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A Flavorful Sandwich Filling

sandwichFor some reason, many people think that if you're the chef of an upscale restaurant, you don't eat sandwiches. That frustrates me, especially when I've been invited to what I think will be a casual lunch and I'm looking forward to a great sandwich, only to be served a plate of what the host considers fancier food.

Even the most casual sandwiches can be creative. It's all a matter of the quality of the ingredients and the imaginative ways in which you prepare and combine them.

Take my recipe for Roast Chicken Breast Sandwiches with Basil Aioli. We feature sandwiches like this one at my Wolfgang Puck Bistro and Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants. In every aspect, this recipe does its utmost to provide as intriguing, delicious, and satisfying a meal as you'll find anywhere.

First, the chicken is marinated overnight with simple but aromatic seasonings: green onion, ginger, garlic, and hot chili flakes. Together, they bring high excitement to a meat that can sometimes be bland.

The same holds true for the aioli, classic French-style garlic mayonnaise. Like any sandwich condiment, it plays the role of sauce, adding moisture and flavor to every bite. In my version here, I add lots of chopped fresh basil leaves to make it even more aromatic and colorful. Feel free to vary the seasonings yourself by folding into the finished mayonnaise some chopped capers, celery, apple - almost anything you like.

By the way, I know some home cooks are cautious about the slight risk of salmonella or other food-borne illnesses in raw or slightly cooked eggs. To minimize that risk, use the freshest, cleanest grade-A or AA cage-free eggs available, making sure their shells aren't cracked; refrigerate them properly; and be careful not to let the yolks or whites touch the outer shells. Or simply use good bottled mayonnaise instead, stirring in the seasonings to taste.

Quickly roasting the chicken breasts helps keep the meat plump and juicy, though you could also saute, broil, or grill them. Then, I slice up the meat and toss it while still warm with some aioli. Just imagine how juicy and flavorful that mixture is! (You could also substitute chopped leftover chicken.)

Next comes the sandwich bread. I often use crusty rolls from the bakery, but you could substitute sourdough or whole-grain slices. Toasting them briefly in the oven while you prepare the filling adds still more flavor and texture. So does a slice of cheese melted on the bread, if you like. Finally, thinly sliced vegetables contribute still more flavor, texture, and color to every bite.

Now you know how delicious such a sandwich can be. So, please, feel free to serve me something like this the next time you invite me to lunch!

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ROAST CHICKEN BREAST SANDWICHES WITH BASIL AIOLI (Serves 4)

ROAST CHICKEN BREASTS:

4 boneless skinless organic chicken breast halves, about 4 ounces each
1/2 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

BASIL AIOLI:

2 cage-free egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt
Freshly ground white pepper
2 cups safflower oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

SANDWICHES:

4 good-quality crusty sandwich rolls
4 slices organic provolone cheese (optional)
4 leaves organic Romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into thin strips
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

The night before, start marinating the chicken breasts. In a shallow nonreactive dish large enough to hold them in a single layer, stir together the peanut oil, green onion, ginger, garlic, and pepper flakes. Add the chicken breasts and turn to coat them evenly. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, prepare the aioli. In a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, or in a blender, put the egg yolks, basil, mustard, garlic, and a little salt and white pepper. Process until smooth. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream until it has all been added and the mixture is emulsified to a smooth, thick, creamy consistency. Add the lemon juice and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade. Place them in a single layer in a small roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Roast until they are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a cutting board, covering them loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

To assemble the sandwiches, with a serrated bread knife, carefully cut the rolls horizontally in half. Place them on a baking sheet with their top halves cut side down and their bottom halves cut side up. If you like, place 1 slice of provolone on the bottom half of each roll. Bake until the rolls are lightly toasted and the cheese has melted, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, with a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts crosswise into very thin slices. Put the slices in a mixing bowl and add a little of the aioli to taste, tossing the chicken slices lightly to coat them evenly.

Arrange the chicken on top of the cheese on the bottom halves of each roll. Top with romaine, tomato, and red onion. Spread some more aioli generously on the cut side of the top half of each roll, and place on top of the sandwiches. Serve immediately.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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