Chicken Involtini Part I: Apple & Bacon

Last week our good friend, Paul, sent us a link to a Chow recipe challenge: “Make chicken breast exciting!” The prize, if we won, was an cordless electric kettle; something I’ve been wanting, not actually needing, since we got rid of our teakettle and abandoned our coffee maker for the more en vogue Blue Bottle single cup drip process. Of course, boiling water in a pan on the stove is as easy as, well, boiling water. The prize really wasn’t the point of the contest to us. We wanted a way to promote our blog in a more aggressive way than just updating our status on facebook and twitter.

The contest deadline was Sunday, March 6, at midnight. While we had been discussing our plan of attack for the contest the day before, we decide we would try out three different recipes, all of them would have some sort of stuffing. So it was off to Trader Joe’s and our local vegetable market for the items we would need. Saturday night didn’t turn out to be the best night in the kitchen. We were both grumpy after a long day of flea market shopping where we found many vintage cookbooks, and what may be priceless works of art (at the very least we’re only out a few dollars for the art). So, we decided to wait until Sunday to work on the chicken recipes.

After a good five mile run, with less than twelve hours before the deadline, we got to work on the chicken breasts. Amazingly, we worked well together in the kitchen, something very rare given the challenges posed by two grown men moving about in our tiny kitchen, creating three different involtini: one baked, one poached, and one fried. As we finished up the cooking around 4:00 pm we realized we didn’t have time to write out the recipes for the contest before getting ready for a 7:30 pm concert in Berkeley. As it was, we barely made it to the concert with only two minutes to spare before the music started.

Who really needs an electric kettle to heat water anyway? A pan full of water and a stove is all we need. Aside from three new and interesting versions of Chicken Involtini to share on our blog, we also spent a wonderful afternoon working in harmony in our kitchen. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

We’ll share each of the recipes in coming posts. Let us know what you think of these recipes and share your variations with us here in the comments.

Chicken Involtini with Apple & Bacon served with Applejack Country gravy

1 slice bacon
1 medium firm apple, peeled and minced
1 small shallot
1 tablespoon Applejack
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper

2 chicken breasts
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup panko crumbs

Applejack Country Gravy
2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat, butter, or olive oil
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon Applejack
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon finely chopped sage

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fry the bacon in a small sauté pan over low-medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool, once cool, crumble into small bits. Pour the bacon fat out of the pan and reserve for the gravy. Add the shallots to the pan and scrape up the bacon bits from the pan. Add the minced apple and sauté until tender 5-8 minutes. Add the Applejack to the pan and cook off until all the liquid is gone. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate to cool.

Butterfly, pound, stuff and roll.

In the meantime, carefully butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting through the center of each as if you were opening a book. Do not cut all the way through. Open the breast and place between two sheets of plastic. Using the flat end of a meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a small sauté pan, gently, but firmly, pound the chicken breast between the plastic making sure to pull the mallet away from the center toward the edges of the cutlet. Pound each breast until about ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Season the inner part of the breast with salt and pepper.

Once the apple filling is cool, add the crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese and sage.  Divide the filling between the two pounded breasts. Spread the filling evenly over each breast, leaving about ¼ inch on each side. Roll each breast starting with the thin end first, being careful that the filling does not fall out. If needed, secure the breasts with toothpicks to keep the filling in.

Flour, egg, and panko crust.

Prepare three plates: one with flour, one with a scrambled egg, and one with panko crumbs. Dip each breast in flour, then the beaten egg, and then roll into the panko crumbs to cover. Place each breast on a foil lined baking sheet. Place in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the chicken breasts are baking, warm the milk in a small saucepan with the bay leaf. Prepare the gravy by adding two tablespoon of bacon fat to a small sauté pan (if you don’t have enough bacon fat add enough olive oil or butter to make two tablespoons) and heat over medium-low. Add two tablespoon flour whisking constantly and cook until light brown. Add a tablespoon applejack and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute to burn away the alcohol. Slowly pour in the warmed milk and continue to whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and set aside until the breasts are finished baking.

Turn the oven up to a broil. Finish the breasts under the broiler to add color to the breadcrumbs. 2-3 minutes. Be careful that the breadcrumbs don’t burn. Remove the breasts from the oven and slice on the bias. Serve alongside mashed potatoes with the applejack gravy.

Something to look forward to. Chicken Involtini: fried, baked and poached.