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Pounding chicken

Sometimes a practical kitchen procedure can double as a good stress-reliever. Kneading dough, for example, where punching, folding, shoving and throwing the stuff around on your bread board makes a socially acceptable alternative to punching that pointy-haired boss in the schnozzola.

Today let's examine another politically correct alternative to rude violence: Pounding chicken breasts thin not only permits you to let off steam in an acceptable fashion, it can also dramatically improve your dinner.

There's been a lot of discussion about this topic recently in our Food Lovers' Discussion Group (see links below), and it has prompted me to fashion a few tasty chicken creations in the last few weeks.

Before we get to the recipes, let's talk briefly about the procedure. Why should any sensible home chef want to pound a piece of chicken anyway? I can think of several reasons: Hammering a boneless chicken breast into a thin, flat sheet makes it even in thickness, so it will cook evenly. The pounded product is easy to wrap around food, making a neat, attractive and eminently edible package. And best of all, pounding seems to break up the meat's natural fibers, making it tender.

These thin, handy pieces of flattened meat turn up in many of the great cuisines of Europe. The Italians call it "scaloppine." In Germany and Austria it's "schnitzel."

It's simpler to do than it is to describe: Put your piece of boneless chicken breast (or, if you like, veal, pork or turkey) on a flat, firm surface such as a cutting board or counter top. For sanitation, I recommend sandwiching the meat between a couple of sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper, a handy way to avoid contaminating your kitchen with the microbial critters than can infest raw meat. Take a heavy object - anything from a heavy rolling pin or iron skillet to a heavy coffee mug or wine bottle will do - and gently pound the meat all over until it flattens into a thin sheet. For most recipes, aim for about 1/4-inch (0.67 cm) thickness. Perfection is not a requirement, but try to avoid pounding it so thin that you can't handle the result without tearing it.

At this point, it's ready to use in any recipe. The other night I went with the simplest possible approach: Salt, pepper, sautee quickly in a little butter over medium-high heat, and when the meat is cooked through (a matter of only 2 or 3 minutes), finish with a squirt of lemon juice in the skillet, quickly reduced over heat to make an instant pan sauce.

Here's a fancier but still easy approach that makes a spectacular dish, Pesto and cheese-filled chicken breasts. Thanks to Food Lovers' Discussion Group participant Ted Richards for the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup (60 g) mild goat cheese
3 tablespoons (45 g) pesto
1 tablespoon minced red onion or shallot
Black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).

2. Pound chicken breasts until 1/4 thick, as described above.

3. Make, buy or borrow pesto. For my slightly idiosyncratic recipe, see
Mix the pesto, goat cheese and finally minced shallots.

4. Spread the cheese-pesto mixture on the boned side of the chicken breasts. Roll them up like jelly rolls and secure with toothpicks. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

5. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet with an oven-proof handle, and saute the chicken rolls until they're golden-brown all over, about 4 minutes. Place the skillet in the preheated oven and bake until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

WINE MATCH: I figured that the combination of flavors, particularly the pesto and goat cheese, would bring this dish up to a red wine, and the blueberry-scented Bera 2002 Dolcetto d'Alba proved an excellent match. A flavorful, crisp white - just about any young Sauvignon Blanc, for instance - ought to be fine, too.

Discuss this recipe in our online forum:
If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Holiday ... chicken?."
Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

The previous discussions on this subject are still online and open for further contributions. You'll find a topic entitled "What do you use to pound down chicken breasts?" at:

The discussion on "Now, how about some recipes for pounded chicken breasts?" is here:

Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note at I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can.

Of course you also have a standing invitation to participate in our interactive Food Lovers' Discussion Group. To participate in this friendly online community, simply click to
and feel free to reply to any topic or start a new one.

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Concentrating mushrooms (Nov. 13)

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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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