Baked chicken? Boring. I ate a lot of baked chicken as a kid, and it was boring. (Sorry dad). But stuffing baked chicken can be awesome. It transforms a boring, bland and surprisingly tricky dish into a delicious and spiffy one. This is the spirit behind the butcher counter pre-stuffed chicken: easy peasy elegance. Except for the fact that every pre-stuffed chicken I’ve ever bought has suffered from vague cooking directions, watery chicken, and too much stuffing. I’ve also screwed up a plethora of stuffed chicken recipes all on my own: over stuffing, over cooking, under cooking, simply falling apart.
So tonight when I made an awesome stuffed chicken, it was a Eureka Moment. All of my past mistakes were made clear, resolved by serendipity and hindsight. I had everything I needed, I treated the ingredients right, I listened to my gut when cooking, and I served right away.
Miriam’s Stuffed Chicken
Let’s start with the conundrum of all weeknight meals: planning. Thanksgiving is in two days. Saturday I hit up the Sunnyvale farmer’s market, and yesterday Chris and I made a Costco, Safeway, and Sprouts marathon after work so we won’t have to shop for the next week. So I knew I had chicken, green beans, mushrooms, peppers, and assorted cheeses to work with. No after work trips to the grocery store required.
Next: proper treatment of ingredients. I flattened the chicken breasts so they’d be easier to roll around the other elements. Some random thing at work reminded me of my days in the co-op kitchen, where quick cooking was a necessity. I placed the chicken breasts in a zip bag with the air squeezed out, and attacked them with a rolling pin until they had loosened up. (This doubles as after-work stress-relief). I used hard cheese (Gouda) cut into strips for the interior, so it actually stayed inside rather than leaking out like mozzarella or brie. I used a browning cheese (Reggiano) on top, over an all-over coating of olive oil and a salt/pepper/garlic powder seasoning. And I cut the peppers and greens into 3 in segments so they didn’t stick out too far from the chicken and burn. I secured the lot together with toothpicks, oriented down against the pan so they don’t burn either.
Since my days of cooking for 40 people at the co-op, I’ve always struggled with timing. Chicken can be rough: the risk of undercooking is dire, but so is the unpleasantness of overcooking. I prepped the chicken and pre-heated the oven first, which gave me a solid half-hour to get the other dishes squared away. I pulled the chicken out after half an hour, covered it in foil and let it coast the last 10ºF, then browned the top under the broiler for 2 min when everything else was done. Then I served everything immediately.
OKAY! Here’s the skinny, very scalable to different volume needs:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 lb harricot verts (skinny french green beans)
1 red pepper (sweet italian)
5 slices of aged gouda and 1/8 cup shredded/shaved reggiano cheeses
3 tbs olive oil
Salt, pepper, other seasonings to taste
Toothpicks, 2x chicken breasts
1. Pound chicken breasts flat, in a plastic bag or between clingwrap layers on the counter; preheat oven to 375ºF
2. Wash and cut stuffing veggies (peppers and green beans, or any other firm veg), and slice the cheese
3. Grease the pan with olive oil and set up the chicken, veggies/cheese, seasoning, and toothpicks next to the pan. For each breast, cover with olive oil and seasoning, roll 1/4 of veggies/cheese up, and secure with toothpics. top with more seasoning and shredded cheese
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and cover for 5-10 minutes if other dishes are not done. Turn on broiler for 2 minutes (watch it!) to brown cheese on top