Ah, the ever-troublesome chicken breast. Many shun it for being dry, tasteless and boring. Others choose the breast (preferably without skin or bone) and disdain the darker meat of the leg and thigh.
To be truthful, I’m in the dark meat camp for the most part, but I also welcome properly cooked, flavorful white meat on my plate. Therein lies the problem: A chicken breast like that is hard to come by.
But I’m here to proclaim that it’s possible — and not difficult — to produce a tender chicken breast that gets raves. I do it all the time, and friends always ask for the secret. There’s no secret, but there is one rule: Don’t overcook it.
One way to achieve the ideal chicken breast is to make it the same thickness end to end (in its natural state, it is tapered). To do so, you can pound the breast into a paillard, which is the French term for a thin slice of meat that can be quickly cooked.
Season each paillard on both sides with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with a little chopped thyme. Drizzle on a little olive oil, and let it marinate with a few thyme sprigs and some strips of lemon zest.
Pounded so thin (I prefer a 3/8- to 1/2-inch thickness), the paillards will take just a few minutes on the stovetop to cook, followed by a few minutes in the oven. Letting the cooked meat rest for five minutes ensures that the breasts will be fully done, but not dry.
For a simple but attractive plate, place some lightly dressed arugula leaves near the chicken. Add some shaved Parmesan. Give the breasts a smear of black olive tapenade (the tapenade is a cinch to make and keeps for weeks in the fridge), and a lemon wedge on the side.
This is my chicken paillard, one with flavor, and, most important, succulence.
CHICKEN PAILLARD WITH BLACK OLIVE TAPENADE
By David Tanis
- 1 cup pitted Niçoise olives
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 3 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 tablespoon capers, well-rinsed
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 8 ounces each
- Salt and pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon roughly chopped thyme, plus a few sprigs
- 8 wide strips lemon zest, from 1 medium lemon
- 5 ounces wild arugula (about 4 handfuls)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano, for shaving
- Lemon wedges
>> Make the tapenade: In the bowl of a food processor, place olives, anchovy, garlic, capers, parsley, orange zest, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Pulse several times to make a rough paste, then scrape down sides of the bowl and puree for about 30 seconds more. Alternatively, use a knife to finely chop ingredients, transfer them to a bowl and stir in the olive oil. You should have about 1 cup of tapenade, more than you need for this recipe. (Refrigerate the remainder for up to 2 weeks.)
>> Prepare the chicken: Working one at a time, lay chicken breast on a sturdy cutting board. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut breast horizontally in half, almost, but not completely. Open the breast like a book; it will be a heart-shaped piece of meat. Lay the breast between two resealable plastic bags and lightly pound the breast to 3/8- to 1/2-inch thickness. Don’t pound too hard, or the meat may tear. When all breasts are ready, transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet in one layer.
Season each breast on both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped thyme, and rub seasoning into meat, coating evenly with oil. Scatter thyme sprigs and lemon zest strips over. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes.
Set oven to 400 degrees. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat, and lightly coat bottom with olive oil. When oil is hot, lay two chicken breast down in skillet. Cook for 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn over and cook 1 minute more. Transfer breasts to a clean baking sheet, browned-side up. Repeat with the other breasts.
Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes, until firm to the touch. Remove from oven, keep warm and let rest 5 minutes. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and lemon zest strips.
Put arugula in a bowl, and dress very lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place a handful of dressed greens on each of four plates. Place cooked paillards alongside. Smear 1 tablespoon tapenade across the surface of each breast. With a vegetable peeler, shave some cheese over arugula. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.