We had some goat cheese around the house (from Thanksgiving), and I was looking for a yummy recipe that we wouldn’t have to go shopping for and which would use up some other ingredients before they went bad. It was also one of those rare weeknights when nobody had anywhere else to be so we could take our time. That said, stuffed chicken breasts can be on the table in less than an hour. Family gave it two thumbs up and three smiley faces. Even better: they’re a much simpler and more adaptable dish than I’d ever guessed, and I don’t think I’ll ever have to refer to the recipe again.
Credit where it’s due: I started with Ina Garten’s recipe, found at http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes.aspx?RecipeID=526&S=0
In my search for such recipes, I also came on a few that called for caramelized onions or some sort of balsamic vinegar reduction, so I added that twist, which I think went a long way toward making this super-juicy, but resulted in a far less photogenic result than pictured above (which is from the Barefoot Contessa website). One thing I like is how easily I was able to scale this up for more people. Here’s what you’ll need:
- a casserole dish — about 9×13 for six chicken breasts (smaller if you have fewer mouths to feed)
- One onion, sliced into crescents — there’s no harm if you’d rather chop it up into tinier pieces, but I liked the look and texture we got from rings and half-rings
- Olive oil (about 1 Tbsp)
- 1 cup of balsamic vinegar — this amount worked great for 8 chicken breasts, but if you use half this amount then also plan on only using half your onion (unless you really really like onion).
- boneless chicken breasts — Ina used them skin-on, but I went with skinless. I recommend using fresh chicken breasts, because the frozen ones just aren’t quite thick enough to slice through the center, but feel free to prove me wrong. The chicken breasts we had were pretty big; most of us had a half-breast as our serving size, though some went back for seconds.
- About 2 oz of cheese for each chicken breast — you could use goat cheese, like we had, or whatever yummy cheese you think would work well. Something that has a bit of body and a stronger flavor will do better than a mild cheese.
- About 2 Tbsp of some other chopped vegetable — we used sun-dried tomatoes, but I think something like artichoke or sautéed mushrooms would work, too.
- Toothpicks — one or two for each chicken breast
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep the casserole dish with non-stick spray and set it to the side.
In a shallow saucepan, sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer until reduced to about half volume (it’ll take something like 10 minutes.) A note on reductions: “reduction” is just a fancy word for something that’s been simmered until it gets thicker (because a certain volume of it floats away as steam). Very smooth and flavorful!
While the sauce is “reducing,” butterfly your breasts. With a sharp knife, you’ll slice the chicken not quite in half across its, uh, equator. Don’t go all the way through. What you want to do is be able to open it up like a book. A raw, chicken-y book. If this doesn’t make any sense, you can go to YouTube and search for “how to butterfly a chicken breast.”
Once the chicken book is open, you’ll smear your cheese inside, pack whatever else you want to put in there (like the sun-dried tomatoes), and then lovingly set the breast in your casserole dish. Repeat until all chicken breasts are resting happily.
By this time, your sauce should be ready. (It doesn’t matter a whole lot if it’s reduced by precisely 50%, but that’s what you’re aiming for.) First, scoop a little bit of the sauce inside each chicken book…er, breast…and then use the toothpicks to anchor the stuffed breast together. This part is kind of important. Stuffed chicken breasts are structurally unsound. If you skip this step, be prepared for the yumminess to be much harder to dish out at the end of it all. You can get fancy and try to “stitch” the sides together with the toothpick. I just skewered them and called it good. Salt and pepper generously. Finally, drizzle the sauce over and around all the chicken breasts.
Bake (uncovered) for about 30-40 minutes. You’re looking for the inside temperature of the chicken to be 160 degrees. When they’re done, let them rest for about 10 minutes before *removing the toothpicks* and serving. This gives you a good amount of time to steam some veggies or make oven rolls to slop up the sauce.