Monday, March 23, 2009

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I've been on quite a kick with chicken breasts lately. It wasn't very long ago, however, that I looked on them with a bit of scorn. They're tasteless! They're dry! They're only beloved by chronic dieters! All these complaints seemed totally reasonable. And really, when it comes to chicken, meat on the bone is tastier than off.

But I've evolved. Actually, I've figured out that I feel really satisfied when I have a serving of meat in my meals, and chicken breasts really fit the bill: They're quick! They're versatile! They're inexpensive! Although I've never been a vegetarian, I would often eat meals that didn't center around a piece of meat, like bean burritos or quinoa soup with a poached egg. I like to think maybe my strength-training routines at the gym have turned my muscle tissue into a protein-powered furnace... but it's not as if I look like Xena Warrior Princess, so who knows!

Since I mostly eat healthy, I like to feel full so I won't be craving junk food. I roasted fish all the time, and I've been broiling chicken breasts nonstop to make tacos, salads, sandwiches, whatever. One night, I decided to do something different and the result was these stuffed chicken breasts. I used exactly what I had in the refrigerator at the time, which was spinach (always have that actually), red onion and Feta.

I was dubious that stuffing my boneless, skinless chicken breasts would work at all. I did a quick search and didn't find any good recipes that used the boneless kind. Still, I thought I'd give it a try. I was thrilled with the outcome. I decided to bake at a not-too-scorching 375 degrees, and I think that helped keep the chicken super moist. The filling couldn't have hurt either, and was really tasty in its own right. You can't go wrong with slightly caramelized red onions, sauteed spinach and salty cheese.

One final note: The off-putting thing about stuffed chicken breasts, in my opinion, is cutting the pocket in the meat. You're afraid you'll cut straight through or you'll screw it up somehow. Forget about it. I thought the same thing, but it's the simplest procedure. You do need chicken breasts that are on the larger side (about 6 ounces should work). But just think about making a pocket, and you'll figure it out for sure.

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
This recipe is perfect for adaptations. How about blue cheese or goat cheese? Or you might replace the spinach with chopped tomatoes (sun dried perhaps?) and leafy herbs.

Serves 4

Cooking spray
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups)
4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
2 ounces Feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and very soft, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

With a small, sharp knife, make a horizontal cut to create a pocket in each chicken breast. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Stuff the spinach mixture and Feta into the pockets. They should be full, but you don't want a lot of filling bursting out. You may have leftover filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is opaque in the thickest part. Serve immediately.


Matt's Kitchen said...

I love stuffed chicken breasts, both bone-in and out, and am always looking for new combinations. Years ago Cook's Illustrated had a feature on stuffing chicken breasts and getting them to cook evenly. They used a skillet method. I like your baked version. It seems as if it would cook more gently.

billjac said...

I use a two step cooking method myself. Sear for two minutes on each side and one minute on each edge and then finish for no more than ten minutes in a 350 degree oven depending on how thick the breast is. Honestly, I overcook the chicken as often as not, but I really like the results when I get the timing right.

Daniel said...

I like the "evolution" in your thinking. So many foods that are good for us are actually GOOD! We just have to drop our preconceived notions about them sometimes.

Looks like a really flexible and easy recipe. Thanks for sharing!

Casual Kitchen

Mark Scarbrough said...

Basil. I vote for basil with Swiss chard in there. I LOVE versatile recipes--because I can't always find any one ingredients in my supermarket. And well, anything to make a chicken breast more interesting is right up my alley.

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