May 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

At home with Chef Michael Barrera and his hit Chicken Milanese

At Home with Chef Michael Barrera
At Home with Chef Michael Barrera: Michael Barrera, executive chef Streetside Seafood Restaurant, presents step-by-step for creation of Chicken Milanese at his Troy home.

After graduating from high school in Saginaw, Michael Barrera, executive chef at Streetside Seafood in Birmingham, spent his next few years bartending and serving at several restaurants around Michigan. He had a lot of fun in the industry, he said, But I always really enjoyed cooking recreationally.

That includes the recipe he shares here. A chicken specialty might seem surprising considering his seafood-centric workplace, but it is a big hit at his home.

I make the Chicken Milanese once every couple of weeks, he says. My wife loves it. And my boys, Nico (age 10), and Marcelo (8) demand it.

Earlier in life, he thought about teaching school. But his time in restaurants helped him realize what he really wanted to do was cook.

So, in 2001 I took everything I owned, drove to Philadelphia and enrolled in the restaurant school at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. I liked Philadelphia because it reminded me of cities in Michigan especially Detroit. And it had a good food scene.

After graduating from the colleges two-year culinary program, Barrera worked first as a line cook, then as a sous chef at the Continental Restaurant and Martini Bar, a Starr restaurant located in Philly. (Renowned restaurateur Stephen Starr owns several award-winning upscale restaurants.)

It was at Continental that the amazing chef Bill Murphy really stoked the fire, Barrera says. He made me realize this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

Barrera moved back to the Detroit area in 2005 (along with his wife, Alejandra Alvarado, whom he met at the culinary school and who is currently a pastry chef at Whole Foods Market in Troy) and took a job first as a line cook, then as a sous chef at the Beverly Hills Grill in Beverly Hills, part of the successful Roberts Restaurant Group.

I stepped down from my previous job in order to get a foothold at the Roberts Restaurant Group, he says. And Im happy they took me on.

After five years at the grill, Barrera was named executive chef at Streetside Seafood, also part of the Roberts Restaurant Group.

The chef says he first experienced this Chicken Milanese recipe while visiting his mother-in-law in Panama in 2003. Shes Panamanian, but has Sicilian roots, and this is a dish that was originally created in Milan, Italy, he says. I immediately loved the simplicity of the dish and the flavor. Its no frills and its perfect.

However, Barrera says he has tweaked his mother-in-laws recipe here and there. I make my breadcrumbs from a French baguette, whereas my mother-in-law uses whatever bread is lying around, he says. I love the crispiness of the baguette after its been toasted and ground. And I season my crumbs with fresh chives, fresh parsley, fresh thyme, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to add that good, herby flavor. She, on the other hand, is traditional and does not use any herbs at all.

Barreras mother-in-law likes to serve the chicken Milanese along with a salad of marinated tomatoes and just a little bit of olive oil, a touch of vinegar and salt, whereas Barrera prefers a salad to be composed of baby arugula, grape tomatoes (roasted in winter, raw when in season), shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and an aged (15- to 20-year-old) balsamic vinegar.

To complete the meal, the Troy resident recommends any pasta coated with a lemon butter sauce or roasted potatoes. But my kids prefer it with French fries, he says.

And for the adults, Barrera suggests accompanying the chicken dish with any Super Tuscan red wine.

For the lemon vinaigrette

Juice of two lemons
2 teaspoons shallots (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon of fresh garlic (finely chopped)
cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb coating

1 small baguette, to make 1 cup breadcrumbs
teaspoon kosher salt
teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh chives (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon fresh parsley (finely chopped)

For the chicken

2 six- to eight-ounce chicken breasts
2 eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounces vegetable oil

For the salad

5 ounces baby arugula
12 grape tomatoes (cut in half)
2 ounces shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
1 ounce aged balsamic vinegar

To make the lemon vinaigrette: Put lemon juice into a small bowl. Add shallots and garlic. Slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, whisking at the same time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate. (Can be made several days in advance.)

To prepare the breadcrumbs: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut baguette into small pieces and place on a sheet tray or pan. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes until a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cooled, break up in pieces and grind in a food processor to a fine consistency. Measure 1 cup of the crumbs into a mixing bowl. Add salt and black pepper to bowl. Finely chop herbs, add to bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside. (This can be done up to one day in advance.)

To prepare the chicken: Slice chicken breasts into roughly 6-8 equal size slices. Space slices on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Use a mallet to lightly pound chicken until thin, roughly - inch thick. In a bowl, whisk two eggs and salt. Place chicken in bowl and fully coat all the chicken with the egg mixture. Place chicken, one breast at a time, into breadcrumb mixture and fully coat. Tap off any excess breadcrumb. Repeat with remaining chicken. Place all of the breaded chicken onto a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook. (This can be done up to three days in advance, or the raw breaded chicken can be frozen, then defrosted and cooked as needed.)

To cook the chicken: Place olive oil and vegetable oil into a large nonstick pan. Heat to medium (do not let it get too hot so chicken does not get too dark). Place chicken in the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Place chicken on a paper towel-lined plate to soak up any excess oil.

To compose the dish: When ready to serve, place arugula, tomatoes and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano in a bowl and toss with the lemon vinaigrette until all greens are coated lightly. Then place dressed salad on a medium-sized platter. Arrange chicken around salad. Drizzle a little extra lemon vinaigrette, balsamic vinegar and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano over the chicken. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 827 calories; 71 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 77 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 178 mg cholesterol; 1,176 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 1 g fiber.

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Michael Barrera may be the executive chef at a seafood eatery (Streetside Seafood Restaurant in Birmingham), but his Chicken Milanese is famous at his Troy home. / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News
Barrera squeezes lemon for the vinaigrette in his version of Chicken ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Barrera uses a mallet to lightly pound the chicken until it's thin, ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Arugula, tomatoes and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano are tossed with lemon ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)