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Author Notes: This is one of the recipes I most teach in my cooking classes, because I find many people like the breast part best. I thank my Instructor Chef David, who owns a restaurant near Pisa, for the concept of the stuffed breast. This is my winter interpretation of a stuffing for breasts of chicken. The figs in the filling make a wonderful contrast with the savoury meat and sauce and the pistachios give it a nice crunch. The lard is simply to give the meat more flavour and fat as the breast is very dry. The lard should be sliced paper thin so that it melts during the cooking process (if you can find "Lardo di Colonnata" you will see the difference, because it is cured with salt, herbs and spices and aged for 6 to 10 months). This way of stuffing breasts of chicken also looks especially nice when you plate it - cut it on a diagonal and you have a roll of so many colours plus the extra brightness of the pistachio green! The recipe has a long explanation but fear not - it won't take you more then 5 minutes to make each breast if you have all the ingredients prepared and ready at hand. —Maria Teresa Jorge
Stuffed Chicken Breasts
- 4 individual chicken breasts (breasts of 2 chickens)
- 8 dry figs - medium size
- 12 lard slices cut paper thin (or pancetta if you can't get lard)
- 12 sage leafs
- 4 ounces Roasted pistachios, peeled and not salted
- 3/4 cup Vin Santo (Italian sweet dessert wine)
- 7 ounces butter
- Sichuan pepper (because of the lemony taste)
- 1 tablespoon zest of lemon - fresh
- Cut the stem off from the dry figs, flatten them with your hand and put them in a bowl and cover with the Vin Santo, cover with plastic film and let soak until you need them.
- Pistachios - choose unsalted and shelled. You need to take as much as the brown skin off so you are left with only the green part. Blanch the pistachios for 1 minute, drain them and put them in a tea towel and rub well until you get rid of the brown skin (or almost). Chop until you get small pieces, you need to have some crunch to it. Put them in a bowl and set aside. This can be done in advance.
- If your chicken breats come attached in 2 (the right breast attached to the left breast), cut through the "natural" middle and discard any bones attached to the meat. You should now have 4 individual chicken breasts totally boneless. Wash and pat dry the meat.
- Cut 8 x 13" by 13" pieces of kitchen parchment paper.
- Preparing the chicken breast to pound it: Put the breast of chicken thinner part facing you. Put one hand flat on top of the breast and with a sharp knife slice the breast of chicken like you are opening it like a book. Do not cut all the way through, leave one end attached to the other. Open the chicken breast as if you are opening a book - you will be able to see the meat's fibers coming down perpendicular. With a sharp knife make shallow incisions cutting through the fibers of the meet horizontally - don't cut all the way down, or you will end up with holes. This procedure will enable you to flatten and make the meat expand otherwise it won't flatten as much and will shrink back.
- Wet 2 pieces of parchment paper under cold running water. (the water makes the paper more maleable and easier to work with). Put one parchment paper on a wooden board, place 1 breast of chicken in the middle and cover with the other parchment paper. With a meat pounder, pound the chicken breast with a pounding and pulling motion from the middle towards the outside. Turn the paper and meat clockwise and continue until the meat is thin, about 0.5 inches all over. Make sure in the middle it's not thicker. Discard the top paper and adjust the meat pulling it together so you don't have any holes. It doesn't have to be a perfect shape but no holes otherwise the filling comes out.
- Drain the figs reserving the Vin Santo. Chop the figs in small pieces. Stack the sage leaves and cut them in thin strips.
- Season the meat with salt and freshly ground Sichuan pepper. Leaving 1/2 an inch of chicken breast clear all around, divide 3 very thin slices of the lard on top of the meat, sprinkle with sage, 1/4 of the diced figs, lemon rind and some granulated pistachios.
- You should now have a uneven shaped rectangle of thin chicken breast with stuffing having a 1/2 inch wide border with nothing on. Turn the thinner end of the rectangle facing you, start rolling tightly the meat with the stuffing, using the bottom sheet of parchment to help rolling and tightening the roll until you finish. Using the bottom parchment paper, roll it tightly around the stuffed chicken breast and put in the fridge.
- Repeat with the remaining 3 breasts of chicken and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 325º F with rack in the middle.
- Unroll the parchment paper and bind each roll of stuffed chicken breast with kitchen string so it will hold the shape and not open during cooking. Discard the paper.
- Cut the butter in small pieces, add them to a sauté pan large enough to hold the 4 rolls of chicken. When the butter starts to sizzle, over medium heat, add the chicken rolls and let brown on one side (don't keep turning them or the meat will toughen). When gold on one side, around 4 minutes, turn over and brown the other side, 4 more minutes.
- Put the chicken rolls on an oven dish.
- Remove 4 tablespoons of the Vin Santo and set aside in a small bowl for the vinaigrette.
- Deglaze the pan with the remainder Vin Santo and let simmer until all the alcohol has evaporated. Pour over the chicken breasts and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, keep the plate inside and cover with aluminium foil to let the meat rest and all the flavours combine.
- Cut the kitchen string and discard. Serve hot, slicing the chicken rolls in 4 pieces on a diagonal and serving each guest 1 roll, with some sauce poured on top. On the sides add some pistachio vinaigrette, sprinkle some pistachios on top and some freshly grated Sichuan pepper.
- 4 tablespoons Vin Santo (reserved)
- 4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Lemon juice freshly squeezed
- Mix the ingredients with a fork just until you have an emulsion.
- Drizzle a bit of vinaigrette around the chicken rolls and sprinkle with granulated pistachios.