Sometimes I come up with recipes for an ingredient I think I might be in the mood for or a new item I want to experiment with before I go grocery shopping. Maybe I want to cook a nice dinner for Marney and I’m deciding how to prepare something I know that she already enjoys.
Other times I’ve already got a few ingredients in my fridge that I recently picked up, and I’m now charged with the task of creating a dish from what I’ve got to work with.
This dish falls into the latter category, inspired by ingredients we picked up a couple weekends ago at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. When one of my chef buddies from Fearrington invited us to check out what may be the best farmer’s market in the area, we jumped at the chance. Among the gorgeous produce we had access to, some of the best were local collards and local pecans.
I originally had the collards in mind merely as a side dish, with the notion of adding bits of toasted pecans to bring a new interesting twist on the Southern classic. I liked the idea enough that I wanted to convert the recipe into an entrée for you guys, and that’s how the idea for stuffing it into chicken came about. The bacon adds a traditional flavor to go along with the collards, and fontina cheese acts as a binder to hold the filling together.
We enjoyed this tonight with a simple pea shoot and shredded carrot salad (both snagged at the CFM) lightly dressed with a honey Dijon vinaigrette and some Conundrum white wine. Scrumptious!
•4 large chicken breasts, about 3 pounds total
•1 ½ tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
•10 strips of bacon (preferably applewood-smoked)
•15 collard leaves
•¾ cup pecans, medium chopped or crushed
•¾ cup shredded fontina cheese
•1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
•2 teaspoons white wine or champagne vinegar
•2 tablespoons soybean or vegetable oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Detach middle rib from collard leaves, roll five leaves together at a time and finely chiffonade. Prepare a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes for an ice bath. Place sliced collards into the boiling water and blanch, 1-2 minutes. Drain quickly in a colander, and immediately place collards into the ice bath. Once cold, drain and set aside in a large bowl.
Stack five strips of bacon on top of one another at a time and slice into a medium fine julienne. Place bacon in a saucepan on medium high heat and cook until most of the fat has rendered off, about 5 minutes. Drain fat, cool bacon on paper towels and place into bowl with the collards.
Place pecans on sheet tray in the oven and toast until fragrant and one shade darker, about 7-8 minutes. Cool and place in bowl with collards and bacon. Add fontina cheese, brown sugar and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and mix well to combine all ingredients.
Butterfly chicken breasts by slicing height wise through the breast, leaving about ¼ intact (like you were slicing open a roll but leaving one side still connected). Open the breasts and use a kitchen brush to evenly spread the Dijon mustard, coating the entire inside of each breast. Roll about ¼ of the collard, bacon and pecan mixture to form a tube and place inside the open chicken breasts. Fold breasts together to sandwich stuffing inside. Tie kitchen twine firmly around breasts to seal in the stuffing, making 4-5 separate loops about one inch apart.
Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat and add oil. Season outside of each breast with salt and pepper and sear in skillet, 2-3 minutes per side. Place seared chicken on sheet tray in oven until chicken is just fully cooked, about 30 minutes. To check doneness, cut twine off one of the stuffed breasts and unfold the chicken – it is finished when the interior chicken meat has been fully cooked.
Cut the twine off the chicken and slice each breast into 4-5 medallions. Enjoy!