‘Mozzarella Chicken with Pesto Gravy’ – p.215


This one is pretty full on, but absolutely delicious. Nigel suggests an accompaniment of a salad, which sounds about right to me, given that, of the panful of potatoes I boiled to go with it (admittedly, mainly for the benefit of our kids) I ate maybe one.

Lately, for reasons unknown, finding ways to cook a chicken most deliciously has been a preoccupation of mine.  I think it’s partly as a result of a chicken dish of any kind being a pretty guaranteed hit with kids, and partly cause your standard supermarket chicken here in Sweden is a cut above those one finds in London. Here, they are thick-skinned birds, of a reassuring hue, with strong, dark femurs that make the £5 British supermarket chicken look pallid and brittle-boned. I’m sure there are still intensive farming issues here (it’s an issue I think on often, but isn’t really within the remit of this blog) but it’s clear these animals have grown up differently than their counterparts from across the sea. In any case, I cook chicken often and am extremely interested in finding ways to make it taste good, the upshot of which has been that I’m using a pan, on the hob a lot more often now.

In the past, I’d generally considered pan-frying an unsuitable approach where chicken, especially on-the-bone, was concerned; I assumed that direct heat would simply burn the outside, and leave the middle distressingly bloody but boy, was I wrong. With a little careful heat management, the level of control cooking on the hob gives you over the end result, compared to just whacking a bunch of jointed pieces in the oven for a given amount of time (something I’m not opposed to, incidentally) is just magic, with the added bonus that whilst the meat rests, you have a buttery, caramelly, schmaltzy mess there in the pan to use as the basis for a beautiful sauce.

This recipe makes the whole idea of pan-frying incredibly simple, by flattening butterflied breast pieces, which brings the cooking time down dramatically.

First, I cut two skinless chicken breast fillets in half, then put the pieces between sheets of clingfilm, and pummelled them with a rolling pin, til they were half a centimetre thick, but not falling apart. I dropped a generous slice of butter into a fairly hot pan, til it bubbled and began to smell delicious, then added the chicken, leaving it untouched for a minute or so before turning over and doing the same.Whilst they were still in the pan, I smeared a spoonful of pesto over each piece, then topped all four with slices of mozzarella cheese, before lifting them all out carefully and moving them onto a grill pan. As the cheese-topped chicken grilled away, I added another tablespoon of pesto to the pan, along with two of water, and mixed the lot up with a wooden spoon, scraping away at the good, crusty, delicious remains that adhered to the bottom. The sauce basically splits, but no matter. Once the cheese was bubbling, and beginning to brown here and there, I removed the pan from the grill, stuck a piece on a plate, and drizzled over the pesto gravy.

This isn’t subtle stuff: stretchy, grilled cheese, pesto from a jar and fried chicken breasts, but there on the plate, it has a kind of smartness about it. It’s food that, filled with good, tempting things as it is, makes you want to eat it straight away, and surely, that’s as good a reason as any to give this a try?

Buy your own copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’ HERE.


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