I have a confession to make. I sometimes get to jonesing for Small Kitchen Devices the way most of us guys get a Hardware Hard-On when we wander the aisles at Home Depot.
Problem is, I can buy a lot of useless crap in a chef’s supplies store, the kind of crap that finds its way to the back of one of the overly cluttered drawers in the kitchen. Then I feel like a Prize Jackass. When was the last time I used that Prune Zester?
But one device that really does come in handy is the Meat Pounding Mallet. This little beauty has a comfy rubber grip and a business end of solid steel. One side has a gridwork of points, useful for tenderizing shoe leather or round steak (really the same thing), while the other side is smooth. That’s the side I find myself using almost all the time.
I like boneless chicken breasts - they’re a nice base for a lot of sauces, they’re chock full of healthy protein, they’re low in fat. Problem is, they are a bitch to cook properly. If you’re not careful, they will be totally dried out on the outside while the interior is a nice, salmonella-bearing pink. Yecch.
But all’s I do is lay a piece of Saran wrap on a heavy chopping block, then place the quivering Chicken Breast on it, then cover with another piece of Saran - and then I pummel the crap out of it with the smooth face of that mallet. After a minute or so of wailin’ on that chicken, presto! Nice, thin chicken scallopini.
Now, sometimes I’ll take those pounded breasts, lay ’em in a Pyrex roasting pan and drizzle ’em with olive oil, then sprinkle with Montreal chicken seasoning. Thirty minutes at 350°F, and it’s Dinner Time!
And if you want something a tad more elaborate, how ’bout this:
Chicken Stuffed With Smoked Mozzarella
This will make six servings, unless you are ravenous. Allow 40 minutes, including 25 minutes oven time.
You will need:
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1½ pounds total)
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil (you’ll need just a few tablespoons all together)
½ of a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
3 tablespoons pine nuts
¾ cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
¼ cup seasoned fine dry bread crumbs or panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Take one of the chicken breast halves and place it between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, whack them bad boys into rectangles about 1/8 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Season (the chicken, not the plastic wrap - duh) with salt and pepper. Repeat process with all chicken breasts.
If you haven’t already toasted the pine nuts, heat up a dry, heavy skillet and toast the nuts, stirring often. You want to get a nice, light brown - whatever you do, don’t burn ’em. Set aside.
To make the filling, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a medium skillet and cook the shallots and garlic until tender but not allowing them to brown. Remove from heat; stir in spinach, nuts, and smoked mozzarella. Now you’re ready to roll.
In a shallow bowl combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Roll each flattened chicken breast half around 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling. You’re looking for that cylindrical, burrito-like structure here. Stick a wooden toothpick into each roll to keep it from unraveling. Then lightly brush each roll with olive oil; coat with bread crumb mixture. Place rolls, seam side down, in a shallow baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 400°F oven about 25 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink.
Remove toothpicks before serving, if you know what’s good for you.
Serve with a cool white wine. We Georgians are fond of “Peanut Grigio.”