In late February, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden enjoyed a dinner at The Red Hen in Washington, D.C. The pair ordered a few glasses of wine (Barbera), appetizers (grilled bread and chicory salad), and then tucked into the rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu. It was this last detail that caused a stir online. Many took to Twitter and wrote articles expressing shock that the Bidens ordered two identical entrées. Why would they limit themselves? Why didn’t they order one plate to share and try some of the restaurant’s other dishes? The ordeal divided commenters into those who prefer to share and those who don’t. Regardless of everyone’s take, one truth was largely unanimous: The Red Hen’s rigatoni is incredible.
Mike Friedman, the chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Italian restaurant, was honored to have the President dine at his establishment and enjoyed the meal-splitting discourse it caused. He didn’t pick a side in the debate. He was simply happy they enjoyed their food. Plus, he’s not a stranger to identical ordering: his young daughters do it all the time when they eat at The Red Hen.
“They have to get the arancini, cacio e pepe and, of course, all the desserts,” he says. “My younger daughter will order anything my older daughter orders. In that sense, they are just like the Bidens.”
As a restaurant owner and parent, Friedman, who is also co-owner of D.C.’s All-Purpose as well as of the forthcoming concepts, Aventino and AP Pizza Shop in Bethesda, Maryland, is no stranger to contending with the particular tastes and habits of diners. One piece of advice that helps him succeed when feeding kids? Don’t underestimate the power of a good sauce. For instance, when Friedman whips up his Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets — a meal he makes for dinner roughly once a week and that he shared for his dad special — he always serves them with what his daughters have dubbed “super sauce.” A combination of mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, yellow mustard, honey, and paprika, it’s a hit with kids.
“Any sauce that combines sweetness, saltiness, and a pop of flavor is going to be a winner,” Friedman says. “This sauce has all the things you want in it – smokiness, sweetness, and a good rounded flavor profile.”
The cutlets, meanwhile, are Friedman’s healthy-ish riff on a kid classic: the chicken finger. He dredges them in egg, flour, and a mixture of panko and parmesan before shallow-frying them. He usually pairs them with roasted broccoli, jasmine rice, and, of course, the super sauce.
To ensure you achieve cutlet perfection, Friedman does have some tips. “It’s really important that the thickness is consistent or else the cutlets could cook at different temperatures,” he says. The breading procedure is also “super-necessary here” and shouldn’t be rushed. Using large dishes or bowls helps to ensure proper coating,
When you’re ready to fry, make sure the oil is hot. Friedman likes to throw a few breadcrumbs into the pan to see how they react. “Do they float to the bottom with no bubbles? The oil isn’t ready. Do they fry and brown within seconds? Then the oil is too hot. You’re looking for the breadcrumbs to dance a bit in the oil and slowly brown.” When they do, you’re ready to fry.
Fatherhood is a powerful force for Friedman. It’s taught him patience, to enjoy the moment, and that he can “drink an absurd amount of coffee in a 24-hour period.”
“My favorite thing about being a father is that feeling of unconditional love,” he says. “It’s an amazing thing to be able to love something more than yourself. I hope my kids know that.”
He does his best to make it known. “The biggest thing I say to my girls is to love themselves, always try something new, and believe in yourself,” he says.
A little bit of super sauce doesn’t hurt, either.
Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets With “Super Sauce”
Courtesy of Mike Friedman, Chef-Owner of The Red Hen, All-Purpose, Aventino, and AP Pizza Shop
- 4 ea chicken breasts
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 ea whole eggs, whisked
- 3 cups seasoned panko breadcrumbs (regular panko will also work well)
- 1 cup parmesan, grated
- Canola oil, as needed
- *Super Sauce
1. Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise. To accomplish this, simply place the breast on the cutting board. Place your hand on top of the breast to put some pressure on it, then run your knife from the thicker part of the breast to the thinnest. This should give you two even chicken cutlets.
2. Prepare the breading station. Place the flour in one bowl and the eggs in another. Mix the panko and parmesan in a third bowl. Have a sheet pan at the ready to place the prepared cutlets on.
3. Dredge the cutlets in the flour, one by one, then in the egg. Once the cutlet is coated in the egg mixture, press it into the breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Flip over and press again. Place each cutlet onto the sheet pan until all of them are completed.
4. In a large saute pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Drop a breadcrumb into the oil when you think it’s ready. If it starts to sizzle and caramelize, the oil is hot enough to begin.
5. Gently place the cutlets into the pan. Make sure there is enough room to flip each cutlet. Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy. Place onto a paper-towel lined plate and season immediately with a sprinkle of salt. Repeat with the rest of the cutlets.
If you’d like to keep your cutlets warm as you finish frying the others, simply pop them into a 300 F oven for 5-7 minutes.
6. Serve warm with super sauce (recipe below) or anything else the kids might like!
makes about ¾ cup
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp smoky barbecue sauce
- 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 1 Tbsp honey
- ¼ tsp paprika
1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients until well-combined. Refrigerate.