- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A dinner partner recently asked, “What is chicken paillard?” I hesitated for a moment, my memory returning to my stint at

the Cordon Bleu years ago, and I explained that like chicken scaloppine, a paillard is thinly pounded meat, fish or chicken that is sauteed quickly. The difference is that a scaloppine has a dusting of flour that creates a crisp crust, while a paillard is cooked without a coating. They traditionally are served with a splash of lemon or an uncomplicated sauce.

A paillard is the perfect weeknight entree because 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 waxed paper and pound with the smooth side of a meat pounder, a rolling pin — even 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.

Unfortunately, I have encountered more than my share of overcooked “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 suggest removing the meat when it just turns opaque in the center. It will finish cooking off the stove, allowing it to be fully cooked and juicy. Your family and friends will thank you.

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 usually are cooked skinless (which makes them a low-fat favorite).

The lemon and pistachio pesto blend here is a lovely combination that adds just the right flavor to the thin cutlets. This pesto also is great on fish or swirled into hot pasta.

You also can try your favorite pesto with this recipe. Using rich, herbed nut pastes to flavor the thinly pounded chicken breasts adds not only flavor but moistness with their olive-oil base. Just make sure there is no sugar in the pesto ingredients, or the paillards could burn before they are finished cooking.

Serve these on a simple salad of arugula or mixed greens tossed with tiny yellow and red pear tomatoes, or serve with braised spinach or broccoli rabe. A light, dry rose is a nice accompaniment.

Help is on the way: 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.

Evenly pound finely chopped nuts like almonds, walnuts or pecans into the chicken paillards before sauteing; the nuts add a delightful flavor and texture. Because the chicken cooks so quickly, the nuts will become brown but shouldn’t burn. Add a bit of wine and stock to the bottom of the pan after the chicken is cooked, and you have an instant deglazed sauce to drizzle over the cutlets.

You can pound the chicken breasts ahead of time and keep them covered in the refrigerator until time for cooking.

Chicken paillard with pistachio pesto vinaigrette

VINAIGRETTE:

1/3 cup favorite vinaigrette

1 tablespoon pistachio pesto (recipe follows)

CHICKEN:

6 6-ounce chicken breast halves, skinned

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup pistachio pesto (recipe follows)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for pan

Combine the vinaigrette and pesto in a small bowl and mix until blended.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and, using the smooth side of a mallet or the bottom of a saucepan, evenly pound them 1/4-inch thick.

Place the paillards on a baking sheet and squeeze the lemon juice over them on both sides. Spread a thin layer of pesto on each side of each paillard. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a nonstick skillet or grill pan on medium-high heat and spray with olive oil. When the skillet is hot, saute the paillards in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Place on serving plates and spoon over some vinaigrette. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

PISTACHIO PESTO:

½ cup raw pistachio nuts

3 medium garlic cloves

1½ cups firmly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves (about 1 medium bunch)

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons fresh dill weed leaves

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

Grated zest of 1 lemon

½ cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside.

With the motor running, add the garlic cloves to a food processor and process until pureed.

Add the herbs and lemon zest, and process until finely chopped. Add the nuts and finely chop. With blades turning, slowly pour in the olive oil in a fine stream.

Scrape down the sides of bowl and process again to blend the ingredients. Season with pepper. (If not using immediately, refrigerate the pesto in a tightly covered container until ready to use.)

Just before serving, add the cheeses and process until well blended.

Taste for seasoning. May be prepared 1 week in advance through step 3 and refrigerated. Add cheese just before serving.

Makes about 11/4 cups.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple.” To contact her, go to www.seriouslysimple.com.

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