Facing the unfamliar can add taste to your table

Adrienne Freeman/Contributing writer Originally Published April 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 10, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Panko bread crumbs, a Japanese-style bread crumb, lend a delightful texture and crunch to this Homestyle Chicken Parmesan.

How many of you have been relaxing, enjoying a little quiet time with a cookbook or watching a frenetic cook on television with shiny cookware and a shinier brightly colored range in an impossibly perfect kitchen? Hmm, that recipe sounds good! you think.

But as you look through the necessary ingredients, something unfamiliar is listed. What?

The difference between trying something new and exciting or resorting to an old standby can sometimes be these recipes that require a couple components that are unfamiliar or typically unavailable in your local supermarket.

Don’t let unusual items make you pull out a stained 3-by-5 card with the old meatloaf recipe just yet. Many unfamiliar items are easier to use than you think and easier to obtain than ever. A successful, savory meal can even survive the occasional substitution. If availability is the problem, the Internet has become the “go to” resource for getting the hard-to-get. A few online starting places are Penzey’s for spices (www.penzeys.com), Dean and Deluca (www.deananddeluca.com) for cheeses and gourmet items or D’Artagan (www.dartagan) for specialty meats like Spanish chorizo or farm-raised duck, a delicious sirloin-like treat completely different from the wild game variety. Before giving up on a promising new treat, try Cooks Thesaurus (www.foodsubs.com) to see if there is an equally successful substitute.

New items suddenly seem to enjoy a frenzy of popularity. Manufacturers run promotions, ad campaigns and partnerships with other vendors to create “buzz” about their products. Many are simple to use and are just variations of ingredients you have used before but their names are unfamiliar. These items are being offered more and more, even in smaller stores.

A few flavors that are appearing on multiple shelves, glossy magazine pages and menus alike are spicy Sriracha chile sauce, Panko bread crumbs and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Sririacha is a hot sauce from a chile base used in Asian and Thai recipes. It is red in color and is similar to the more familiar Louisiana hot sauce, also chile-based. It is quite pungent but can really punch up the flavor of many dishes and be substituted anywhere hot sauce is called for. Sriracha can usually be found in the Asian foods area of the market.

Panko bread crumbs are a Japanese-style bread crumb that lends a delightful texture and crunch. Panko bread crumbs have a mild flavor and can easily complement all dishes calling for a bread coating. They are not limited to Asian cooking and can withstand baking, sautéing or frying without losing their delightful crunch and texture. They can be found in both the traditional bread crumbs or in the Asian foods section.

Chipotle peppers have appeared in foods for the past couple years, but the commercial taste, such as that in snack and convenience foods, is nothing like the canned pepper itself. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are smoked jalapeno peppers with a sweet, smoky flavor, which is also pleasantly repeated in the mixed-pepper adobo sauce that keeps them moist in the can. The peppers are normally seeded and chopped for use in a recipe, and often a tablespoon or so of the sauce is added. The kick-in-the-tastebuds spice also comes in a dried version, but the two versions aren’t interchangeable. An opened can can be transferred to an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator for up to a month. The peppers can be found in the Mexican or ethnic section of the market.

Don’t let new items derail you from trying innovative recipes! If they aren’t readily available at your market, you may be able to substitute and still achieve the overall flavor. If they are just “new to you,” experiment! You may turn that “What?” into a “Wow!”

Homestyle Chicken Parmesan

Try the Asian-originated panko crumbs in this decidedly Italian chicken dish.


4 skinless chicken pieces, breasts or thighs

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cups panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

1 cup grated Parmesan, divided

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

Salt and pepper as needed

3 cups prepared marinara sauce, homemade or store bought

4 slices provolone

1 pound spaghetti or linguine


Pound chicken pieces between wax or plastic paper until they are a uniform thickness, no more than about 1/3 inch. Place the thin cutlets on a platter and sprinkle with the Italian seasoning.

Place the bread crumbs and — cup Parmesan cheese in a large flat dish appropriate for breading. Dredge the seasoned chicken in the panko/Parm mixture, pressing down as needed to allow the crumbs to adhere to chicken. Set aside on plate and repeat with all pieces. Allow the chicken to chill for 10 minutes.

Warm the pasta sauce and begin the boiling the pasta water.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Lightly fry chicken breasts without crowding, one or two at a time, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and season lightly with salt (Don’t forget — there will be additional salt in the sauce and the cheese.).

Transfer all chicken to a baking sheet. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons sauce on chicken, sprinkle with remaining parmesan and 1 slice smoked provolone. Bake approximately 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted and lightly golden.

When you put the chicken in the oven, drop the pasta in the water and cook according to package directions for al dente texture. Drain, and stir in 2 cups of the sauce into the pasta while it is still warm.

Serve chicken portions over warmed pasta with sauce.

Chipotle Meatloaf

Try this zippy update to a favorite standby!


1 3/4 pounds ground beef chuck

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup whole milk

1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (1/2 teaspoon if dried)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary

1/2 teaspoons dried parsley

1 1/4 teaspoons smoked paprika

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo (about 1 large chile) and 2 additional tablespoons adobo sauce


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9 2-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Using your hands, mix ground chuck and all other

ingredients, except ketchup and chiles, to evenly incorporate. Transfer meatloaf mixture to pan and form into a long log loaf.

Partially bake meatloaf until to 150 degrees about 35 minutes.

Mix ketchup, puréed chipotle chile and additional adobo in a small bowl. Spread 1/2 cup chipotle barbecue sauce all over the top and sides of meatloaf. Return meatloaf to the oven and complete baking until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees, about 10 minutes longer. Serve with remaining chipotle barbecue sauce alongside.

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