When Vancouver’s Becky Spence reflects on her cooking philosophy, three sources of inspiration stand out: her mother, Julia Child and a live cooking demonstration she witnessed three decades ago in Portland.
That demonstration, by Simone Beck, Child’s coauthor on the seminal 1961 cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” was revelatory.
“That was my cooking epiphany,” Spence said.
Many years later, Spence is still enthralled by cooking. She favors French cuisine and cooking methods, along with fresh ingredients.
That approach seems to be working well for Spence. Her Crispy Orange Chicken with Fennel, Avocado and Orange Salad will soon be up against five other West Coast recipes in the Second Annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest.
Spence’s was among nearly 2,000 recipes entered in the contest. She won $100 for being selected to compete in the Washington state finals, and $1,000 for being one of two winners at the state competition.
On Sept. 30, she’ll compete in the finals at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif. If she wins, she’ll receive $10,000 and a year’s supply of Foster Farms chicken.
No matter what happens, Spence is thrilled at the prospect of preparing her dish at the Culinary Institute of America.
“I hear it’s a wonderful facility,” she said. “It will be a highlight of my cooking life.”
Spence isn’t the first Vancouver resident to make it to this stage of the competition. In last year’s Foster Farms contest, Monica King made it to the finals with her Balsamic Mushroom Chicken with Honey Goat Cheese.
Spence’s Crispy Orange Chicken with Fennel, Avocado and Orange Salad sprung from a desire to learn to cook with fennel. She discovered that the anise flavor of the bulb pairs well with orange. Avocado adds a nice creaminess that contrasts with the crunchy fennel and the piquant orange.
A serrano chile adds heat, but be sure to mince it finely and add gradually, tasting to make sure that the salad doesn’t get too hot.
Another key to this dish is the orange zest Spence mixes with the panko breadcrumbs.
“It gives it flavor. It makes it different. It’s not just fried chicken,” she said.
Spence prefers peanut oil for sautéing the chicken.
“It gives it a nice, golden finish,” she said.
Spence advises making the salad first and chilling it, then serving the dish immediately after the chicken is cooked.
“The contrast in temperature of the hot chicken and the cold salad is important,” she said.
Fennel fronds and orange slices make an attractive garnish.
It’s an easy dish to prepare, Spence said, and takes about 40 minutes start to finish.
Becky Spence’s Crispy Orange Chicken With Fennel, Avocado and Orange Salad
Prep time: 30 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes. Servings: 4.
1-1½ pounds of Foster Farms thin-sliced chicken breast fillets
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar (may substitute white wine vinegar)
2 teaspoons sugar
Zest from 2 large navel oranges (reserve one orange)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed
1 large avocado
1 serrano chile
½ cup flour
2 cups panko bread crumbs
⅓ cup peanut oil
In large bowl, whisk together orange juice, champagne vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon orange zest, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
Cut pith away from reserved zested orange; cut orange into small cubes. Chop fennel bulb into small cubes. Peel avocado, remove pit and chop into small cubes. Cut chile in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds and finely mince. Add orange pieces, fennel, avocado and chile to dressing; toss gently and refrigerate while preparing chicken.
Preheat oven to 200 F. Place flour in shallow bowl; combine with remaining salt and pepper. In second shallow bowl, beat eggs well with fork. Place panko breadcrumbs in third shallow bowl; stir in zest from one orange.
In large skillet over medium-high heat, warm peanut oil. Dredge each chicken fillet in flour mixture, then dip in eggs and coat with panko-orange mixture. Place coated chicken in hot oil and sauté, about 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Remove chicken with tongs and place on cooling rack over a cookie sheet in oven to keep warm.
To serve, place salad on plates. Top each salad with one or two chicken fillets.