Why I love this recipe…let me count the ways. First off, its not a crockpot recipe so I feel like I put a little more ‘work’ into it, which is rewarding. Secondly, it looks and sounds as if it was super hard, when it is not. It does take a bit of time, but the steps are super easy. Lastly, there is a lot you can do ahead of time to make this easier to do when you get home from work.
There are many Italian inspirations on the plate, but its not what I think of as traditional Italian like pasta or risotto. My favorite part of this dish is the creamy polenta combined with the bacon in the stuffing. I grew up in Oklahoma which isn’t the ‘south’ exactly, but I did have grits often at family dinners. I learned that the difference between grits and polenta is the type of corn and the coarseness of the cornmeal. But, they are both often cooked the same way and from two areas of the world that rule in comfort food.
For this evenings meal I used instant polenta, ‘creamed’ it up, and served it and the chicken with a side with Panzano brussels sprouts.
And here we go…
- 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup loosely packed spinach leaves – stems removed
- 1 small lemon
- 3 strips of bacon
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1.5 tbsp EVOO
- 1 cup instant polenta
- 4 cups chicken broth – reduced sodium
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup Italian salad dressing (I use Wishbone light almost exclusively for marinades)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp cooking oil with a high smoke point
- Chopped parsley (I’ve used dried before if I forgot to buy at store, not as good…but works)
Before we get started, I am not generally grossed out by meat in general. I would actually love to take a butchering class so I can appreciate all the work that goes into those nicely packaged meats in the grocery store, and I love the butchering Top Chef challenges. My husband, that is another story. He can handle most anything, but slimy chicken breasts are his kryptonite. So, before I, the “household designated chicken slicer”, gets to business, I always have to show them to Mr. Potts just to gross him out. I love it.
- Optional do ahead step: Slice a pocket into both chicken breasts. Place one hand on top of the chicken breast to not only secure that slippery chicken but to also feel the knife as you slice. Put the knife into the side of the chicken breast at the thickest part and using the entry point as a pivot area, pivot the knife down through the rest of the skinny part of the the chicken breast. Always keep the knife angled up towards you as much as possible since you can’t feel the other side of the chicken that is against the cutting board. If you accidentally pierce the bottom you will lose stuffing, so take your time, go slow so you don’t pierce the bottom or sides. Once you’ve cut along the side of the chicken, remove the knife…and get in there with your fingers to break up any remaining fibers.
- Remember to wash your hands, knife, and the cutting board which you should only be using for raw meat! I use a plastic cutting board so I can run it through a sanitation cycle in the dishwasher unlike wood.
- Optional do ahead step: Lets marinate! I choose to marinate once the pockets are complete, this way I am only stuffing a marinated breast vs. slicing and stuffing one. Salt & Pepper both sides of chicken breast. Find a tray or dish with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the Italian dressing and balsamic vinegar into the bottom of the dish. Place the chicken breasts on top and close the lid. Turn upside down two or three times, and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes. No longer than 24 hours.
- Set oven to 375 degrees.
- Slice the 3 bacon strips into small 1/2 inch pieces.
- In small saute pan, head 2 tsp of oil on medium heat and cook bacon pieces for approximately 5-8 minutes. Its best if bacon is on the crispy side since its going inside a chicken breast and will absorb the juices to soften it.
- Once the bacon is cooked through, transfer to a small plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- The stuffing (except the bacon, can be done ahead of time).
- Slice the spinach leaves into strips. Place into small mixing bowl.
- To the spinach, add 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of lemon zest.
- Add mozz cheese, oregano, red pepper flakes to the spinach/lemon, & finally add bacon and EVOO. Mix to combine.
- Remove chicken breasts from marinade and slowly stuff spinach/bacon mixture into the pockets sliced into the chicken. I like to over stuff my chicken breasts so I need toothpicks to secure the chicken breasts. So if you are like me, stuff those bad boys and use a few toothpicks to secure the pocket closed.
- Place stuffed breasts into a shallow baking dish with the stuffing/opening facing up. I usually spray mine with a teenie bit of olive oil or cooking spray to keep from sticking. Cover with foil and pop into oven for approx 15 minutes.
- While chicken is cooking, in small sauce pan bring 4 cups of chicken broth and minced garlic to boil.
- Once boiling, slowly whisk in the polenta and stir stir stir until it starts to thicken.
- Once it starts thickening, remove from heat and pour in cream – but don’t stop stirring!
- After about 2-3 minutes of stirring, pour in cheese and butter – and keep stirring for about another 30 seconds. This will definitely need salt, but add as much S&P as you prefer. Cover with towel and set aside.
- At the 15 minute mark, check the chicken. You can use a thermometer but with a stuffed breast its a little harder to tell since the thermometer can easily end up in the stuffing vs. the meat. If you use a thermometer pull the chicken out when it registers 155 degrees and let it rest for about 5 minutes, covered with foil. OR you can use the poke method to check if its done.
- Once the chicken has rested, carefully slice the chicken to ensure the stuffing doesn’t fall out.
- Stir polenta one last time, and then spoon out portions into bowls or the plate.
- Lay sliced chicken on top of polenta, top with parsley & serve hot!