Chicken Paillard Party
by Kate Heyhoe
Pop Quiz: What is a paillard?
A) a type of pot pie...
B) a French restaurateur...
C) a thin, flattened cut of meat...?
In the late 19th Century, a very savvy Monsieur Paillard hosted some of France's most fashionable guests, including the most elite patrons of the day and the chic, chi-chi theater crowd, at his two Paris restaurants. Besides creating such elaborate dishes as Pommes Georgettes (potatoes cooked whole, hollowed out, and filled with a creamy crawfish sauce), he served a specialty of veal thinly sliced, pounded even thinner, and grilled or lightly braised. This scallop of veal came to be known as a paillard, and today, it refers to any thinly pounded slice of beef, fish, veal, and even chicken. So if you answered B and C in the pop quiz, you're on your way to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America)!
Paillards (PIE-yahrd) are fast food. You can pound them thin in but a few seconds, and they cook in only slightly more time. The pounding goes quickly, and when serving a crowd, you can work assembly-line fashion to crank out a stack of ready-to-cook paillards in minutes. Whether grilled or braised, they adapt well to both simple seasonings and elaborate sauces—but personally, I prefer simple treatments that don't overpower the meat itself.
Chicken paillards, especially, adapt well to all types of international flavors. You can coat them with seasonings before they cook, or cook them naked and sauce them later. One of my favorite ways to prepare chicken paillards is to pound pieces of chopped nuts into them before sautéing; the nuts add a delightful flavor and texture. A quick deglazing of the pan, and dinner is served.
Because paillards are so thin, though, beware of overcooking them. A few seconds too long and your tender morsel will taste like an old worn shoe sole. Remember that after foods are removed from the flame, they continue to cook because of residual heat, even very thin foods. So remove the meat while it's just a tad pink in the center to keep it moist when served.
To make chicken paillards, use boneless, skinless chicken breast halves. You can flatten them on a cutting board, naked, or between sheets of plastic wrap (some folks fear pounding between plastic will allow polymers to enter the flesh—there's no evidence of this that I know of, so it's your call).
Use the smooth side of a meat pounder—not the dimpled side. You want to flatten, not tenderize, the meat. If you don't have a meat pounder, pound the breast with a rolling pin or smooth bottomed jar. Pound from the inside and thickest portion out to the edges. Don't overdo things—you want the meat of fairly uniform thickness, but if it's too thin, it will fall apart and worse, turn to shoe-leather instantly. I pound my chicken breasts until they're about 1/3 thick, no less.
To cook paillards, choose your weapon: grill or sauté pan. Grilling over a very hot fire produces lovely caramelized grill marks, while sautéing allows for a deglazed sauce. If cooking many paillards at the same time, tent them with foil or keep them warm in a low oven, just as you would flapjacks. You can also make a sauce in advance, ready to nap the plate or spoon on top as soon as the paillards are ready.
Kate's Chicken Paillard Recipes:
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Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 1999