Sunday, November 7, 2010

Good Stuffed Chicken

Well, after that last blog, I am opting for something a little bit healthier (and more simple) for this next post. Today, stuffed chicken! I know I know, you are thinking of the bland wedding/banquet staple that no one really likes but everyone tolerates. Not so! Stuffed chicken might not seem exciting because of its bad rep, but it is! You can design it to your liking, and make it healthy and delicious. There is so much you can do with stuffed chicken, and it requires relatively little attention. All the work is in the preparation, so it is a great thing to have when guests come over. The prep work will take about 45 minutes, and the cooking about 20-30 more.

My classic stuffed chicken is filled with a mushroom stuffing. Because the base is vegetables cooked in olive oil, and there is no cheese involved, it is tasty but good for you. Here's the recipe:

Stuffed Chicken, Mushroom style

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut off any fatty or gross parts around edges)


1/2 a carton of button mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion (or half a big one), sliced thick
1/3 c of flavored breadcrumbs (approximate, see directions: if you only have plain breadcrumbs, feel free to add your own flavorings like garlic, thyme, parsley, etc)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Chicken bath

1/2 of chicken broth
1 clove of thinly sliced garlic
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or thyme)

Special Tools:
food processor, toothpicks, casserole dish

Preheat oven to 375 (you will use this later, so get it ready now.) Start by sauteing your sliced mushrooms and onions in a skillet over medium heat in some olive oil (1-2 Tbsps). You can add them at the same time. Just be sure to turn them every so often so they don't burn. Once they are cooked through (onions should be more translucent and both onion and mushroom should be soft) season with salt and pepper, and put into your food processor. While they are cooling in there, start on your chicken.

My trick for stuffed chicken is not to do that rolling up thing that some people do. I can't seem to get that right. The stuffing always comes out, and I can't properly sear the chicken because there are a hundred toothpicks sticking out in all directions. And not only that, but if you can't remember where you put the toothpicks before cooking someone is bound to get poked in the mouth, and no one likes that. So instead of that mess, I slice the side, as if I was going to cut the breast into two cutlets, but I don't cut all the way through, which creates an open pocket in there. This is much easier not only to stuff, but to keep the stuffing in (which is the part everyone wants to eat anyway). Once the pockets are ready, sprinkle salt and pepper on the breasts, and let sit while you are making the stuffing.

Back to the food processor. Now that the mushrooms and onions have cooled, pulse them until they are chopped small--each piece of mushroom or onion should be about the size of a pea. Once this happens, add in half of your breadcrumbs along with 1/2 tsp salt and a little pepper into the food processor, and pulse until incorporated. The next part is the "use your judgment part". You want this stuffing to hold together, but you also want to be moist. You achieve this by adding a little more breadcrumbs until it holds together, and then just a tad of olive oil. You are going to want to feel the texture and make sure it sticks together. Then taste it for seasoning. It should be a little on the salty side because as the stuffing cooks, some of the flavor will leach out due to the steaming in the oven.

Now for the assembly. Stuff each pocket with as much stuffing as it can hold and still be closed. Then take a toothpick or two, pull the open sides of the pockets together, and sort of "sew" the toothpick through each open flap of the chicken, so that it stays shut. Now you know that the toothpicks will be along the opening, and you hopefully won't get poked by a stray one you forgot the location of before eating. Once you have done this with each piece of chicken, heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat (you can use the same one as you used for the mushrooms if you want). Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. The goal here is to sear each side. You want nice browning on each surface, but you do not need to cook the chicken through. That's what the next step is for.

While the chicken is searing, make the bath. Take a casserole dish that will fit all the chicken in it, and pour in chicken broth. Add rosemary and sliced garlic to the broth. Also grab a piece of tin foil. When the chicken is done searing on each side, place into the broth. Cover the dish with tin foil, and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes. This will not only cook the chicken through, but infuse it with some nice flavor and moisture from the broth bath.

When you are ready to eat, just uncover and serve. You can use the "bath" for sauce if you like. This goes really nicely with white rice and some green veggies. The key tricks here are the side pocket slicing, and remembering where your toothpicks are at. Other than that, you just want to make sure that you test your mushroom stuffing for consistency and flavor, and you'll have a perfect dish every time. Feel free to put your own stuffing in there if mushrooms aren't your thing: sundried tomatoes and goat cheese, spinach feta and pine nuts-- the possibilities are endless!

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