- Lasagne Sheets (fresh or dried)
Cut the chicken thighs into large cubes and add half to a food processor. Pulse for 10 x 1-second pulses, then 1 x 4-second pulse (full seconds…one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc). Turn out into a bowl, and repeat with the other half. You can use chicken mince instead, if you want, the result will be more consistent. You can also use breasts, which will actually whiten up the dish a lot, as thighs tend to be a bit grey. I like the flavour of thighs though, so I tend to use them a lot.
Add oil to a large frying pan and add the bacon. Cook until almost crispy over a medium heat, stirring often. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a bowl, and reserve.
Delicious rendered bacon
Add a quarter of the chicken to the bacon grease, and cook until almost done, trying not to brown the chicken at all. Clear the centre of the pan by moving the cooked chicken to the sides, and add the next quarter. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked. Using the slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken to the bacon bowl, and reserve.
Move the cooked chicken to the edge, and add the next batch in the centre.
Add the onions and mushrooms and garlic, with a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until the onions are just translucent. You don’t want any browning as it will colour the dish.
De-glaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice, and cook until almost evaporated.
Notice the base of the pan where I moved a spoon through the mix. When the liquid takes a while to fill the path made by the spoon, you've reduced enough.
Add the chicken and bacon mix, and stir to combine, then set aside.
Combine the chicken stock and milk in a microwave proof container, and cook on high for 3 minutes. If it is not yet steaming, cook for 1 minute bursts until it is. Careful not to boil the liquid, however. Add the butter to a sauce-pan and cook until fragrant.
Add the flour to the butter, and stir until all lumps are gone. Cook for 1 minute and then add the hot milk/stock mix, stirring constantly until thickened (about the consistency of cream). Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese. Stir until all of the cheese is melted, the add the sour cream and stir until is well combined.
Added the Parmesan Cheese to the sauce...
Add the cream sauce to the chicken mix, and stir to combine. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chopped parsley, and set aside.
Everyone in the pool! Now just the layers...
In a bowl, mix the Mozzarella cheese with the lemon zest.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350f).
At this point, we consider the pasta. I just use bought dry pasta sheets, and place layer them as is. I do not pre-cook them, and I try not to buy “Instant” either, as they are usually thinner. If you are using fresh, or precooked, get them ready now, and hopefully you used the higher quantity of flour and butter (for a thicker sauce).
In a high sided baking dish, spread a thin layer of the chicken mixture, just enough so that you cant see the bottom of the baking dish. Top with a sprinkling of the Mozzarella. Layer the pasta sheets on top, without overlapping them. Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the pan, at which point you do not add a layer of pasta on top of the cheese.
Just to show the layering of the sauce and cheese with the pasta.
Cover the lasagne with foil, and bake for 45 minutes (30 minutes for fresh or pre-cooked pasta sheets). Then uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more.
Just out of the oven...now the wait.
It is important that you let the Lasagne cool before you cut into it. You really want to let it sit, covered loosely with foil, for 90 minutes before serving…if you can. Good luck with that.
Serve with a side of steamed broccoli, and maybe a nice bruschetta. Oh, and a glass of the white wine you used in the dish.
Again, let me know if this dish inspires you, and share with us all where you take it in your kitchen.
Enjoy the meal!