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Herbed Ricotta-stuffed Chicken Breasts with Sauce Aurore

August 2, 2007

Stuffed Chicken

I have a newfound respect for those 1950s housewives. How they managed to have dinner ready and on the table when hubby walked through the door and still clean the house, clean the kids, and make sure there was a cocktail waiting for the mister is something I will perhaps never understand. I find it difficult enough to time dinner so it’s ready when Crystal gets home, and last night was certainly a challenge in that area. It was also a challenge in the dish-doing area, because I used almost every saucepan and skillet I have. But it was so worth it.

I wanted to do something kind of fancy, in honor of Crystal’s return (and this after yesterday’s screed about simplicity in the kitchen). She spent ten days in California, and is only here for two weeks before her departure for Spain, and graduate school. I am trying not to cry here, thinking about it. This was certainly fancy, and perhaps one of the best things to come out of the kitchen all summer. Crystal thinks so, at least, and I have to say for once I could find nothing I would improve or fix or change next time. It all worked out quite well, which is shocking considering I was kind of making it up as I went along. And struggling to make sure it was all finished by the time Crystal got home from work.

The ricotta-stuffed chicken breasts were what I planned to make for Mr. X last week, when I was thwarted by the hippy mart. This time I thought ahead, so no thwarting occurred. They were a bit more difficult to cook than I expected, and didn’t look as pretty as I imagined, but they tasted even better. And that’s what really matters, right?

I decided to actually make a complete meal this time, so I just steamed some fresh broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, and cooked more of those delicious harvest grains to serve on the side. And excellent complements they were. They made us both feel very healthy.

Fresh Herbs

Herbed Ricotta-stuffed Chicken Breasts

  • a small handful of fresh basil
  • an even smaller handful of fresh mint (just a few leaves, really)
  • a few sprigs of fresh parsley
  • a big handful of fresh tarragon
  • about a cup of whole-milk ricotta
  • a bit of salt
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. maille or dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • probably about 1/2 c. olive oil, plus a few teaspoons

You can prepare the herbed ricotta and marinate the chicken ahead of time. The chicken should marinate for at least 30 minutes, but I let it marinate for about two hours.

For the herbed ricotta: Finely chop the fresh herbs and mix them well into the ricotta. Season with a bit of salt and perhaps some pepper (I left out the pepper). Set it aside, in the refrigerator if you won’t be cooking for awhile.

For the marinade: Whisk together the balsamic, mustard, fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking the whole time to emulsify the oil and vinegar.

Lay the chicken breasts between two sheets of wax paper and use a meat hammer (mallet, tenderizer, whatever you want to call it) to flatten them to about a quarter inch thickness. Cut off the tenders and trim extra fat and hangy off bits. Add the chicken to the marinade, cover, and let it all sit together and mingle for at least a half an hour, in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip off. Cut the flattened chicken into pieces about three inches wide and six inches long, or whatever size you can cut from your chicken bits. You want them long enough to roll up, and narrow enough to fit in your skillet. Smear one side of each chicken piece with about one a half to two tablespoons of the ricotta mixture, and gently roll the chicken up, with the ricotta on the inside (obviously). You can use toothpicks to hold them together. I just cooked them with the seam side down first, and they mostly stayed together. Kind of.

Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken rolls, seam side down, and cook them for about three or four minutes, depending on thickness. Then flip them over gently and cook the other side for about three or four minutes. You may have to do them in batches, depending on the size of your skillet.

When they were done cooking, Crystal was no where near being home, so I had to set them aside and cover them to keep them warm. If your sense of timing is better than mine, you can be making the sauce aurore while the chicken breasts marinate and cook and then serve everything together. Someday I’ll learn.

Stuffed Chicken

Sauce Aurore

When I first started cooking this I had my misgivings. It just didn’t seem like it was going to be thick enough, and it seemed kind of boring and I just wasn’t sure all around. However, it gets very, very big thumbs up. I found the recipe in The Joy of Cooking: It’s basically a flourless cream sauce with tomato paste added. I changed the cooking technique just a little bit. It is delicious.

  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2-3 T. tomato paste
  • a bit of salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock over very high heat until it reduces to 1/4 of a cup, or a quarter of its original volume. Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream over low heat until it’s just warm, but not boiling. When the stock has thickened and reduced enough (probably about then minutes), remove it from the heat and slowly add the cream, whisking continually. Then whisk in the tomato paste, salt, and pepper. When the tomato paste is completely mixed in, raise the heat again to a medium-high flame and let the sauce come to a rolling boil. Let it cook for another four or five minutes to thicken a bit.

Once everything is finished and your healthy components (i.e. vegetables and grains) are cooked and ready, just set it all out on a plate and pour the sauce over everything. And serve it to happy people.

A complete meal

All the herbs were really the perfect balance of flavors and the sauce pulled everything together and it just made me very, very happy. If I had a restaurant, I would serve this in it. The sauce is light and just barely tomatoey. The chicken was tender and the herbs made it all taste very fresh. The ricotta was creamy and salty. And the vegetables were perfect. All in all, this was a dinner to make a housewife proud. As long as she can figure out how to get it to the table in a timely fashion.

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