My favorite restaurant in college was Northstar Cafe. It’s a chain of homey little eateries found only in Columbus, Ohio. The food is locally sourced and the menu is small but each dish is made to perfection. The casual atmosphere is inviting to a mixed crowd of both young and old(er) patrons. As a college student it was definitely on the pricier side. My best friend Morgan and I loved this place. We would come here all the time and usually get the same things. One of us would get a flatbread, either chicken or veggie; a fish sandwich; a couple of ginger ales and a dark chocolate truffle giant cookie (for starters).
While I loved all the food, the one thing that always made me happy was the side dish that came with the fish sandwich. It was called a wild rice salad. A rice with a husk covering giving it the texture of oatmeal, along with a sweet dried currents, a silky acidic bite because of added dry wine, and a crunch delivered by slivered roasted almonds. The complexity of flavors and the simplicity of its appearance baffled me. I wanted to recreate this but give it my own twist.
Lets start by talking about wild rice. A dark blown/ black colored rice indigenous of North America packs a lot of flavor. Unlike basmati or other polished rice, it doesn’t take in flavors but contributes its own to the dish. That’s also why it cannot be the only thing you serve. It has to accompanied with other flavors and perhaps even a protein. I decided to do both. For flavor, I substituted the currents with caramelized onions which provides the sweet profile but still is savory and I added thinly sliced button mushrooms that are cooked in a white wine reduction. This removes all the alcohol from the wine but flavor is soaked up by the mushrooms which compliment the rice amazingly well. For the protein, I chose the chicken breast that I sliced laterally and marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and dried rosemary for a quick 30 mins. Once the flavors were soaked in, I pounded the chicken thin and lightly coated in flour. The flour makes sure the chicken remains moist and also prevents the garlic and rosemary from burning.
What you end up with are well seasoned fillets of chicken with juicy outer layer and charred edges with just a hit of burnt garlic flavor. The rice is smooth and silky and mushrroms melt in your mouth while the rice gives some resistance but the kind that gives you the satifsfaction that you are eating something healthy. And to be honest, this is quite healthy. The rice is rich in fiber, chicken breast has no fat and we use very little oil. Though, there are ways to make it unhealthy too. Add butter in the rice and then dress it with raisins and roasted almonds for a decadent yet satifying side.
Go ahead and give this recipe a try and let me know how you like wild rice!
For the marinade
250 g Chicken Breast
2 tsp dried rosemary (1 tsp if you are using fresh rosemary)
2 tsp dried thyme (1 tsp if you are using fresh thyme)
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
For the rest of the meal
2 tsp of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of wild rice (follow packet suggestions. Usually takes about 30 minutes to cook)
350 g of any fresh mushrooms finely sliced (3 cups chopped)
1/2 medium red onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup of dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
6-8 fresh basil leaves, tightly rolled and finely chopped
Salt, pepper, and lemon juice for taste
Start with the marinade. Take the chicken breast and cut lenghtwise. Add to the bowl with olive oil, garlic, dried spices, lemon juice and a lot of salt & pepper. Leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes and no more than 30.
Take out the chicken and wrap in plastic wrap. Then with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin (I used a rolling pin) beat the chicken until its about 1/4 inch thick. Place the tenderized chicken on flour and lightly coat both sides of the meat.
Take a medium skillet, heat on high and add 1tbsp olive oil. Add chicken and cook each side for 1.5 minutes. Remove and place on paper towel.
Reduce the pan to medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft but not steaming. Add garlic, onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes and then add basil and wine. Lets the wine bubble off and cook based on the amount of liquid you want. I cooked for 30 seconds until no actual liquid was draining but the rice was still moist. Add butter if you want a shimmering look and a silky texture.