Step-by-Step: Pounded Pesto Chicken Rolls

Please note: due to recent illness, I haven’t been able to prepare an illustrated version of this post. Please check back early next week if you’d like to see the photographs that normally accompany my step-by-step recipes; I should have them up by then.

I made this meal in January with some chicken from Omaha Steaks, which my sister-in-law and her husband gave us for Christmas. It came out so well that I decided to tweak the recipe and include it here. Because both prosciutto and feta are inherently salty, I recommend using one or the other but not both.

You Will Need:
  • Boneless, skinless chicken (breasts, tenders, or thighs)
  • Salt
  • Pesto (preferably homemade; see this post for instructions)
  • Prosciutto or speck, and/or feta cheese
  • 1/2 lemon (for juice)
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Plastic Ziploc bag or other food storage container with airtight lid

Refrigerator

Oven or toaster oven

Paper towel(s) for drying off raw chicken

Large cutting board, preferably one of the wide flimsy plastic ones

Plastic wrap [Optional but very much preferable]

Meat tenderizer

Large spoon from your silverware drawer

[Optional] Kitchen twine or toothpicks

Roasting pan appropriately scaled to hold the chicken rolls without too much empty space around them

[Optional but very helpful] Meat thermometer

 

Steps

1. Several hours before you plan to make this dish, remove the chicken from its packaging and rub salt all over the meat. Place the chicken into a plastic zip-top bag or other airtight container and let it sit in your fridge until you are ready to make dinner.

2. Remove the chicken from the fridge and rinse off any excess salt, then pat dry with a paper towel. Let the chicken sit in the roasting pan so it can come to room temperature while you gather the rest of what you will need.

3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

4. Place the chicken breasts on the cutting board so that they are some distance from one another and cover the board with a layer cling wrap. (If you are feeding a crowd, you will probably need to do this step in batches.)

5. Using a meat tenderizer or other heavy item such as your fist or the butt of an empty bottle, pound each chicken breast until the meat is as flat as you can get it. You want something approaching an even thickness across each piece of meat, so focus on the thicker sections rather than the edges.

6. When all chicken is pounded, remove the plastic wrap and drop a dollop of pesto onto each piece of chicken.

7. Store any excess pesto before using your spoon to spread the pesto evenly across the chicken, much like spreading mayonnaise on bread. (You want to seal up the pesto first so you don’t accidentally reach for more, because by that point, your spoon will contain raw juices from the chicken.)

8. Tear the prosciutto or speck into pieces and distribute these evenly across the chicken, and/or sprinkle each piece of chicken lightly with feta. Avoid going crazy with the cheese, as this will complicate step 9.

9. Roll each piece of chicken into a pinwheel and secure with twine or toothpicks if you have them. If you don’t have them, which we don’t, make sure to tuck the loose end of the chicken securely under the rest of it and pack the pinwheels snugly against each other as you place them into the pan. This will keep them from spilling out as you try to get them into the oven.

10. Once you have rolled all the chicken, redistribute it around the pan so that air from the oven has as much chance to circulate as possible. If you need to keep your chicken rolls in contact with one another to keep them from unwrapping, consider arranging them in a diagonal (photo forthcoming).

11. Squeeze some lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over the chicken.

12. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165ºF. When you are getting close, drop a small pat of butter on top of each piece of chicken and put the pan back into the oven. (The entire process will probably take 30–40 minutes but will vary depending on your oven, the thickness of your meat, and how much you are cooking.) Use a food thermometer to test for doneness if possible. (If you don’t have a thermometer you should err on the side of caution and let the chicken go about 15–20 minutes beyond the point at which the outside looks done. If you salted your meat well in step 1, it won’t dry out. Cut into one of the rolls to check for doneness before turning off your oven.)

13. Let the meat rest for about five minutes before serving. Because of the high salt content within the dish, consider serving it alongside something sweet, such as Strawberry-Pecan Salad or cranberry sauce.

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