Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Milanesa de pollo

To anyone living in Uruguay whether native or on foreign soil, the Milanesa is as common as pizza, parilla, and pasta. That is to say it is a household staple and has a guaranteed spot on the menu of your local resto-bar. Milanesa is pounded cut of either meat or chicken which is lightly breaded, then fried or baked. This is your basic Milanesa, served with a guarnación of papas fritas, arroz, or ensalada mixta. There are also fish, eggplant, and soy milanesas - to list a few. You name it and they probably bread it and fry it. From there, you can find a Milanesa al pan (Milanesa between two burger buns with a bit of tomato and lettuce) or the most satiating - Milanesa Napolitania - topped with ham, cheese, and tomato sauce. Order it for lunch and you won't need to eat until the following day.

I had never ordered a Milanesa in a restaurant simply because I was intimated by the size. Salads, pizzas, and hot toasty sandwiches usually got my vote at a casual restaurant such as Old Maz or Costal Azul. But last week at Trouville Pizzeria, a restuarant whose menu is a perfect example of Uruguayan standard fare, I barely glanced at la carta. "Milanesa de pollo, por favor - con arroz. Y ketchup!" In fact, I was craving the crispy crust and tender interior ever since my husband and I awkwardly fumbled around our neighbor's kitchen, attempting to cook Milanesa for their kids.

We were house sitting - and children sitting - for a few days at the beautiful home of an Uruguayan friend.

I had told the kids ( a daughter age 13 and son age 10) to tell me when they were hungry for dinner. "Gracias, te adviso," the 13 year old told me. Like all Uruguayans I know, they are accustomed to eating later in the evening. And though their mother had suggested dinner should be earlier due to the start of school the following day, there is still no plea of hunger at 9:00. Around 9:15 I ask the son if he is getting hungry for dinner. "No, voy a comer chocolate." Chocolate? Not wanting to be the strict babysitter, I just smile.

But I forget that the psychology of food is different with kids. They are not thinking about what they are going to have for dinner. Nor are they thinking about how long it takes to prepare it. They are just, all of sudden, hungry.

I should have remembered this about kids. But I got relaxed lounging in the living room, waiting for the adviso.

9:30 The son tells my husband he is hungry. He would like a Milanesa. A Milanesa with rice, to be exact.

"Mi amor!" My husband call me from the living room. He has already agreed to help me with dinner, but is coming to remind me that helping does not equal making it alone.

Ok, so Milanesa. Where are they? Fridge? No, freezer. A single Styrofoam plate holds half a dozen Milanesas tightly wrapped in plastic. We undo the plastic and proceed to try to pry the breaded meat apart. Not a crumb falters. As there is no microwave we take them to the toaster oven. As I am reheating the rice, the son enters. "Cena está lista?" We glance worriedly at the toaster oven. So much for a Uruguayan fast food.

Several minutes later and a few hardy jabs with the butter knife, the Milanesas are successfully pulled apart, though some bits are missing their bready covering. My husband heats the oil and starts frying. The oldest grabs the mayo and ketchup from the fridge and tosses a bouillon cube into the rice for more flavor. We bring the hot rice and condiments to the table as hubby serves up the labor of love.

I observe. The kids slather ketchup on the chook and douse their rice with a little mayo. I skip the mayo but load up on the ketchup. I glance at my plate. No veggies? No salad? Whatever. I never said that this post was on health food. I cut into the crispy outer crust and tender inside; with a dollop of ketchup I take a bite. So simple, so good, and very satisfying. I am taken back to "kid food" - days of chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and tater tots. Initially opting for a smaller piece, I join my husband for a second. I like the crunchy bits were he has slightly burnt the crumbly exterior.

As my husband and I finish up dinner the kids are dutifully washing their dishes. It's 10:30. Off to showers, teeth brushing, and then to bed. Babysitting, house caring, and dinner making had been a success. And lucky for me, I have a good food find.

Where to get Milanesas:

Everywhere, you're in Uruguay!
Ready to eat:
-local restaurants, deli counter at the grocery store, some confeterías
Price depends on locale, average around $90 pesos with guaranción.

To make at home:
-meat counter of grocery store (buy fresh not frozen in the box- you can freeze the fresh ones later at home), carnecerías, and even your local almacen

meat, chicken, fish, setan, soya, eggplant, relleno (filled with cheese or ham or both)

Qué aproveche!

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