Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fresh Herb, Mushroom and Ricotta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Up to now, I've really been enjoying this project. Sure, it's a bit of a pain always having to eat cold dinners, but I make up for it by drinking more wine. I'm not really sure how that makes up for eating cold food, but it's been working so far.

Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

Up until this meal. This evil, evil meal. Looks harmless, doesn't it? Stuffed chicken breast on a bed of pasta... sounds easy and tasty (well, it was tasty, particularly the sauce!).

But how could a piece of chicken be evil? What could possibly go wrong? Well, it all started with the plating... but I'll get into that after Jhan gives you the recipe.

The Food (Jhan) 

These stuffed chicken breasts have a really nice herb flavor that blends well with the savory mushrooms and the creamy ricotta. I love fresh herbs and put them in everything. I developed this recipe because some of the other recipes that I had used produced fairly bland stuffing combinations or smothered everyhting in pasta sauce and melted cheese. I wanted to taste all of the flavors in the dish.

The recipe (for 2 servings):
1 slice bacon
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 handfuls well rinsed and dried fresh spinach - roughly chopped or torn, and stems cut off
1/2 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
1 small minced shallot
1 clove minced garlic
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp fleur de sel
cracked black pepper to taste
1tbsp EVOO
1cup chicken broth
2tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/3 cup white wine (we used chardonnay)
squeeze of 1/4 - 1/2 lemon ( to your taste)
salt and pepper - if needed
Additional chopped herbs for garnish.
2-4 Toothpicks

  1. Saute the bacon in a heavy frying pan. Drain on paper towel, pour out the bacon grease but do not wipe out pan. Chop or crumble bacon into small bits.
  2. Melt butter in skillet and saute mushrooms, garlic, and shallots until sft and lightly browned.
  3. In a mixing bowl combine the oregano, basil, spinach, ricotta, bacon and parmesan. Add the cooked mushrooms, garlic and shallots. Mix together. Add Feur de sel and cracked pepper. Taste for seasonings.
  4. Place one chicken breast at a time into a large freezer bag. Pound breast with a mallet until thin and flat - do not tear meat. Place pounded breast flat on a plate or baking sheet. Repeat for second breast.
  5. Divide stuffing in half between the two breasts. Spoon filling into the center of the breast at it's widest part. Roll up breasts to cover stuffing - tucking in any stuffing that comes out the sides. Secure the rolls with toothpicks or small metal turkey skewers.
  6. Using the same skillet as for Bacon and Mushroom mixture heat EVOO. Saute stuffed breasts until evenly browned and cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from pan to let rest.
  7. For sauce; add butter to pan and melt. Add flour and cook about 2 minutes or until just browned and a smooth roux is formed. Add chicken stock to roux, stir, scraping any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add wine and stir well to form a smooth sauce, add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Cut chicken breasts in thick slices on bias. Arrange slices on plate, spoon sauce over slices and sprinkle tsp. of chopped fresh herbs over all.

Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

The Plating (Tony)

It all started to go wrong when we took the breasts out of the frying pan. I wanted to cut them in half at an angle and plate them on a pile of pasta, so I grabbed a knife and started cutting.
"Jesus, what's in this!?!"
"Nothing, why?"
"Well, I can't cut through the breasts!" (said as I'm hacking away at them like a drunken Canadian trying to chop down a steel telephone pole for firewood)
"Well, they have toothpicks in them. Metal ones."
"They do?!?! Why didn't you tell me?"
"What do you think is holding them together?"
"Hell if I know; you're the cook!"
I'm not trying to blame Jhan here, just trying to explain how this shoot went wrong. See, I had all the lighting set up so that cut side of the breast would face to the right and pick up a nice fill on that side. But my amateur hacking had so mutilated the thing that I had no choice but to cut it the other way, facing left, to hide the carnage. So the lighting I had set up was all wrong. The shoot was doomed from the get go.

Otherwise, this was a simple set up - chicken stacked on the pasta, chardonnay sauce dribbled on top, chopped basil on top for color, sliced bread in the background.

The Photography

I spent 45 minutes shooting this damn plate, but I could never get the lighting right. Originally, I had key light in back with a strong fill to the right, but with the cut breast facing left, it was always in shadow. The way my studio was set up it was not as simple as moving the fill to the left side; there wasn't room for it. Feeling rushed as I always do during these dinner shoots (hey, I do want to eat, OK?), just kept shooting, hoping something would turn out, but even after several lighting moves it wasn't working.

By the end I had taken so many photos that my batteries were beginning to die and were taking longer and longer to recharge the flashes - that didn't help either. The only reason any of these photos look halfway decent is because of the miracle of Photoshop.

The image at left was pretty typical of this shoot: poorly composed, underexposed and out of focus. 

Lessons Learned
  1. If the lighting isn't working, don't keep taking pictures. Stop and fix it.
  2. Don't feel rushed during the shoot, or you may end up taking even more time
  3. We still have a bit more communicating to do before we work all the kinks out

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