By Andrew Lin
A selective review of some of the chicken offerings that HUDS provides.
With the end of spring break comes that inevitable return to Harvard – and with that inevitable return to Harvard comes the inevitable re-acquaintance with Harvard University Dining Services’ love of chicken. Chicken, that greatest of institutional meats by virtue of its low food cost per unit meal, is a staple of an institution which must cope with feeding over 6,000 hungry students. But chicken itself is a meat that often can go badly wrong: when poorly prepared, it can offer a bland, dry, and unfulfilling experience that offers only nutritional sustenance and not much more. For the most part, Harvard’s various chicken entrees thankfully avoid such an outcome, and this review shall hopefully offer some good cheer to the stalwart chefs at HUDS who work so hard to feed so many students in an effective and occasionally delicious manner. Per the classic tradition of the last two food reviews, the Indy offers here a sampler of some of the many, many chicken recipes Harvard has to offer – but in that tradition, please do email in with suggestions for another possible round 2!
*A note: The fried chicken offerings HUDS blesses us with will be covered in a later article – they merit their own separate review in full.
The Recipes: A Breakdown
Chicken with Tomato Basil Salsa:
This classic south-of-the-border treatment of the humble gallus gallus is the first occurrence of something of a HUDS motif, namely in the form of the grilled chicken breast which constitutes its base. This grilled chicken and sauce combo is something that we see quite often from HUDS, and indeed, it is in the sauces that each chicken variety is made to shine. The grilled chicken from HUDS offers a decently springy (if somewhat stringy) palette on which to apply sauces and seasonings, and the tomato basil salsa variant is no exception. The salsa itself is bright and vibrant, and its dual hits of tomato and balsamic vinegar combined with the fresh spritz of basil all awaken the senses.
Echoing the tradition of such culinary TV greats as Emeril Lagasse, this next treatment of the grilled chicken breast offers a deep and rich throwback to the Italian-American kitchen. The marsala appended to the chicken refers to the sauce’s own base of Marsala wine, a sweet dessert wine from Marsala, Sicily which also features in many classic Italian desserts such as tiramisu and sabayon. The marsala sauce here is a thick, creamy affair, with mushrooms lending further depth to the flour-enhanced bulk of the sauce. Chicken base featuring encouraging constituent components such as salt and chicken fat further accentuates the powerful saltiness of this entrée which certainly does transport one someplace foreign and exotic for cash-broke college students – even if it might only be the nearest Olive Garden.
Like the previous offering, Chicken Francais is not wholly of Europe, and indeed it owes its creation to Italian immigrants who so popularized the dish in Rochester, NY that many a wag suggests its name be changed to Chicken Rochester. The basic idea, however, is more simple: a chicken breast egg-washed and breaded is treated with a simple sauce of lemon, butter, chicken stock, and sherry. HUDS hews more or less to this template, although they swap out the sherry-based sauce for a piccata sauce reusable in a wide variety of other contexts. And this substitution more or less works: the sauce still hits the essential lemony and buttery notes characteristic of classic Chicken Francais, and the occasional addition of capers further lends a pickled tang which cuts well through the richness of the dish as a whole.
Chicken Breast with Poblano Sauce:
This second south-of-the-border offering certainly has a lot to live up to in the form of its ostensible namesake. Chicken with poblano sauce, or more appropriately mole poblano, is considered by many to be a national dish of Mexico with a long and ancient heritage. The Harvard version, however, works in a different manner: rather than offering the chocolate-brown depths of the classic, Harvard has instead chosen to define its poblano sauce as a green sauce literally based around the poblano pepper. The resulting sauce is a green, cheesy thing, one which employs a much-vaunted “tri-blend pizza cheese” in conjunction with potato starch and brown rice flour as binding agents. But it works for me – the gentle spice of the sauce offers a rich, parsley-sprinkled depth of flavor that works well with its cheesiness to produce a flavor fiesta that almost (but not quite) manages to whet my appetite for Chipotle.
Andrew Lin ’17 ([email protected]) will gladly relinquish his editorial independence towards HUDS in exchange for a lifetime supply of their chicken fingers.