When entertaining large groups, I try to choose main courses that require little or no last-minute cooking. But if we have invited only a handful of friends for dinner, I don't mind spending some extra time in the kitchen finishing an entree.
Today's recipe for paillards of chicken falls into this latter category. A paillard in French culinary parlance refers to a thin scallop of veal or beef that is flattened, then quickly cooked. A celebrated 19th-century Parisian restaurateur named Paillard created the dish and gave it his name.
Although veal is the traditional meat used for a paillard, poultry can be substituted with equally good results.
Because the pounded meat is so thin, at serving time the chicken needs to be sauteed for only three to four minutes per side. When cooked, the meat is fork-tender and fragrant with a hint of lemon and oregano. The tomatoes add a sweet note, while the olives and cheese provide salty undertones.
Long grain rice cooked in chicken stock with saffron added to give it a bright yellow hue, roasted or steamed zucchini, and a salad of seasonal greens tossed in a vinaigrette dressing would make simple yet attractive accompaniments. For dessert you might like to serve a fresh berry crisp or offer a sorbet with some homemade or bakery cookies.
Chicken Paillards with Tomatoes, Black Olives and Feta
Makes 8 servings
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (7 to 8 ounces each), trimmed of all fat
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (see Note)
Kosher salt, freshly ground black
2 medium cloves garlic, smashed
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for sauteing chicken
10 sweet grape tomatoes, cut lengthwise into quarters, or about 8 cherry tomatoes, cut lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick slices
20 pitted Kalamata olives, cut lengthwise into slivers
2 / 3 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
8 oregano sprigs, for garnish, optional
Place 1 chicken breast between 2 sheets of wax paper. Using meat pounder or rolling pin 2 / 3 pound until chicken is between 1 / 4 - and 1/2 -inch thick. Continue until all chicken is pounded, using more wax paper as needed. Place chicken in large, shallow nonreactive dish.
In small bowl, combine lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chopped oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste, garlic and 1/3 cup olive oil in small bowl. Whisk well to blend. Pour over chicken, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours, turning several times.
About 30 to 60 minutes before ready to cook, combine tomatoes, olives, feta cheese and remaining 2 teaspoons chopped oregano in small bowl and mix well. Set aside.
Add enough oil to film bottom of large, heavy skillet and place over medium-high heat. Pat chicken dry and add enough pieces to fit comfortably in single layer in pan. Saute 3 minutes, then turn and salt and pepper to taste. Cook 3 to 4 minutes more until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear when flesh is pierced with sharp knife. Do not overcook or chicken will be dry. When done, remove to platter and tent with foil. Continue, adding more oil as needed, until all chicken is cooked and seasoned in this manner.
Garnish each chicken breast with generous topping of tomato mixture. Top with oregano sprig.
NOTE: Try to use fresh oregano, abundant this time of year. If unavailable, substitute 2 teaspoons dried oregano in marinade and use scant 1 teaspoon dried oregano in tomato mixture.