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You chose to make Chicken Piccata mostly because you found the name humorous as a child. You thought “piccata” was one of the words in the preamble to the opening of Laverne & Shirley, or perhaps it was something Ramona Quimby would say. You’re a grown adult now, and the dish remains a standard fare, so it’s time for you to cook.

You pull the well-used copy of 1,001 Dishes from the shelf, gripping it tight in your arms. The binding is suspect in several locations thanks to multiple decades of use, but it hasn’t failed you yet.

Even though Chicken Piccata is new to you, as you flip the book open, like a strong wind blowing through a window, the book flops open like a rag doll. Your eye is drawn to the hearty ingredient list like you found Waldo in a sea of lookalikes. With everything laid out, prepped, chopped, measured, and portioned, it’s time to cook.

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

You’ve made chicken similar to this before, so the practice comes to you with well-trained muscle memory. After the decorating of the chicken in its preparatory coating, you look to read the next step.

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes, but not longer, like you did last week with the pork chops.

As you reach for the knife, you pause and go back to read the step again. Perhaps the pan is smoking and your vision is impaired.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes.

With several blinks of your eyes, you look outside your kitchen window to see if the weather is different, if your neighbor purchased a new car, or if a unicorn walked into your yard. The same gray skies, old jalopy, and your dead grass remain, so your attention goes back to the pan.

The chicken and the oil and butter combo fill your kitchen with the smell of a great meal in progress. Your stomach wakes and reminds you of the emptiness inside. “Hang in there,” you say to yourself.

3. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to a plate.

You grab the first dinner plate atop the pile in the cabinet and place it near the stove. The chicken is flipped and your stomach growls. A quick glance at the timer tells you you’ve got time for a little snack. Bounding to the fridge, the final package of string cheese awaits you in the cheese drawer. Thwarting convention of socially dictated cheese consumption practices, you tear open the plastic, and bite the top off the exposed end of the string cheese, savoring the dairy goodness. A glance at the chicken tells you it’s time to focus again on the meal in development, so it’s back to the cookbook for your next step.

4. When you’re done eating string cheese like a Neanderthal Visigoth, melt 2 more tablespoons of butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in the same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate… and no more snacking.

You toss the quarter-eaten string cheese onto the counter and look again outside. No elves or wizards. No merry pranksters. Shaking your head vigorously, as if your brain operated like a blender with a pasty food concoction plastered to one side of the glass, you turn your back on the book and return to the chicken, adding the finished portions to the plate.

You turn around and face the cookbook, now at a distance like it is a suspicious dog that wandered into the neighborhood. The dish must still be finished, so back to it you go.

5. Add the lemon juice, stock, and capers. Return to stove and bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. You should probably turn the exhaust fan on too since you tend to burn food regularly.

Without hesitation, you activate the fan. There’s a sign from above and you won’t mess with it any more.

6. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken and place all of the cooked chicken to a different platter, because the first one is chipped and you know how much it depresses your wife to see that dish in use.

You look out to the dining room, and your lovely wife is sitting at the table, scrolling through Instagram after a long day of meetings that were unnecessary from the get-go. She looks up at you, smiles, and asks, “Need my help?”

“No,” you say with a smile. “Almost done here, sweetie.”

With one more cautious stare over your shoulder, you see the cookbook in the same spread-eagle posture, harmlessly sitting on the counter. Nonetheless, the meal is almost ready and you remember there’s one more step.

7. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, provided you worked out a ton this week, since you’ve now used enough butter to kill a cab driver. What’s that? You say you have exercised at least 150 minutes this week? I call “bullshit,” but it’s your funeral. Alright, fine. Go ahead then. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to sauce and whisk vigorously (and that doesn’t count as cardio, you weakling). Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley. Serve with green beans and a crisp white wine. ENJOY!

You add one tablespoon of butter to the pan, and while whisking vigorously, you engage your core and contract your abs in some form of standing plank that isn’t really exercise. You consider doing five squats as well, but imagining whisking the scalding butter atop your head seems dangerous and stupid.

After plating the chicken and a portion of green beans on two plates, you walk to the dining room, and find your wife pouring two glasses of chilled white wine.

“Wine. What a good… idea,” you say, looking back through the threshold into the kitchen. The cookbook remains lying splayed on the counter, a lifeless slab of papers and glue.

“I don’t know,” your wife says. “I suddenly had a hankering for wine. What a great complement to this meal, huh?”

The two of you dig into the dish and the vibrant citrus and perfectly cooked chicken meld together magnificently. You’re relieved it tastes good, but are surprised as your wife voices her pleasure louder than any previous meal.

“Oh my GOD. This is so good. What recipe is this?”

Before you can answer, she gets up and runs to the kitchen.

“Honey,” she says to you. “This is Chicken Piccata, right?”

“Yes,” you say, completely unaware of what she sees.

“It’s not in this book.”

You get up and walk to where she stands over the cookbook. On the page before the two of you are two chicken recipes, neither of which say “piccata” anywhere on the page.

“Oh yeah,” you say. “I was going to make the Chicken Saltimbocca, but decided I was in the mood for piccata instead.”

“Such an amazing chef,” your wife says, kissing you on the cheek, before returning to her seat.

You look down at the cookbook once more and see two empty pages. You flip a page and find two more empty pages, then two more, and two more after that. The entire book is empty.

“Honey, you coming back?” your wife asks.

You flip one more page and see in bold letters in the middle of the empty space.

Guess you don’t need me anymore. Good luck, and enjoy the salmonella. 

Jay Heltzer

Jay Heltzer writes attention-challenged fiction, plays bass trombone, digs sloppy fountain pen sketches, and is in pursuit of the perfect cheeseburger.

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