NANTICOKE — Sautéing a chicken breast in a frying pan with just a touch of olive oil was a first for many students in the Mediterranean cuisine cooking class in the Luzerne County Community College Joseph A. Paglianite Culinary Institute on Saturday.
“I have always put my chicken in the oven,” said Pat Guerin, of West Pittston.
Under the guidance of LCCC culinary instructor Angelo Santelli, 11 adults spent three hours in the state-of-the-art kitchen preparing three different Mediterranean recipes — bruschetta with a Mediterranean tomato topping, Mediterranean Farro salad and a Mediterranean stuffed grilled chicken breast.
The Mediterranean cuisine class is just one in a series of summer non-credit courses offered by the LCCC Continuing Education Department. The two-session course costs $89 per person. The food prepared by the students is taken home to enjoy with their families.
Santelli said within the last 10 years the Mediterranean diet really became popular in the United States. The key to Mediterranean cooking is not to use butter, creams and sauces, but use vinegars, lemon juice and olive oils while using blanching, grilling and sautéing techniques, he said.
“You are replacing the bad fats with good fats,” he said.
Guerin and her friend Beth Kerr, of Harveys Lake, took the class for the purpose of trying to eat healthy.
“I grew up with putting butter on foods,” Guerin said.
Santelli said Mediterranean cooking allows the natural flavors of the fresh ingredients to come through without covering it over with sauces.
Santelli walked his way to each group showing them how to carefully cut a raw chicken breast length wise, making a pocket to stuff Feta cheese and spinach. Then wooden skewers were used to pin the chicken together.
Fran and Walter Grabowski, of West Pittston, turned on the range of the gas stove to heat up their skillet before adding just enough olive oil to coat the pan.
“You have to let the pan warm up first,” Walter said.
Then, they added the stuffed chicken breasts to the hot oil. Other classmates began to sauté their chicken, releasing an aroma of mouth-watering flavors.
Guerin tried to turn her chicken over, thinking it was burning. Santelli advised her to leave it for a few more minutes.
“You want it to get some color,” he said. “When you add the white wine, it will combine with the caramelized chicken in the pan. That is your glaze.”
Then demonstrating with Kelly Lutkiewicz, of Nanticoke, and her mother Helen Lutkiewicz, of Halstead, Santelli removed the browned chicken and poured the white wine which immediately released a puff of white smoke. Then using a large metal spoon, he rubbed the bottom of the pan loosing the browned marks left by the chicken breast.
Chopped onions were added and once caramelized, garlic and tomatoes were added. The chicken breast was placed back into the pan.
The process, seemingly simple, reduces the need to add gravy or sauces for flavor. Sautéing locks in the flavor of the meat, and the natural glaze created by the natural sugars intensifies the flavor of the dish.
“You are layering the flavors,” Santelli said.