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Max’s Sausage Stuffed Chicken Breast

 

Though there has been an empty, stomach growling space of time since my last entry, let me assure you there has been no lack of cooking and eating going on around here since my son, Max, has been home from school. My boy (hardly that at 6′5″) is six weeks away from graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Most mornings Max would wake up, wander down to the kitchen and still groggy-eyed ask, “what do you want to do today?” which I took to mean, “what are we cooking?” We’d fan through cookbooks (a lot of fanning through Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, where everything reads delicious, and not-surprisingly, ends up as such on the plate). I met the chef when I attended the Bocuse D’Or Finals at CIA this past January (sort of the Olympics of cooking) and got him to sign my copy, and my chef coat from culinary school. OK, so I’m a chef groupie. I admit it.

 

This last week we were joined by Max’s bright-eyed, easy-going girlfriend, Teresa, also a student at CIA, who totally won me over the first time she was in my kitchen with these words: “anything I can do to help?” Thus, my oversized fridge and freezer have been stuffed with produce and meats from the farmer’s markets and the maze of plastic containers of all shapes and sizes holding the absolutely indispensable leftover morsels of meals, compotes, marmalades, sauces, reductions, chutneys, and ice creams.

Teresa is especially adept at desserts we discovered. My counter tops were untidy with the results of experiments involving butter-laden brownies, brownie-stuffed cookies, chocolate chip littered bread pudding and much more that I can’t remember and am sad to say did not photograph. I was too busy having the time of my life to step aside and observe it. This is an unusual state of affairs, as anyone who knows me will tell you I OVERTHINK everything. My German-accented mother would often listen to me go on about things with a puzzled look on her face and declare “YOU ANNA-LIZE TOO MUCH!!!” So the last few weeks of just being and doing without thinking and recording are the closest I may ever get to enlightenment.

And all this is going on while I am also in the throes of moving from a 4-bedroom house in semi-rural New Jersey to a loft apartment in Brooklyn. We are doing “Green Acres,” but in reverse. In this case both my husband and I are Zsa Zsa Gabor (minus the fur and hair-do helmet) longing to get back to the urban lifestyle and energy that we love. Doug’s office is in the city and he was commuting up to 4 hours a day for all this bucolic splendor. So, after eight years in Hunterdon County, NJ we are thrilled that we will soon be hitting the pavement as a family in the wonderful Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Just two subway stops and 12 minutes from Doug’s office (right near the amazing Union Square farmer’s market), life will be streamlined and downsized and “greener” for us in many ways. We are trading in cars and endless driving for mass transit and more walking, taking back our weekends from the bottomless pit of lawn, landscaping and home maintenance chores,  and will be heating and cooling a smaller space among other changes I have yet to predict. Here’s Doug in the new ‘hood.

Max and Teresa have headed back to CIA for their last six weeks and the minor renovations in the new apartment are almost done. We are moving officially in two and a half weeks and I have so much to do to pull it all together. Even so, I wanted to give you something to tide you over until the end of the month…which is probably when I’ll be able to breathe and start focusing on posts again.

This chicken was a “try-out” of a recipe from the American Bounty menu at CIA that he will be executing during his last weeks of school. Students work the line in one of four campus restaurants as their final leg of their culinary education.  What better way to familiarize himself with the dish than to try it out during break with good ole Mom? The result was stunningly delicious and though it looks fancy schmancy, with a few home-cook oriented fixes, like using store-bought ground chicken instead of boning out whole legs and thighs and grinding them as we did, it is really easy to make. It’s straightforward enough for any meal, but it’s so impressive looking and tasting that you’ll want to save it for a dinner party so you can hear everyone swoon over it.

 

The American Bounty menu pairs the chicken with “Hoppin John Succotash with Crispy Southern Ham,” which Max made (recipe to come in a separate post) substituting bacon for the mysterious southern ham, and dumplings which we skipped in order to save the carbs for those desserts. We did make the sauce, creamy and buttery and herby, but reduced the butter a bit and used half and half instead of heavy cream to feel better about ourselves. Still, it’s all real food, with wholesome ingredients and when you cook for yourself you will always have a lower fat, lower salt version of what you could possibly get eating out…or taking out. Not to mention a big serving of satisfaction.

