Mushroom-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Ingredients

  • 2 oz / 60 g dried ceps
  • 4 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • ¼ pt / 140 ml boiling water
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 4–5 tbsp Noilly Prat
  • pinch of freshly ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz / 230 g fresh cup, button, oyster or brown mushrooms
  • 2 oz / 60 g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2–3 sprigs lemon thyme or basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (optional)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaved parsley
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ pt / 140 ml chicken stock
  • butter, chilled and diced (optional)
  • finely chopped flat-leaved parsley, to garnish

Method

Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and pour on the boiling water. Rub the chicken all over with half the Noilly Prat, and season lightly with the allspice and pepper. Wipe and slice the fresh mushrooms, and fry them in half the butter and oil. Add the lemon thyme or basil, and cook with the mushrooms for about 8 minutes. Strain the soaked dried mushrooms carefully to keep the juices, and then rinse if necessary to remove any grit. Slice, discarding any woody bits, and add to the mushrooms and herbs in the pan. Cook until all are tender and well amalgamated. Crushed garlic can be added, if liked. Remove from the heat, put to one side, and stir in the parsley. With a sharp knife, cut a long, deep pocket in each chicken breast. Season the mushroom mixture, and spoon it into the pocket in each breast, securing the openings with cocktail sticks. Heat the remaining butter and oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken breasts on both sides until golden brown. Lower the heat, partially cover and cook for a further 15–20 minutes, until the juices show clear when the flesh is pierced with a knife. Transfer the meat to a warm plate, and cover with foil while you finish off the sauce. Deglaze the chicken frying pan with the rest of the Noilly Prat, and add the stock. Reduce by half, and pour on the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms. Reduce by at least half again, and check the seasoning and consistency. Reduce further or add a splash of water, as necessary. The sauce can be ‘buttered’ at this stage; that is, ‘mounted’ with small pieces of chilled butter stirred in, or it can be left plain and clear. Spoon on to warm plates with the chicken breasts, and garnish with parsley.

Variations

Chicken breasts can be prepared in this way with a variety of different stuffings. Here are some suggestions:

Simply stuff the breasts with a little crushed garlic, some chopped fresh tarragon and thin slices of mozzarella cheese. Season the breasts, and fry in butter on each side for about 8–10 minutes. Serve immediately with the pan juices poured over, or make a sauce as above using white wine or vermouth and water as the liquid.

Stuff the breasts with slices of ripe avocado and mozzarella cheese. Season lightly, and then instead of frying the breasts, bake them en papillote with a few sprigs of fresh thyme or marjoram and a splash of vermouth or white wine, for 15–20 minutes at 190°C / 375°F / Mark 5.

Stuff the breasts with fresh basil leaves, ricotta cheese and a little grilled, peeled and chopped red pepper. Season, and this time steam for about 20 minutes either on a shallow dish in a steamer or on a steamer rack in a saucepan, with a few pieces of softened liquorice root in the steaming water. To make a sauce, simmer some chicken stock with another piece of softened liquorice root for about 15 minutes. Remove the liquorice root, strain in the cooking liquid from the chicken, and reduce to about half. Enrich with cream or butter if you wish, and serve poured over the chicken. If you don’t like liquorice, try using herbs, ginger or citrus zest instead.

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