Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto, Mushrooms & Basil

To print the recipe only, click on the title above.

I really like to have a bunch of different ways to prepare boneless chicken breasts. But I think it's easy to ruin them because they often get overcooked and are dry and somewhat tasteless. We buy them because if we are meat-eaters, we like to eat healthier sometimes. Having made and discarded at least a hundred recipes for chicken breasts, I was skeptical when Phillis Carey began talking about her method for chicken breasts. After the first sample some years ago of one of her recipes, I knew that SHE knew what she was talking about, and SHE knew how to prepare them.

Since I've attended Phillis' classes for about 5 or more years, I soon learned she was writing a cookbook about chicken, Fast and Fabulous Chicken Breasts, published by The Casual Gourmet. Click here to go to a website where you can buy her books; it's a store where she teaches in Encinatas. Once available, I bought one and continue to use the book regularly. Obviously, I recommend it. Phillis is a kind of casual, no-nonsense type of chef - not in her manner (she's very cute and funny), but in her recipe design and preparation. She uses some canned things to save time (rather than making beans from scratch, for instance), but she knows how to punch a recipe with lots of flavor. That's what I like, and it's so important with chicken breasts, which don't really have a ton of flavor to begin with. So it's the sauce or what goes on it or with it that provides it. Click this to go to Phillis' website to learn about the other places she teaches, etc.

So, on to chicken breasts. Until I met Phillis I certainly didn't understand the cooking chemistry of chicken breasts. With or without a bone, the normal shape of a boneless chicken breast means that some of it cooks quicker (obviously the narrower, tapered end) and the thicker, meatier portion takes longer. Duh. We all know that, right? So, what do we do about it?

Preparing boneless chicken breasts (Phillis' method):
(1) Remove the chicken tender and reserve it for something else (or I usually cook it with the dish, but a lot less time and remove it early).
(2) Remove any obvious fat and specks of bone if there are any.
(3) Have ready two pieces of plastic wrap - put one down on a flat surface and place a chicken breast on it, shiny side up, i.e. not the side where the chicken tender was. Place the 2nd piece of plastic wrap on top, then using a pounder (not the spiky side, but a flat side, or one of these pounder things pictured here) gently but firmly pound the meaty end only of the chicken breast. It will take about 10-12 whacks, and not heavy handed ones, to flatten the breast to an even thickness. You don't want to make it as thin as the tapered end as that would be too thin, but pound to about 1/2 inch or a little less. The chicken breast kind of squishes around inside the plastic wrap, but hold the tapered end to help keep it in place.
(4) When cooking, if possible roll the short, tapered end under, which will help keep it from drying out (an optional step).

What I also learned was that prepared this way, it takes but minutes to cook a chicken breast whether pan frying it or baking it and it will be fully cooked, tender and juicy. Maybe I remember all those stories about salmonella and thought all chicken needed to be cooked much longer. Not so. And I've had much better success with chicken ever since. Thanks to you, Phillis.

Now on to the recipe itself. I've prepared this several times. It would make a very nice dinner for guests, but it's also simple enough for a family meal too. If you want more of the sauce to spoon over linguine or rice or polenta, double the volume of the liquids, and add more garlic and prosciutto if desired. If I'm out of prosciutto (I try to keep a package on hand of the vacuum sealed type), I use thick-sliced smoked bacon, which is just fine. The breasts are lightly breaded and seasoned, then pan-sautéed to develop a lovely golden brown.

The only other caveat is: don't use a non-stick pan, as you can't develop the browning (I think it's called the fond) necessary to flavor the dish. If you haven't got one, well, maybe you should acquire one, but in a pinch, use the non-stick, but I think you'll be disappointed.

Chicken Breast Sauté with Prosciutto, Mushrooms and Basil
Recipe By :Phillis Carey, cooking instructor
Serving Size : 6
Preparation Time :0:30
Categories : Chicken

6 pieces boned and skinned chicken breast halves
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
2 cloves garlic -- minced (you know me and garlic - use more)
1/2 cup prosciutto -- chopped or shredded, or thick-sliced smoked bacon
1 pound mushrooms -- sliced
1 cup vermouth
1 cup chicken broth
6 tablespoons fresh basil -- sliced (I use more)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese -- grated
1 cup fresh tomatoes -- chopped, optional

1. Trim chicken breasts of any noticeable fat, then pound them to an even depth, about 1/2 inch. Don't pound the narrow, thin end. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet and add 2 T. butter. Dredge chicken in flour and add to skillet. Cook for about 2 minutes per side to brown lightly, but do not cook through. Transfer chicken to a plate.

2. Add remaining 2 T. butter to the skillet and sauté the prosciutto for a few minutes. Separate the pieces so they don't stick together. Add minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms have begun to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add wine, bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer, then add reserved chicken breasts and cook for about 7 minutes total, turning them once. Add tomatoes to just heat through. Transfer chicken pieces to serving plates. Stir basil into the sauce and just barely bring to a boil. Spoon sauce on top of chicken. Top with grated Parmesan and serve.

Serving Ideas : Phillis suggested serving this with linguine tossed with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, butter and Parmesan cheese.
NOTES : Do NOT use a nonstick pan for the browning process as you'll never develop the browned, caramelized flavor that is necessary for this dish. And don't be tempted to add salt to this because the prosciutto adds enough. Taste at the end to make sure, then you can add some if needed.
Start to Finish Time: 0:45 minutes

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 414 Calories; 13g Fat (33.8% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 108mg Cholesterol; 856mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat.

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