Originally published in quality newspapers the week of January 23, 2011
Most people over the age of about 40 remember Steve Martin as not just a white-haired comedic actor but also as a prematurely-grey, white-suited stand-up comic. Among his many memorable bits was one observing how “those French have a different word for everything.”
When I first started becoming interested in cooking I was a bit intimidated and even a little put off by the French. They ate snails, for crying our loud! They may have called them escargot but they were still snails. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that a lot of what many of us eat and who we prepare our food, we owe to the French. We refer to our main course as an “entrée,” we “fillet” our fish, and we “sauté” our vegetables. These are all French terms or American versions of them.
With the proliferation of chef-helmed cooking shows more home cooks are becoming comfortable with a basic French techniques. One that we’ve moved into the regular dinner rotation in our own home is the “paillard” which like some of these other French words sounds a little more fancy-pants than it really is. A paillard is really just a thin piece of meat, usually chicken or veal, that can be cooked quickly.
My wife has recently returned to carnivorism after more than a decade as a vegetarian and she will not yet let me bring veal into the house so our paillards are of the poultry variety.
A boneless, skinless chicken breast can be transformed into a paillard in one of two ways. One way is to place the breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound it flat using a mallet or even a heavy flat-bottomed pan. The other technique is to use a knife. For this method you place the breast on a cutting board and use a knife to cut down the middle of the breasts, lengthwise, but only cutting half way through the flesh. Then you hold your knife with the blade parallel to your cutting board and slicing toward the left edge of the breast without cutting through the edge. You repeat this cut with the right side and then open up the breast almost like a tri-fold brochure. Either method should leave you with a piece of chicken that is about a quarter to a third of an inch thick.
There are several different ways you can prepare these palliards but the recipe below is pretty classic and one of our favorites. You’ll need about one breast per person and you can serve them with anything you like. We enjoy this these with mashed potatoes and a simple salad of greens with lemon vinaigrette.
Chicken Paillards with a Lemon Shallot Pan Sauce
- 4 chicken breasts, prepared as palliards
- Kosher salt and Cracked Black Pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Juice of one-half lemon
- 1 tablespoon butter
Heat a medium nonstick sauté pan to medium-high heat and add the oil. Season both sides of each palliard. Sautee the palliards one at a time in the oil, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Add more oil if needed. You can keep the pieces warm in a 200-degree oven while cooking the others. After all the chicken is cooked, add the wine and shallots to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any of the tasty bits of chicken on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and let the liquids reduce by half. Add the lemon juice and whisk in the butter until melted. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Pour sauce over chicken immediately before serving. This will make four adult servings.