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Ingredient Challenge: Asparagus, Cara Cara Oranges

Image of Chef Marco Zapien
Marco Zapien, chef/partner of his family’s restaurant Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria in Pico Rivera, California, is also the Corporate Chef in charge of Sports & Entertainment venues for Melissa’s Food Service Division. Chef Marco was given the choice of creating a dish around asparagus or the Cara Cara orange for this feature; so, of course, he submitted a wonderful entrée that incorporates both ingredients.

The chef’s Asparagus Stuffed Breast of Chicken with Cara Cara Hollandaise is a very dinner party friendly recipe. The assembly can be done in advance, right up to the point of oven time. Hosting duties need only be interrupted during the 20 minutes that the chicken breasts are baking, which is just enough time to prepare the sauce. Best of all, this elegant dish looks a lot more difficult to prepare than it actually is! With Cara Cara oranges at peak production and domestic asparagus season just getting started this month, Chef Marco makes great use of the best harvests of the season.
Image of Cara Cara Oranges
While the pink coloring of Cara Cara juice may not be strong enough to shade the pale yellow of traditional Hollandaise sauce, it has a decidedly delicious impact on the sauce’s taste. The richness that Hollandaise is known for is still there, however the unique fruity flavor of this specialty navel orange lightens it up just a notch and, to this writer’s taste, improves on the original lemon-based recipe greatly. The Cara Cara orange is difficult to describe – call it fruity sweet with hints of berry and cherry, mixed with a rich citrus background. Very unique!

Actually, in the most pleasant of ways, this dish has an unstable flavor profile that is quite entertaining. Meaning, if one concentrates, each ingredient is identifiable separately; at the same time, there is a distinct flavor created by the combination of components that attests to Chef Marco’s creativity with every succulent forkful. At my own taste testing, this dish garnished the most telltale sign of a successful recipe – immediately after serving, all table conversation abruptly stopped as full attention was turned to savoring this tasty dish!

Chef Marco’s recipe is very easy to follow, though I did discover a few helpful tips during my own preparation. Choose small, as in thin, asparagus spears that are as straight and uniform as possible. This will make for a much tighter chicken roll; plus small asparagus is much less fibrous than larger stalks. If you are shopping a few days ahead of preparation, keep the tips looking fresh by placing the asparagus in a tall glass with a few inches of water and keep refrigerated. Before rolling the chicken around the asparagus, trim the base of each bundle of five so they are all the same length. Then lay out the spears on each pounded breast and trim the chicken on each side so that the spears will stick out at least an inch at both ends.

Chef Marco’s version of Hollandaise swaps out the sauce’s traditional lemon in favor of the Cara Cara’s unique flavor and then adds just a touch of Worcestershire and Tabasco to spice it up a notch. This is one of the tastiest and the most challenging parts of this recipe. Hollandaise sauce has many pitfalls. It can easily overcook or separate (break) for seemingly no reason. Air must be whisked into the egg properly. It is critical to get the right ratio of eggs to butter and then cook it all at the correct temperature. Hollandaise is all about the science of emulsion, which it essentially the blending of two or more liquids that do not blend well. Success depends upon a very deliberate approach -- work methodically, measure correctly and blend slowly. Hmm, one of those life lessons found in the kitchen!

I must share one final serving hint that was inspired when I cut into the roll for the first time following Chef’s Marco’s recipe. I was struck by how similar a slice of the finished roll looked like sushi, with the vibrant green center surrounded by the rice-like white of the chicken. So I tried serving this as an appetizer with great success. Just follow the exact same recipe, only the plating is a little different. After cooling, slice the chicken rolls in half-inch sections, arrange these rounds flat on a serving platter and top each with just a dab of Marco’s Cara Cara Hollandaise. A yummy, no mess finger food making this a very dinner party friendly whether served before or as the main course!

Asparagus Stuffed Breast of Chicken With Cara Cara Orange Hollandaise
Serves 4
Image of Asparagus Stuffed Breast of Chicken With Cara Cara Orange Hollandaise
4 ea. Breast of Chicken, butterflied
2 Tbsp. Salad Oil
20 ea. Grilled organic asparagus spears
1 tsp. Chopped fresh organic Garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup Flour
3 Egg whites, reserve egg yolks for Hollandaise sauce
1 Egg, whole
1 cup Panko breading
1 Tbsp. Italian Parsley, finely chopped

Hollandaise Sauce
1 cup Butter
¾ cup Cara Cara Orange Juice
3 ea. Egg Yolks
½ Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 dashes Tabasco Sauce
2 Tbsp. Cara Cara Orange Zest
Salt & Pepper to taste

Method of Preparation For the Dish:
  1. Butterfly the chicken breasts and pound thin. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Toss the Asparagus spears with oil, garlic, salt and pepper and then grill for about 1 minute; you want them to still be firm but have the grill flavor.
  3. In a mixing bowl, add the flour and season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, scramble the three egg whites with one whole egg. In a third bowl, add the bread crumbs and the tablespoon of chopped parsley. 4. Take 5 spears of asparagus (depending on size) and roll into the chicken breast filets.
  4. Dredge in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumb mixture. Repeat for all breasts
  5. Place the breasts on a pre-greased baking sheet seam side down and bake in a 350 degree oven for approx. 15 - 20 mins
  6. Remove from the oven, top the breast with Hollandaise sauce and garnish with orange zest.
For the Sauce:
  1. Heat the butter on low heat until melted.
  2. Zest and juice the orange and keep both products separate.
  3. In a blender add the egg yolks, orange juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire
  4. Set the blender on high, slowly drizzle in the melted butter until thick.
  5. Season with salt & pepper.
  6. Keep warm for service.
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