Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fancy made easy: stuffed chicken breasts

OK, this is the part where I shatter a few myths: there is no Santa Claus, the tooth fairy is your Mum, and it's really easy to make most of the food you order in fancy restaurants.  The Easter bunny, on the other hand, is absolutely bona-fide.

Restaurants are busy places.  The chef can't afford to spend hours preparing fiddly, complex dishes: they choose items which look impressive, taste good, and can be assembled quickly, and often in advance, so you get your meal before you starve to death.  Sure, there are exceptions, but usually the point of difference is that they seem too daunting to make at home, or they have a hard-to-source ingredient (steak is easy, but venison steaks are hard for the home cook to source).

I have a few "dinner party" tricks up my sleeve, and I'll share one with you now.  Stuffed chicken breasts look fancy, but take about 5-10 minutes to assemble (which I do in advance), and then just do their own thing in the oven while you drink wine with your guests.  Most dishes can cope on their own in the oven without you hovering, poking and prodding, or fretting.  Set a timer, and pour a glass of something nice!

It's this easy:

1. Turn your chicken breasts upside-down, and note where the tenderloin makes a natural fold along one edge:
2.  Using a small, sharp knife, make a small flap by slicing under the tenderloin, then make a pocket by slicing back in the other direction through the main breast:
I always wear latex gloves when handling meat.  While I believe that good hand washing is the best way to protect you from raw meat, the gloves helps stop chicken from getting under my fingernails!!  

This gives you a large pocket through the middle of the breast, with a convenient flap to close/cover the filling.  How convenient!

3.  Add the filling of your choice.  I've used mango cheeks (from a can), but my favourite is big chunks of camembert with a little bacon or prosciutto!
Fold the flap back over to cover the filling.  Secure with a skewer to hold together if needed, but I find these usually hold together pretty well.

4. Coat the breast to discourage it from drying out during cooking.  This can be as easy as wrapping a couple of slices of streaky bacon around the breast (this method also helps to hold the stuffing in!), or crumb as I did.

To crumb meat, dredge in flour, dip in egg (lightly beaten), then coat with breadcrumbs.  I use this basic technique for fish fillets, chicken, and schnitzel, giving a nice, crunchy finish whether pan-frying or baking.

Place cut-side down on baking paper in a dish or on a tray.  Cover and pop in the fridge if you're making ahead.
A glass of wine is an absolute essential.  You're slaving away in the kitchen for at least 5 minutes here.  You deserve it.

Cover with tinfoil or baking paper (to keep the moisture in), and pop into a 200°C oven for 15 minutes.  For a golden finish, spray with cooking oil, and uncover for the last 5 minutes.

5.  Presentation is half the wow-factor.  First impressions are important!  Slice the breasts on the diagonal, and arrange on plates.  This also allays any fears of serving under-cooked chicken: you get to peek inside before serving!
Please take note of the new potatoes in the background.  Thank you.


  1. Great demo thanks, this takes me back to my first flat in NZ, my flatmate also made an apricot sauce, which I think the chicken was simmered in. Looks delish! M

  2. Looks so good! you definitely deserved the wine.

  3. YUM! I just made this, but with mango and cream cheese...
    So easy, and much nicer than the artificial colour + msg creations in the supermarket :)

  4. Had these again this week, with the same filling.

    FYI - if you're like me and use real mangoes, you can cut it in to two pieces for eating as a snack, and use the leftover little pieces from around the pip to stuff the chicken breast - there will be enough for 1-2 breasts :)