French-Themed Dinner to Welcome Spring

March 21, 2012

Last October I had planned a party themed around French cuisine, but a freak snow-storm and the ensuing blackout cause me to cancel. I was finally able to reschedule for last weekend. Unfortunately I don’t think any of my dishes surpassed 4-stars, but my guests seemed to have enjoyed the belated feast nevertheless. With a total of 20 guests (half were children), I certainly reached the maximum capacity of my petit kitchen, especially because it was the preferred gathering place for most of the party.

I made the chicken bundles in the morning, and finished them up 45 minutes before dinner.

First, the main course was French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts. It uses a forcemeat filling technique to bind the stuffing together so it doesn’t fall apart when you slice the chicken. Traditionally a Ballotine would use dark meat in the stuffing, but for simplicity’s sake this recipe just uses some trimmings from the breast. While the chicken was good, I did not attain the 4-1/2 stars that I was aiming for. I chicken was tough and the flavors were a little out of balance. I’ve made this recipe in the past and it was 4-1/2 stars, so I have to chalk this one up to my divided attention by trying to do too much at one time. I should have served the Onion Soup first, which would have spread things out a little, though it would have kept me away from my guests during the first course.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $29 for 11 servings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below, except that I tripled the recipe:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10-oz white mushrooms
1 small leek, white part (about 1 cup).
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Juice of 1 lemon.
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter

  1. Trim away the tenderloin from your chicken breasts, if present. Lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and freeze for 15 minutes to make the butterflying process easier. Meanwhile wipe mushrooms  clean, and slice them thin.
  2. Butterfly the chicken, start at thinnest end and stop 1/2″ from edge (the halves will remain attached).
  3. Open them up one breast at a time and put in large ziplock bag. Pound thin until it reaches a uniform 1/4″ thickness.
  4. Slightly trim (perhaps 1/2″) from the long sides of cutlets to form rough 8″ by 5″ rectangles with one pointy end.
  5. Add trimmings to food processor and puree for 20 seconds until smooth. Place puree in medium bowl and set aside. (There is no need to wash out food processor bowl yet.)
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in 12″ skillet (regular, not non-stick) over medium-high burner. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes until the mushrooms become golden brown. Meanwhile cut the leaks in half lengthwise, wash to remove any dirt, and chopped the white part. Also chop thyme, parsley and peel the garlic.
  7. Push the mushrooms to the side of the skillet. Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the center of skillet, then add the leaks. Cook for 3 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and thyme to the skillet, and cook for 30 seconds.
  9. Add juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Cook until the moisture has evaporated  from the skillet, then put mixture in food processor.
  10. Immediately return the pan to heat. Add the wine and deglaze the pan; only 1 minute. Transfer wine to small bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry skillet.
  11. Pulse mushroom mixture in food processor using five 1-second pulses.
  12. Switch to the plastic mixing blade in food processor and add pureed chicken. Mix well, then put mixture back into your medium bowl.
  13. Add half the chopped parsley, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Fold together with a spatula, and divide the mixture into four equal parts.
  14. Lay chicken cutlet flat with the narrowest ends pointing away from you. Evenly spread one-fourth of stuffing over each cutlet, leaving 3/4″ border on the top, pointy end, and 1/4″ border along the sides. Tightly roll the breasts (without squeezing filling). Place seam-side down and tie with three 10″ pieces of kitchen twine;  trimming away any excess twine.
  15. Season the exterior of each roll with salt and pepper.
  16. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken bundles and brown on all four sides, about 2-1/2 minutes per side (for a total of 10 minutes).
  17. Add the reserved wine plus 1-cup chicken broth to the pan, then bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
  18. Place the chicken on cutting board and tent with aluminum foil while finishing the pan sauce.
  19. Meanwhile, whisk Dijon into cooking liquid. Increase burner to high. Scrap the pan to deglaze, and cook for 10 minutes until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove pan from heat, and whisk in butter, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped parsley and lemon juice from the other half lemon. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  20. Remove twine. For best presentation you can slice each chicken bundle on bias into approximately 6 medallions and spoon sauce over chicken. Or for ease, I just served the chicken whole and let everybody slice their own chicken.

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