October 27, 2010

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Apples and Cranberries

Juli and I have been enjoying the food of the season.  In addition to enjoying lots of apples and squash, we were very happy to see fresh cranberries show up in the store.  I was happy about this not just because we love cranberries - though we do - but also because I'd been giving some thought to a new recipe for several weeks, but had needed fresh cranberries to actually make it.

The basic recipe idea was pretty straight-forward:  chicken breasts stuffed with bits of cranberries, apples and spices, all held together by a soft cheese of some sort.   The question was, where to go from there?   Although I love stuffed chicken breasts, I hadn't ever made anything quite like what I was envisioning.  I knew this would take some research.

I consulted a bunch of cookbooks, as well as various recipes and videos available at the Cook's Illustrated website and some others I found on YouTube.  The videos and the Cook's Illustrated recipes turned out to be the most helpful, so credit where due:  the recipe below, while my own creation, does incorporate a bunch of ideas I took from Cook's Illustrated and from some videos posted online by amateur cooks.   I take full ownership of any problems with the recipe, though.

Essentially, there are two main ways to stuff a chicken breast.  One is to cut the breast - either all the way, and fold it open like a book, or simply cutting a wide, deep slit in the thick edge of the breast - and put the stuffing inside that way.   The other is to pound a chicken breast flat, spread the stuffing on the flattened chicken breast, then roll it up.  Since I wanted to use a fair bit of stuffing, I went with the second option.  I also decided to bread the chicken breast and fry it briefly before baking it, in order to help the whole thing hold together. 

The recipe below outlines the procedure I used.  The result was okay, but I think this one will need some continued tinkering.  Made as written in the first draft of my recipe, the filling didn't quite work out as I'd hoped.  The apple flavor got overwhelmed by the spices and the cranberries.  Juli also found the taste of the thyme a bit overpowering in general, and while the goat cheese did add a bit of unique flavor to the filling, she questioned whether it was worth including, especially given the cost of goat cheese and how hard it can be to find if one doesn't have access to large or specialty markets.  Thus, the recipe write-up below reflects some revisions from how we actually prepared the dish.  In the recipe below, the amount of thyme is halved and  the amount of fruit is increased from 1/4 cup each of apple and cranberry to 1/2 cup finely minced apple and 1/2 cup chopped cranberries, compared to the amounts we used in preparing the recipe.

As I already noted, I'm not entirely satisfied with the recipe at this point.  It's okay, but not great enough to justify all the work put into it.  Plus, the leftovers didn't warm up particularly well.  I like the basic idea, though, so I expect I'll continue to tinker with this dish.  Meanwhile, this recipe should be considered very much a work in progress, and any feedback readers might offer would be most appreciated.

Foreground:  Cranberry-Cider Sauce, Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Apples and Cranberries

yield = 4 servings

1     tablespoon unsalted butter
1     small onion, minced
1/2  teaspoon minced garlic
2     ounces softened cream cheese
4     ounces goat cheese
1/2  cup  peeled, seeded, cored and finely diced apples
1/3  cup fresh cranberries, chopped
1     teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2   teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2  teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4  teaspoon table salt

Chicken Roll-Ups
4     boneless, skinless chicken breasts
       Salt and pepper to taste
1     cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4     large eggs
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
3/4  cup vegetable oil

Cranberry-Cider Sauce
1      cup apple cider
1      sprig fresh rosemary
1      cup fresh cranberries
1      teaspoon honey
1      teaspoon instant tapioca

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat until melted.  Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, then remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Using a stand mixture, beat the cream cheese on medium to low-medium speed until it is light and fluffy.  Stir in onion mixture, thyme, rosemary, goat cheese, cranberries, apples, nuts, salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Pound each chicken breast, starting at the middle and working out toward the edges and being careful to not shred or tear the meat.  Pound each breast to an even thickness of 1/4 inch.

Turn each chicken breast skin-side down.  Spread 1/4 of the cheese mixture on the upper surface of each chicken breast, then roll each breast up, starting at the most narrow end.  Tuck in the ends of the rolled-up chicken breasts, wrap each breast tightly in aluminum foil and refrigerate for an hour or so, or place in freezer for about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place flour in one shallow dish.  Beat the eggs in another shallow dish.  Place panko crumbs in a third dish.  Place a wire rack in a wide baking pan or on a rimmed cookie sheet.

Remove one chicken breast from the foil.  Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, then roll it in the flour to coat it evenly, shaking off any loose flour.  Next roll it in the egg to coat.  Let excess egg drip off, then roll the chicken breast in the panko crumbs, pressing firmly to coat evenly.  Place the coated chicken breast on the wire rack.  Repeat the process with the other chicken breasts. 

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add each chicken breast, seam-side down, and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Using tongs, turn the chicken breasts over to cook all sides until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.   Place each chicken breast back on the wire rack, seam side down.  Place the pan or cookie sheet with the wire rack and chicken breasts into the oven and bake until deep golden brown (15-20 minutes).  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.

While the chicken breasts are baking, make the sauce.  Pour cider and broth in a sauce pan.  Add the rosemary sprig and bring the liquid to a boil.  Remove the rosemary sprig, add the cranberries and apple pieces, return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook 3 minutes.  Add the tapioca and cook until thickened.

Cut each chicken breast crosswise, making 5 slices.  Serve and cover with the sauce.

If you wish, you can simply use 6 oz. of cream cheese and omit the goat cheese.  The flavor will not be exactly the same, but the difference is small compared to the cost of goat cheese.

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