We all know the trouble with the mind and memory. It isn’t always reliable. Images called up from the past can be hazy. Concepts and techniques once learned can be hard to access. Sometimes, the mind makes up things up. Or, two or three stories will meld into one.
That last memory misfire is what happened when I was trying to figure out what to make mom for her Mother’s Day lunch.
No doubt the pot of blooming sage on my front stoop was the source of inspiration, a recipe came to mind that I hadn’t made in years: Saltimbocca. Italian for “Jump into the mouth,” the traditional Roman roll of prosciutto, fresh sage and pounded veal is so quick and delicious, it can leap from skillet to mouth to satisfy hunger pronto.
Instead of preparing it with veal, I decided to make the dish with chicken breast–already a veer, albeit an acceptable one, from tradition. Early Sunday morning, I went to the market to get my ingredients. And that’s where things went further off course. There wasn’t any prosciutto, so I chose Black Forest ham. I thought I needed fontina, also not to be found–pickin’s are slim after a busy Saturday at the grocer–so I substituted muenster. I also bought cream, and hurried home.
Bill observed as I pounded the chicken breasts, arranged the slices of ham, cheese, and pretty sage, and rolled up the fillets and said, “Looks like you’re making Chicken Cordon Bleu.”
This was a remarkable statement, coming from a man who 1) doesn’t cook 2) hasn’t touched fish, meat, or fowl for over 20 years because it was True.
I realized I had fused another recipe, also unmade for years, into this one.
Today’s recipe is that faulty memory merge of two classic Old World dishes, Saltimbocca and Chicken Cordon Bleu. Maybe I should call it a happy marriage, as the result was simply delicious.
You see, true Saltimbocca has no cheese in its filling, no cream in its sauce. Roman cooks argue on the point of dredging in flour.
Cordon bleu, (which means “blue ribbon’) gained widespread popularity Stateside in the ’60s. It is anchored in Swiss, not French, cuisine. Cheese (often Gruyere) is paired with ham, rolled inside the chicken, which is dipped in egg, dusted in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Sage has no place in this dish. A cream-based sauce is often napped over the crunchy roulades.
But here’s what I like about my fusion: A melty white cheese helps to keep the chicken breast moist, and gives a cushion for the sage and ham. The seasoned flour is a touch more assertive–enhanced beyond the usual S&P, with paprika and granulated garlic. The dredging not only helps hold the roulade together (although a toothpick does the trick, too!) it adds browned bits to the skillet–which, in turn, boost the flavor of the sauce. I will also note that I am not alone in this recipe fusion—check out this appealing array of stuffed chicken breast recipes at Cooking Light.
You can see how sumptuous the juices look, deglazed in the pan with dry white wine. The small amount of flour dusted on the chicken contributes a bit to the thickening of the sauce—although the reduction of wine and small pour of cream do most of the work. More fresh chopped sage—ah, meraviglioso, merveilleux, wunderbar…
Yes, you will be happy to have this jump into your mouth.
BLUE RIBBON CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA
1 1/4 pounds boneless chicken breast
4 slices prosciutto or thinly sliced deli ham
4 slices fontina, or muenster
8-12 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Slice the chicken breast into thin (1/4″) scallops. Place each piece between a stretch of plastic wrap and pound to flatten and tenderize.
Arrange a slice of cheese, ham, and sage leaves on top of each chicken cutlet. Roll, and secure with a toothpick if you like.
In a small bowl, mix the flour with the seasonings: salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, paprika.
Dredge the roulades in the seasoned flour, dusting off the excess.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Heat and swirl together.
Place the chicken roulades in to brown, taking care not to crowd the pieces. Brown the chicken for 3 minutes and turn.
Continue browning for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the fully browned pieces and place them into a baking dish. Cover and keep warm.
Return the skillet to the burner, still set on medium, and make the sauce: (recipe follows)
WHITE WINE CREAM SAUCE
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 sage leaves, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Pour one cup of dry white wine into the skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Cook and reduce the wine as you continue to deglaze the pan. When the wine is reduced by half (about 5-6 minutes) stir in the heavy cream. Add the chopped sage leaves. Taste for salt and black pepper; adjust as needed.
Pour the sauce over the roulades.