~ Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or: Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy~
Pick a name, they're both the same, and, whichever you choose, a quick, delicious, chicken dish with a tangy, creamy sauce should be in every cook's recipe box. What amuses me about a great recipe like this is: I can creatively "sell it" to my family and friends in one of two ways -- fancy French restaurant-style or down home country-style. Any recipe that can be served two ways is worth its weight in gold. I can serve this on china with asparagus and a buttery croissant, or, on stoneware with peas and a buttermilk biscuit. Potatoes? Rice? Noodles?
No cookbook library is complete without a stack of these. My recipe is a spinoff of the late, great Craig Claiborne's Smothered Chicken recipe. Craig, a Mississippi boy, became the food editor of The NY Times in 1957, and, for decades, did everything in his power to help and encourage home cooking in America. About smothered chicken, in 1983 he wrote, "this dish belongs in the comfort category. It's a dish that gives solace to the spirit when you dine on it." He suggested giving it an earthy, European twist by adding mushrooms and onions, as well as tomatoes, to the gravy.
In true Southern smothered chicken style, his dish was cooked on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet and made with a spatchcocked chicken (a chicken with its backbone removed so you can lat it out flat in the skillet and cook the whole thing), and, he served his on white rice with green beans. Instead of spatchcocking, I decided to take an easier approach to flattened chicken!
A bit about paillard (PI-yahrd): This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sauteed. A paillard is not smashed to smithereens. Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness -- to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly. It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand. To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.
Because of the 'state-of-affairs' of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts nowadays ("they just don't make 'em like they used to" -- I find them to be tough, tasteless and odd-textured), I use them for almost nothing anymore. I choose to use chicken tenders almost exclusively. They are a bit more expensive, but, you do get what you pay for. That is why manufacturer's remove them from the breasts and sell them separately -- they're the tender and tasty part of the breast. It's similar to buying a beef round roast vs. a beef tenderloin. If tenderness is what you desire, the decision is easy. For more details, go to Category 16 and read: ~ Love Me Tenders: Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender? Yes! ~. Let's cook:
8 boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, placed between two pieces of plastic wrap, lightly-pounded with the flat side of a meat mallet then trimmed of any visible fat and/or tendon (I use kitchen shears to trim them.)
Lightly season tops of tenders with:
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes. In an electric skillet* over low heat, melt:
* Note: I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make this dish. It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulates the heat so they saute properly. Once the mushroom sauce is prepared and paillards are returned to the pan, it will keep the dish warm until serving time too. Feel free to use a large (12") nonstick skillet.
Add paillards to skillet, seasoned sides down. Sprinkle flour, salt and pepper over second sides. Adjust heat to gently saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.
Turn heat off. Transfer paillards to a plate (allowing all of the flavorful juices to remain in skillet), cover with aluminum foil, to keep warm, and set aside while preparing the mushroom sauce.
1/2 cup white wine
1-1 1/2 cups diced shallots or yellow onion, one is not better than the other, your choice
~ Step 3. Without hesitation, add,
and thoroughly stir in, 1 cup chicken stock, followed by 2 cups heavy or whipping cream, 1/4 cup large-sized capers, and, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard. Return to a gentle, steady simmer. Note: Don't add salt or pepper. The drippings are seasoned -- Dijon and capers will add a salty tang!
Increase heat a bit, to simmer rapidly, stirring almost constantly, until mixture has thickened enough so that when the spoon is pulled from the pan, you can draw a line through the sauce with your finger. Depending upon how rapidly the mixture is simmering, this can and will take 6-9 minutes. Be patient. Don't rush. Go ahead, take a taste!
Now you have a choice to make. Either add the chicken tenders to this decadent sauce and smother them in it, or, plate them and drizzle them with this addictive, almost drinkable, tangy mushroom sauce. Today, I'm serving them over nutty-flavored basmati rice (You might think I added saffron for the pretty yellow color, but I did not. I prefer the earthy taste of turmeric with mushrooms.), with blanched, fresh asparagus, and, I'm drizzling the sauce over each portion!
When one is day-dreaming of a heavenly, easy-to-make meal...
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; kitchen shears; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 12" skillet; long-handled fork; aluminum foil; spatula
Cook's Note: If you are like me and truly love a creamy sauce or a great gravy on all sorts of poultry or pork, this is a photo of a recipe you are going to adore. Click into Categories 3 or 19 to get my recipe for this well-known Southern favorite: ~ Smothered with Love: Pork Chops w/Onion Gravy ~!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)