We hosted Christmas dinner for our parents at our house this year and when I sat down to think about the menu, one of my main criteria was that the dishes could be at least partially prepped ahead of time. I wound up turning to several recipes from the book The Best Make-Ahead Recipe because when it comes to cooking, I need explicit instructions to help me plan and host a meal and this book did just that. The dish that received the highest praise of the day was a simple butternut squash puree and, unfortunately, I didn't get a photo before it was devoured, so I'll make it again soon to share with you.
These breaded and stuffed chicken breasts were also a big hit so they're definitely worthy of a post of their own. They can be prepped a day in advance and then baked at the last minute so they were perfect for my needs. There were a number of different cheese filling options provided in the book (the mushroom and provolone sounded wonderful), but I went with the goat cheese and thyme because it was the only one I thought Shane would eat. The breading consists of homemade bread crumbs, though you can substitute toasted panko if you're short on time. For me, the worst part of the recipe was butterflying the chicken breasts. It took forever and I had trouble getting an even cut through the center. In all fairness, I was in a bit of a hurry so it might be easier next time I try these when I'm not pressed for time and also trying to clean the house, bake and wrap presents at the same time...
I baked the chicken at 375 F instead of the 350 F recommended in the recipe because I had another dish in the oven at the same time. At that temperature, my chicken was fully cooked in about 35 minutes. Upon cutting into the chicken, I discovered wonderfully moist chicken with a creamy, rich filling. The breading was crisp and adhered to the chicken instead of falling off as it baked or when I cut into it. The chicken was well received by everyone and will definitely be a repeat in our house.
Breaded Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese and Thyme Filling
from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed
salt and ground black pepper
cheese filling (see recipe below)
4-5 slices white sandwich bread, torn into large pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 300 F. Place half of the bread in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Repeat with the remaining bread. Toss the bread crumbs with the oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs are golden brown and dry, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a shallow dish and let cool completely.
Butterfly each chicken breast by slicing it lengthwise almost in half (starting on the thinnest side) and then opening it to create a single cutlet. Place each cutlet between sheets of plastic wrap and pound until the cutlets are about 1/4-inch thick. Place about 2 tablespoons of the cheese filling in the center of the tapered half of each chicken breast. Roll the chicken tightly over the filling to completely enclose it and form a cylinder. Press the seam to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken and filling. Refrigerate the chicken, seam side down and uncovered, for 1 hour to allow the edges to seal further.
Combine the flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a shallow dish and whisk the eggs and Dijon together in a second shallow dish. Working with 1 chicken breast at a time, dredge in the flour, then coat with the egg mixture and finally coat with the bread crumbs you made earlier, pressing gently to adhere the crumbs.
The breaded chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F and place the chicken on a wire rack set over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fully cooked (an instant read thermometer should register 160 F), about 40-45 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Goat Cheese and Thyme Filling
adapted from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2 oz goat cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix until uniform.