It is really starting to feel like the holidays now, eh? We are deep in some December, there’s no turning back now. There was a couple of dudes outside the market yesterday pounding out carols by the Salvation Army bucket. I suppose playing a french horn is better than ringing that damn bell all day. Honestly, can you imagine standing next to a donation jar ringing a bell for 12 hours? Do those guys work in shifts? But seriously, they don’t mess around with Christmas here in St. Louis. There are lights on everything, there’s a giant bow on the science center in Forest Park… One cultural difference though is that while there an abundance of Christmas decorations everywhere here there is nary a menorah to be found. A little different from December in NYC, for sure.
On Sunday at the market when we were doing some shopping I noticed that the clementines are here! I love these little bundles of orange goodness (until I eat so many that I get sick of them) and look forward to getting them every December. Most of the U.S. clementines come from California and the harvest season is just about over by January, so get them while you can. It has been a long-standing family tradition to put a clementine in the toe of everyone’s stocking on Christmas which adds to my love for the fruit. I’ve always eaten my clementines as is – there is something about the fact that they are sweet, seedless, and super easy to peel that makes them so appealing. While I’ve cooked with mandarin oranges occasionally over the years (mainly in salads) I have never cooked with clementines. Until now!
One of the problems I’ve had with cooking chicken breasts in the past is that I’m an impatient cook. I like the taste of pan-fried chicken breasts, but I always either burn them or dry them out before they are cooked through. And of course, uncooked chicken is no good. Which is why the paillard is the perfect solution! You pound your meat flat and thin. It cooks fast, is easy to do, and when fried results in a crisp exterior with a tender interior.
To make a paillard: place your meat between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Beat the hell out of it with a mallet or other blunt object. I used a jar of tomato sauce which worked like a charm. Other weapons include rolling pins, a saucepan, golf clubs (assuming your kitchen is large enough to swing it) or whatever else you can find that will work. Those of you with small kitchens could try a can of beans. Be careful when you get to the edges of the meat or it will fray. I pounded my chicken breasts down to about a quarter inch. Sorry there are no photos, but with my hands covered in raw chicken I didn’t want to go anywhere near my camera.
When chicken breasts are pounded so thin, it only takes a smidgen of oil or butter in the pan and they cook in 2-3 minutes per side on medium high heat. For this recipe apply salt and pepper to both sides before frying as there is little additional seasoning added to the breasts themselves.
Chicken Paillard with Clementine Salsa
Adapted from Bon Appetite
4 chicken breasts
4 clementines, peeled and pulled apart
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for the salsa)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 serrano chile, seeded, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for the chicken)
1/2 cup fresh clementine juice (from about 6 clementines)
1 Tb Grand Marnier
Prepare the chicken breast paillards by placing the meat between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment and pounding them evening until they are 1/4 inch thick using a mallet or rolling pin. If done in advance, cover and and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.
For the salsa, mix the clementines, tomatoes, onion, celery, basil, cilantro, 2 tbs of olive oil, lime juice and chile in a medium sized bowl and mix well. This should be done in advance in order to let the flavors meld.
Heat a large frying pan, add two tablespoons of oil and heat until shimmering. Salt and pepper the chicken and fry quickly, 2-3 minutes per side. If your pan is too small, fry the breasts in batches, keeping the done ones warm in the oven. Once all of the breasts are cooked, remove them from the pan. Add the clementine juice and the Grand Marnier to the pan. Allow the juice to reduce for several minutes until it thickens into a sauce. Drizzle this sauce over each breast, top with the salsa and serve.
After Action Report
This is a truly tasty dish. The hot and juicy chicken is a nice contrast to the cool and sweet salsa. The juice reduction sauce is tart and adds yet another element to the dish.
I actually made this dish twice in the same day: once for the sake of the photographs and then a second time for dinner with Dr. Fiance. The original recipe called for just the juice in the reduction (which I did the first time) and was a little on the sour side. The second time around, I added the Grand Marnier to the reduction and the resulting complexity was a welcome addition.
In addition I made one batch of salsa for both times and letting it sit for a few extra hours between each time I cooked, the salsa improved dramatically because the flavors marinated and melded together over time. I would suggest doing your salsa in advance by at least a few hours.
Coming up tomorrow: A clementine cocktail! Yay booze!