A few decades ago, a stuffing mix company ran a commercial that featured a couple of kids making dinner plans.
Kid 1: You wanna eat over at my place tonight?
Kid 2: Whatcha havin’?
Kid 2 (with disgust): Just chicken?
Now, the only appropriate response to this is, “Yes. Just chicken. If you don’t like it, go eat at your own place, jerk.” However, perhaps because her boy is socially awkward and doesn’t make friends easily, Kid 1’s mom intervenes to assure the ill-bred youngster that no, it’s not JUST chicken. It’s chicken with Stovetop Stuffing.
Kid 2: Oh, boy! Stovetop Stuffing. I’m staying!
Now at this point, I would have responded in my best Soup Nazi voice, “But no stuffing for you.” I suppose I wouldn’t go very far in the advertising biz.
Anyway … chicken. I’m not sure there’s really any reason to prepare it any other way than fried. However, in this world that craves novelty and excitement, there is always some innovation in the chicken world.
Fun fact! Did you know that Gallus gallus domesticus (the ordinary chicken) is a subspecies of the red junglefowl? There were 19 billion chickens on earth in 2011, which is almost three times as many birds as humans walking the planet. Theoretically, if they banded together under one charismatic chicken general, they could take over. See how well you sleep nights thinking about that.
Occasionally I get the notion that I need a live chicken or two. Not plain old gallus domesticus, mind you. I want one of those fancy chickens that harken back to their fierce jungle heritage. And apparently keeping chickens as housepets is a thing. You diaper them (which seems like it would involve quite a lot of fuss) and let them wander around the living room. Once I was very excited to find a website selling “chicken saddles.” I pictured a sprightly bantam galloping among my coneflowers and hydrangea with a teacup monkey in a tiny cowboy hat riding on its back. Turns out, chicken “saddles” are actually chicken chastity belts, designed to keep roosters from … harassing … the hens. Ugh. Men.
Even without the monkey (note to self: check Amazon Prime for the availability of teacup monkeys), it’s likely my fantasy world in which frilly-feathered fowl adorn my lawn would prove a disappointment in real life. It’s my understanding that actual chickens are loud and dirty and kinda mean. I suppose I can’t blame them, at least for the meanness. The average chicken’s life – even the lucky ones who live on free range farms – is, in the words of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.” Chickens and humans are alike in that way. So why can’t we be friends?
The point of these musings is to introduce my latest recipe. It originated as a way to finally use that jar of Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto I’ve had in the cabinet since I started at Tastefully Simple in 2003. Alas, when it came time to get cookin’, that dusty old shaker jar had disappeared. So I had to improvise, using another product that was almost as dated: Sweet Pepper Dip Mix. Here’s my recipe for …
Pesto-less Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts (adapted from this recipe).
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto Mix (if you have it; I used Sweet Pepper Dip Mix)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Balsamic & Basil Dipping Oil
1 Tbsp. water
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 Tbsp. sour cream
2 Tbsp grated or shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsp. Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading
Prepare the Pesto (or, in my case, notPesto), combining the Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto Mix (in my case, Sweet Pepper Dip Mix), Balsamic & Basil Dipping Oil, and water and microwaving on high for 1 minute. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir in 1 Tbsp. of the Parmesan cheese.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with vegetable oil.
Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. Treat them gently, giving them no hint of the brutality to come. It’s kinder that way.
Place each chicken breast in a sturdy plastic bag and place it on a cutting board. Then beat the hell out of it with a hammer, meat tenderizer, brick, bat, or whatever blunt instrument you have to hand. The idea is to flatten these babies out. It’s also a therapeutic way to take out one’s aggression over the many disappointments in this world:
“There are only two more new episodes of X Files left!” (WHACK)
“I’m stuck in a dead-end job until I die!” (POW)
“Amazon doesn’t even sell teacup monkeys!” (SLAM)
Once the breasts are flat, whisper your remorse to them quietly and set them aside.
Next, mix the pesto/notpesto, sour cream and mozzarella cheese into a thick goo.
Spread the goo on the flattened chicken breasts.
Roll the chicken breasts as tightly as you can manage and secure them with a toothpick.
Mix together the Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading and 3 remaining Tbsp. Parmesan cheese together in a shallow dish. Dip each chicken roll first in the beaten egg, then roll it in the breading mix until well coated. Place the rolls seamside-down in the baking pan.
Bake until the chicken is brown and cooked through (around 30 minutes).
Serve it hot and eat it slowly, reflecting with each succulent bite on the twist of fate that made you a human eating a chicken, and not a chicken eating a human. Evolution is capricious.