Max’s Sausage Stuffed Chicken Breast

Serves 4

For the sauce:

1 small shallot, minced
1 oz. parsley or parsley stems, minced
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme (1/4 dried)
1/2 bay leaf, crushed
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup white wine
5 black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 cup half and half
8 oz (1 stick) butter, cut into small cubes
Salt, Black Pepper, Cayenne to taste

1. In a sauce pan combine the shallots, herbs, pepper corns, wine and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce by 2/3rd.

2. Add half and half and reduce by 2/3rd again. Lower heat.

3. Slowly whisk in the butter, a piece or two at a time. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Strain and hold in warm bath for service…or you can make this later in the process…while the chicken is finishing in the oven.

For the chicken:

4 split chicken breasts with rib bones and skin
1 package (approx 1.3 lbs) ground chicken or turkey
1 tablespoon butter
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped AND 8-10 whole sage leaves
1 egg white
2 oz half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Note: You want your ground meat to be nice and chilled when making the stuffing/mousseline. This will make it easier to work with and the butter and cream will stay incorporated. I recommend putting the ground meat in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before using.

1. In a small saucepan gently saute the chopped sage in the butter. Set aside in a bowl to cool. Add half and half reserve for later use.

2. Using same pan, gently saute (no color, just sweating) shallots and garlic, about 5 minutes, medium heat. Set aside to cool.

3. Place cold ground meat, cooled shallot/garlic mix and cooled cream/sage mix into a food processor. Add egg white, salt and pepper. Process and pulse until smooth texture is achieved.

4. Make a fry test to sample seasoning and adjust. This is just a matter of making a tiny burger out of the raw mixture so you can taste it and adjust. We did this and the filling was so yummy that we used the leftover filling to make little sausage patties that we ate with scrambled eggs the next day. With this recipe/technique in your head there will never be a reason to buy nitrate, sodium and chemical filled store-bought sausage patties again. You can make this with a ground pork and veal combo as well and change up the herb/seasoning profile. Add diced apples, maple syrup and cinnamon or spinach, feta cheese and oregano—anything your heart and palatte desires and have a satisfying sausage in no time!

5. Pat dry the chicken breasts. With your index finger create a few “channels” under the skin and slide in two or three whole sage leaves under there. They will infuse the breasts with a beautiful flavor and aroma.  Slice chicken breasts, horizontally across the middle, creating a “pocket” for the stuffing. Do not cut all the way through. Start slicing at the thick end and slice toward the ribs. You can use a pastry bag, as Max did, to stuff the breasts, which is more efficient when doing 25 of these at a time, but for home use, just spooning the mix into the pocket would work just fine.

6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When breasts are stuffed, season thoroughly, front and back with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet then add canola or other high heat vegetable oil in the pan. When the oil is just rippling, but not smoking, place two breasts at a time, skin down in the pan and don’t move them! Let them sear to a nice crispy brown, about 3-4 minutes. You can reduce heat slightly after the first minute to insure they don’t burn, but resist the temptation to check and move them for at least the first minute of two.

7. Once you’ve achieved the color and crispness you want, then remove the breasts to a baking dish or sheet pan…skin side up. Finish cooking the chicken through in the oven…depending on the size of the breasts and the amount of stuffing…approx 15-25 minutes. The best way to test doneness is with a meat thermometer and 165 degrees taken from the center of the meat (not near the bone) is what you are going for.

8. Let the done breasts rest on a rack or plate for 4-5 minutes before plating. Serve on top of a succotash as we did, but a bed of sauteed greens, creamy mashed potatoes or yams, or any number of accompaniments would do just as well. Spoon a moderate amount of the sauce around the chicken and serve. Enjoy!