A dinner partner recently asked me what Chicken paillard is. I hesitated for a moment, my memory returning to my stint at the Cordon Bleu years ago, and I explained that, like chicken scaloppine, paillards are thinly pounded meat, fish or chicken that is quickly sauteed. The difference is that scaloppine have a dusting of flour that creates a crisp crust, while paillards are cooked without a coating. Paillards are traditionally served with a splash of lemon or a simple, uncomplicated sauce.
A paillard is the perfect weeknight entree since it takes just a few minutes to pound and even less time to cook. To flatten the chicken breasts, place them on a cutting board between plastic wrap or wax paper and pound with the smooth side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin -- or even with the bottom of a heavy skillet or saucepan! I find the easiest way to create an even thickness is to pound from the thickest part at the center to the outer edges.
I have unfortunately encountered more than my share of over-cooked "shoe leather" paillards. The key to keeping them moist is quick cooking on high heat to sear the outside while briefly cooking the interior. I recommend removing the chicken when it just turns opaque in the center. It will continue cooking off the stove, allowing it to be fully cooked and juicy. Your family and friends will thank you!
Paillards can be prepared with either simple seasoning rubs or quick sauces. I like to marinate them or season them before cooking to give them plenty of flavor. They are usually cooked skinless (which makes them a low-fat favorite).
This Mexican-style pesto blend is a lovely combination of toasted pumpkin seeds, assertive cilantro and Italian parsley that adds just the right flavor to the thin cutlets. (The pesto is also great on fish or swirled into hot pasta.) Serve these on a simple salad of mixed greens tossed with tiny yellow and red pear tomatoes, or serve with braised spinach or broccoli rabe.
--Use a heavy nonstick, ridged grill pan or skillet to saute the paillards. A grill pan will leave dark caramelized grill marks; a saute pan will leave an even browned exterior and allows for making a quick deglazed sauce.
--You can pound the chicken breasts ahead of time and keep them covered in the refrigerator until cooking.
Chicken Paillard with Mexican Pesto Vinaigrette
1/3 cup favorite vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Mexican Pesto (see below)
6 (6) ounce chicken breast halves, skinned
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup Mexican Pesto (see below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Combine the vinaigrette and pesto in a small bowl and mix until blended. Reserve.
2. Place each chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Use the smooth side of a mallet or the bottom of a saucepan to evenly pound them 1/4-inch thick.
3. Place the paillards on a baking sheet and squeeze the lemon juice over them on both sides. Spread a thin layer of pesto on each side of each paillard.
4. Heat a nonstick skillet or grill pan on medium-high heat and spray with olive oil. When the skillet is hot, saute the paillards in batches, about 2-3 minutes per side.
5. Place on serving plates and spoon over some vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
3 medium garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves, firmly packed (about 1 medium bunch)
1 cup cilantro leaves
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Reserve.
2. While the motor is running, add the garlic cloves to a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until pureed. Add the herbs and process until finely chopped. Add the nuts and finely chop.
3. With blades turning, slowly pour in the olive oil in a fine stream. Scrape down the sides of bowl to blend the ingredients. Add pepper. Just before serving, add the cheese and process until well blended. Taste for seasoning Store and remaining pesto in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including most recently "Seriously Simple Parties" (Chronicle Books, 2012), and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)