This week’s tip is a great trick that I use quite often. When making stuffed chicken breasts or pork tenderloin, I used to use a couple of toothpicks to hold things together. However, there is always the danger that you might forget to remove them all or that the toothpick will leave little wood splinters in your dish. The last thing you want is for your dinner guests to injure themselves on an errant toothpick! Here is what you can do instead:
Use a piece of dry spaghetti in place of toothpicks.
Dry spaghetti works as a perfect substitute for toothpicks. It’s sturdy enough to hold things together and you can break it into any length you need (do not use thinner pasta, such as angel hair, because it is too brittle). Use the spaghetti as you would a toothpick and break off any excess so you only use as much as necessary. The spaghetti will cook with the dish so there is no need to remove anything. And here’s the surprising part: you will not even notice a small piece of spaghetti in the finished dish (at least I never have!)
To test out my suggestion, here are a few ideas for stuffing chicken breasts. You could also use the spaghetti to hold together vegetarian dishes such as stuffed roasted peppers or cabbage.
Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Makes two large chicken breasts (quantities can easily be doubled or tripled)
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Approximately 4 large pieces of saran wrap
- Meat tenderizing mallet OR heavy bottle, such as a full wine bottle
- 1 or 2 pieces dry spaghetti
- 1/2 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as safflower or canola
- Filling – see below for suggestions
- Trim chicken breasts of any tendons and unwanted fat, particularly on the underside. Trim off the tenderloin – a small flap of flesh on the bottom of the chicken breast. Set aside to cook separately.
- Spread two or three sheets of saran on a clean countertop. Place one chicken breast on saran and lay more saran on top, so it is completely covered. Pound chicken breast with a meat tenderizer mallet or heavy bottle until breast is thin and of even thickness. Put flattened breast on a plate and repeat with the second piece of chicken.
- Place your choice of filling on chicken breast and roll up tightly. Secure roll with a piece or two of spaghetti, as needed. Repeat with other chicken breasts.
- Roll chicken breasts in flour, salt and pepper mix. Saute in a skillet until browned on all sides. Transfer to a pan and bake in oven at 425 F for approximately 20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle.
- Cut breasts into slices and serve.
Ham & Cheese – A slice or two of ham with a few slices of your favourite cheese (ham and swiss, ham and brie or ham and cheddar are all good combinations)
Feta and Spinach – Mix a few teaspoons crumbled feta cheese with some sauteed spinach.
Tomato Mozzarella – Dice some tomatoes and cube a couple of slices of mozzarella. Add a few torn basil leaves and season with salt and pepper
Mushroom and Rice – Mix some sauteed mushrooms with leftover rice or wild rice mix. Add some finely chopped herbs (rosemary, sage or thyme are nice).
Blue Cheeese and Onion – Crumble some blue cheese and mix with some pickled red onion.
Pesto Ricotta – Mix a spoonful of pesto with a scoop of ricotta.
Proscuitto, Mozzarella and Sage – One of my favourite combinations, it’s flavours are similar to a classic Italian dish called saltimbocca. Layer a couple of prosciutto slices, some torn fresh sage leaves and fresh mozzarella.
Use your imagination – the possibilities are practically endless!
- Serve chicken with your favourite sauce, for example, mushroom cream sauce with ham and cheese or tomato sauce with mozzarella stuffed breasts.
- Add a glaze to your chicken, such as honey-mustard or balsamic vinegar
- You could also dip breasts in the following for a cripsy crust: 1) flour, 2) 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water and 3) seasoned bread crumbs. Saute in oil and bake in the oven as above.
Bon Appetit and Enjoy!