Monday, December 27, 2004

Segue From a Cook (part 3)

Bard's Festive Chicken

Ok. This is not a very original dish. Just about every restraunt I've ever worked in has had some variation of this. The cheeses change, the fillings get shifted around, but its a safe bet that any restaraunt that offers chicken on the menu offers some sort of chicken supreme stuffed with cheese. This can range from the often overdone chicken cordon bleu to Sharkey's Wolfgang Chicken (with goat cheese and spinach as I recall) to whatever the hell we called the one we served at Il Posto (with gorgonzola). Suffice to say, its a classic. But it WORKS. There's something magical about chicken stuffed with a nice, soft cheese. The real trick is finding a stuffing combination that complements both the chicken, and a sauce that brings it all together but doesn't overpower things.

This dish uses goat cheese. Not feta, but just simple goat cheese, preferably the softest you can find. The flavor of the goat cheese nicely holds all the other flavors together, and heated it has a fantastic texture that's nearly a sauce in and of itself. The stuffing is also great for a fancy spread, or for stuffed mushroom caps.

For the balsamic vinegar, just about anything will do. But it MUST be balsamic. I suggest, however, using the highest quality stuff you can find, because you really DO get what you pay for.

This is a FANTASTIC dish to serve for parties. The prep work is virtually nonexistant, taking up maybe 20 minutes of your time, and aside from a short spin in the pan (maybe 2-3 minutes a side), you can just toss these suckers in the oven and ignore them.

4 chicken supremes (plain, deboned breasts are fine as well, but the supremes have the first joint of the wing bone still on and look nice...also, try to get them with skin on)
1 large palmful of goat cheese (just buy a nice big tube of the stuff and cut off as much as you end up needing...goat cheese is nice to have around anyway)
1 medium sized palmful of dried cranberries, and the same of walnuts
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tabelspoons of roughly chopped parsley, and the same of finely chopped chives
1 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Roughly dice the cranberries and the walnuts. Don't turn them into mush, but give them a nice, good chop.
2. Throw the cranberries, walnuts, herbs, olive oil, and some salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well until everything's incorporated. It helps if you've warmed the goat cheese slightly before doing this.
3. On the inside edge of the chicken breasts make a small incision. Make it near the top, and wider on the inside. Use a paring knife if you have to, though a boning knife is preferable due to the overall size and shape of the blade. A chef's knife is just overkill, unless your a deft hand with it.
4. Stuff the cavity of the breast full of the cheese mixture. Don't worry if the hole you made comes out the other side a little bit, or onto the bottom of the breast. Its not that big a deal as long as the holes aren't too big.
5. In a large, metal (no teflon here) frying pan heat some oil and add the breasts once the oil is heated. The breasts should go top down ("prestentation side" down) first. Give them 2 or 3 minutes, until they turn a nice gold color on that side, and flip them over to the other side and repeat. After this, transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Put in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until cooked throughout and showing little or no pink inside. Remember that poultry (along with hamburger) cannot be served rare, and must be 100% cooked.
6. While your chicken's in the oven, add the cup of balsamic vinegar to a sauce pan and heat to boiling. Let it boil down and reduce by about one half to two thirds. This doesn't need any seasonings at all. It should be nice and syrupy at this point. If you want to be fancy, throw some peppercorns in while its cooking.
7. Plate the chicken with some steamed veggies (spinach is also nice) and drizzle the balsamic over it. If you want to be real fancy and have a really sharp chef or carving knife, cut the chicken into medallions, making sure that the last medallion still has the bone on it.

This dish is dead easy. To be honest, cutting the pocket into the chicken is the hardest part, and its a lot easier than it looks. You may want to buy an extra chicken breast or two to practice on (and then perhaps grill with some BBQ sauce, or maybe slice up and turn into fajitas...or whatever) beforehand. After that, its all easy as pie.

I'm going to be trying some odd recipes this week. If they work, they're going to get their own Segues. Until then: Eat good food. Enjoy good food. And at some point, cook good food.


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