There are more chickens than any other species of bird in the world. We've been domesticating these tasty beasts, who are descendants of the "aggressive, pugnacious red jungle fowl of northern India and southern China" (I love the way Harold McGee puts it in On Food and Cooking) since 7500 BCE. In the 19th century, the importation of large Chinese birds to Europe and North America created an outright chicken craze that we've been in the throes of ever since.
There's more than one way to cook a chicken, but a really lovely method for chicken breasts, which can easily become dry and boring, is en papillote. This traditional French method involves creating a parchment-paper envelope to steam your food into submission. It works well with fish and vegetables, but I especially like it with chicken breasts for a quick way to ensure they come out extra succulent.
Life is so busy, isn't it? Sometimes I feel like an aggressive, pugnacious jungle fowl myself, just trying to get through the day. Cooking en papillote is perfect for a busy weeknight. Throw in some veggies, and this little envelope creates a whole meal for you. I roasted a sweet potato in the oven at the same time, and with very little prep, the whole meal came together. The chicken was extremely juicy and flavorful. And clean up was essentially just tossing the parchment paper in the garbage.
You can create these envelopes by cutting large heart shapes from parchment paper, though you don't have to be very scientific. Place the meat and vegetables in the crux of the heart, fold it in half, and then create a seal by crimping along the open edge. This entire recipe is very versatile--you can make a pesto with any number of herbs and nuts you have in your fridge. Give these magic little envelopes a try with whatever you have on hand!
Pesto Chicken en Papillote
2 bone-in chicken breasts
1 c. arugula pesto (recipe below)
1 head broccoli, rough ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch rounds and florets
salt and pepper
1 lemon, sliced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the chicken breasts in the arugula pesto and set aside for 20 to 40 minutes at room temperature.
Place the pesto-marinated chicken in the parchment paper. Cover with several slices of lemon. Top that with the broccoli, and drizzle a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Close your parchment package tightly, and place on a sheet tray in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on how thick the breasts are.
2 c. arugula
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp. fresh parsley
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. almonds, toasted
about 1/2 c. olive oil
salt and pepper
In the bowl of a food processor, chop garlic, then add arugula, lemon juice and zest, parsley, cheese, and almonds until blended. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until you reach the desired texture--that of a thin paste.