A dinner partner recently asked me what chicken paillard is. I hesitated for a moment, my memory returning to my stint at the Cordon Bleu years ago, and I explained that, like chicken scaloppine, paillards are thinly pounded meat, fish or chicken that is quickly sauteed. The difference is that scaloppine have a dusting of flour that creates a crisp crust, while paillards are cooked without a coating. Paillards are traditionally served with a splash of lemon or a simple, uncomplicated sauce.
A paillard is the perfect weeknight entree since it takes just a few minutes to pound and even less time to cook. To flatten the chicken breasts, place them on a cutting board between plastic wrap or wax paper and pound with the smooth side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin or even with the bottom of a heavy skillet or saucepan! I find the easiest way to create an even thickness is to pound from the thickest part at the center to the outer edges.
I have unfortunately encountered more than my share of over-cooked shoe leather paillards. The key to keeping them moist is quick cooking on high heat to sear the outside while briefly cooking the interior. I recommend removing the chicken when it just turns opaque in the center. It will continue cooking off the stove, allowing it to be fully cooked and juicy.
Paillards can be prepared with either simple seasoning rubs or quick sauces. I like to marinate them or season them before cooking to give them plenty of flavor. They are usually cooked skinless, which makes them a low-fat favorite.
This Mexican-style pesto blend is a lovely combination of toasted pumpkin seeds, assertive cilantro and Italian parsley that adds just the right flavor to the thin cutlets. (The pesto is also great on fish or swirled into hot pasta.) Serve these on a simple salad of mixed greens tossed with tiny yellow and red pear tomatoes, or serve with braised spinach or broccoli rabe.
• Use a heavy nonstick, ridged grill pan or skillet to saute the paillards. A grill pan will leave dark caramelized grill marks; a saute pan will leave an even browned exterior and allows for making a quick deglazed sauce.
• You can pound the chicken breasts ahead of time and keep them covered in the refrigerator until cooking.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking and the author of Seriously Simple Parties.
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