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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Provolone and Apricot Stuffed Chicken

I have a great imagination. I think it comes from being an only child and having myself as my main playmate. It's been helpful to me over the years in my personal and professional life. And it's useful when trying to come up with new things to do with a 2-year-old.

It can also cause trouble. The biggest reason for this is my imagination creates wonderful things in my head--that doesn't necessarily recreate itself brilliantly in the flesh. Oil painting is a good example of this. I love to paint, but that doesn't mean I'm all that good at it. I'll start a canvas thinking Kahlo and the end result is more kindergarten. And the kitchen is another place this happens. I remember getting really into baking for a while in my later teens. I had visions of perfect cakes under amber cages of caramel and chocolate concoctions stabbed with perfect triangles of white chocolate. They always tasted awesome, but they weren't really ready for their cookbook close-up like I imagined they would.

This recipe just sounded so easy. From Everyday With Rachel Ray, this Daisy Martinez recipe for Italian-Style Chicken was a few easy ingredients. A chicken breast pounded flat and stuffed with apricots and provolone. Floured, browned, then cooked in the oven with a succulent and easy sauce. Yes. I can do this with my eyes closed and without a meat mallet.

Except, not so much. The end result, not to put the cart before the horse, was amazing. But the look...not the same picture as was in the magazine. But before dissolving into tears, I remembered food hero Julia Child. Julia, on her show The French Chef, was forever dropping utensils and food. Her outlook? If you're alone in the kitchen, who's going to see? And in the case of this chicken, no one knew what the original looked like, so who cares?
Provolone and Apricot Stuffed Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
6 slices provolone cheese
9 dried apricots, halved crosswise
3/4 cup flour
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dried rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice)
3 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper and pound the breasts to 1/2 inch thickness with a meat mallet.

2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place a slice of provolone on each breast, then top with 3 apricot halves. Fold to enclose and cover with more plastic wrap or waxed paper; pound the edges together to seal. Coat the breasts with flour.

3. In a nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and rosemary and cook, turning once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet; discard the rosemary.
4. Add the wine and lemon juice to the same skillet and cook, scraping any bits, over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the butter until melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken, cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes; uncover and bake until the sauce is thickened, about 1o minutes more.

The Verdict: Don't expect visual perfection, however, you can expect a taste that is pretty close to perfect.

Not hammering the breasts out with a mallet (I used a heavy stone pestle) was probably a mistake. It ended up in varying thicknesses and didn't spread out as much as I'd liked. This caused problems for adding the cheese and the apricots; there wasn't enough room to both fold them over and pound them closed. If your chicken breasts won't seal shut, don't fret. Treat them gingerly when coating in flour, moving to the pan and flipping. Another tip is to make sure your provolone is at room temperature, otherwise the cheese is too stiff and will break apart.
The original recipe called for skin-on breasts, but I decided to just go with the boneless skinless.
If you go this route, there will be less "bits" to scrape when making the sauce. Don't worry because the sauce will be delicious.

The woman who created this recipe, Daisy Martinez, says "My mouth waters at the idea of salty chicken and provolone with sweet apricots." Bingo. It's what works in this dish. The salt and the sweet from the fruit are fantastic. I also liked how the chicken breasts are first seared to a golden color then baked in the oven with the sauce; these steps seal in the chicken's moisture, making it very juicy.
So my chicken wasn't a supermodel. But it was super tasty.

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