Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Roasted Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Cornbread and Spinach

There have been 2 pieces of cornbread in the freezer for a couple of months, leftover from another dinner. I had planned to use it for stuffing, so I picked up some skin on chicken breasts, and used the opportunity to also use up some of the leek that was in the fridge.

First, make the stuffing. You want to be sure that it is cold before you stuff the chicken, since the leeks and spinach will be cooked.

Crumble the cornbread into a bowl. I had about 1 cup.

My cornbread has corn kernels in it, so it had the added texture and sweetness from that.

Finely chop half a leek and cook it in a bit of olive oil until it softens. Season with salt and pepper while it is cooking.

Remove from the pan and add to the cornbread.

 Add the spinach to the pan that the leeks were cooked in. Turn the heat to medium high and allow it to wilt down. I used one good handful per breast.

Use tongs to turn it often, so it doesn't scorch.

Season the spinach with salt and pepper. Place it in a strainer to cool, and to allow excess moisture to drain.

Squeeze any remaining moisture out, and roughly chop the spinach.

Add the chopped spinach to the bowl of cornbread and leeks.

Add 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh sage to taste.

Add a small amount of chicken stock and mix to combine. Add stock as needed, you want the stuffing to stick together when pressed gently between thumb and finger.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

When the stuffing is completely cool, you can prepare the chicken breasts and stuff them. Gently loosen the skin on the one side of the chicken, to create a pocket.

Gently tuck the stuffing under the skin.

Season the skin with salt and pepper.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a hot pan, and carefully place the chicken in, skin side down.

Leave it for 3 - 5 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp.

Carefully remove the chicken from the frying pan, and place it skin side up in an ovenproof dish.

Put into an oven that has been pre-heated to 350F and bake until the chicken is cooked through.

When the chicken is cooked, allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 I served this with herb roasted vegetables (carrots, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, shallots and garlic tossed with fresh thyme and rosemary, olive oil and salt and pepper) and steamed asparagus. And of course, the gravy, that was made in the pan that the chicken was browned in! Our family loves gravy!!!

  • Any bread works for stuffing, but cornbread is moist, slightly sweet and with the corn kernels in it, adds texture to your stuffing. If the bread you use isn't a crumbly textured bread, cut it into small cubes.
  • Leeks, minced onions, shallots, green onions or chives....use whatever is available.
  • Fresh spinach loses a lot of volume when it wilts. If you are using pre-cooked spinach, use about 2 tablespoons per breast.
  • Add dried fruit to the stuffing...raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, blueberries. Soak them in juice or alcohol before adding to the stuffing, for a burst of flavour.
  • Turn the stuffing into a meat stuffing by cooking and crumbling your favourite sausage and adding it to the bread and leeks.
  • Fresh sage is a very strong flavoured herb, and can be overpowering for some people. That is why  I  suggested adding it to taste. If you only have dried sage, I would recommend omitting sage and just going with thyme. Sage loses most of it's flavour when it is dried.
  • Another stuffing option is to make a flavoured butter, by mixing chopped fresh herbs and/or spices with softened butter, and stuffing it under the skin. This will keep the meat moist, add flavour and also help the skin to crisp up even more.
  • Roast garlic, and make a paste by mashing it with ground black pepper, chopped fresh rosemary and pinenuts. Use this as your stuffing. The effect is sweet and buttery, but with a lot less fat than butter.
  • Mash soft goat cheese or feta cheese with chopped fresh basil, cooked spinach and chopped sundried tomatoes for a Mediterranean inspired stuffing. Add chopped artichokes, olives or pinenuts if you like.
  • Cook diced apples or pears in a bit of butter until they soften, but still retain their shape. Allow the fruit to cool, then mix it with crumbled blue cheese, chopped pecans and a drizzle of honey for a sweet and tart stuffing.
  • The stuffing can be multiplied to make enough to stuff a whole chicken or turkey. The stuffing can be made a day ahead, but do not stuff the chicken or turkey until you are ready to roast it. Also be sure that the stuffing is cold before it goes into the cavity of the bird.

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