In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
It’s a frigid, blustery day when the two chefs from New York’s King restaurant breeze through the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen. And we really mean breeze through—they were in and out of here in 45 minutes flat, including cleanup.
The minute Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer walk through the door, they’re already in work mode, which is ironic, given the fact that they’re here to cook us what they make after they get out of a long shift. We want to tell them to slow down, but get the feeling they can’t be stopped. Before we’ve even noticed, they’ve stripped off their winter gear and are rummaging through our shelves for pots and pans and knives.
The first thing Jess does is get a small pot of polenta started. It’ll take a full 30 minutes to cook properly, and every once in a while, one of the two reaches over to vigorously stir it. They’re here today to make a Roman-style chicken saltimbocca with cheesy polenta, a home-cook-friendly version of a veal saltimbocca that occasionally appears on their newly-launched lunch menu.
At their just-barely one-year-old restaurant King, in SoHo in Manhattan, these two British friends, along with their partner and front of house face Annie Shi, serve Italian- and French-influenced food that is as thoughtful and delicious as it is unfussy and straightforward. The menu changes daily, as a sort of self-imposed creative challenge, and they lean heavily on their experiences of working the line together at London’s esteemed River Café.
Shadbolt starts the chicken by butterflying a breast, then pounding it thin between two sheets of parchment paper. “Get your aggression out with this,” she says.
De Boer generously salts and peppers the chicken, then they both start layering the two key components to a traditional saltimbocca: whole fresh sage leaves and sheets of prosciutto. Everything is held together with kebab skewers.
Into the pan they go, with oil and a bit of extra butter. “Good prosciutto will have more fat on it than this,” de Boer says. “You want to keep it on a really low heat, otherwise the prosciutto will burn.”
The prosciutto gets a nice sear for a few minutes, then they’re flipped. Capers, more sage, and butter are added to the pan. De Boer bastes the chicken like you would a steak for a few minutes, and the smell is to die for.
The whole meal is coming together remarkably fast.
“What do you guys actually cook when you get home from work?” we ask.
“Nothing,” deadpans de Boer.
“The most she’ll get from me is a boiled egg,” says Shadbolt.
“I’ve got some grapefruits?” de Boer says with a shrug.
“It’s so funny, before my life as a chef, when I would go out and drink, I used to get back in and make slow-cooked tomato sauce,” says Shadbolt. “For hours. I’d have to wait like, an hour and a half before I could eat. Everyone was always like, can you not just get like, drunk chips and dip?”
But it’s been just about 30 minutes since they walked into the kitchen, and they’re already getting ready to plate this dish up. De Boer deglazes the pan with a squeeze of lemon juice, and then the chicken rests before being sliced and plated atop a heap of cheesy polenta. Not to let any good flavor go to waste, the jus from the resting platter is drizzled on the top.
And then we’re done? It’s been a whirlwind, but there’s a very delicious plate of food in front of us, and we’re munching happily, and de Boer and Shadbolt are packing up and putting their coats back on.
MAKE THIS: Chicken Saltimbocca
“Don’t tell anyone, we want to go and play hooky for a while,” says Shadbolt. “We’ll tell everyone you kept us long and made us cook for hours.”
We’re not entirely sure what just happened here, but we’re distracted by how satisfying and homey this chicken tastes on a chilly gray day. Before we know it, the two chefs are out the door in a whirl of long winter coattails, leaving the cozy smells of sage, lemon and prosciutto in their wake. Suddenly, we wanna play hooky, too.