Pechugas Rellenas (stuffed chicken breasts) are the empanadas of poultry. Just like the versatile pastry, every country, region, and – of course – every individual cook will have a different recipe. Chicken Kiev is a familiar version with its buttery filling, and is perhaps the predecessor to Chicken Cordon Bleu. A Turkish recipe, Ispanakli Tavuk Dolmasi, translates to spinach stuffed chicken breast while India’s Shaan-e-Murgh incorporates a filling of cashews, cumin seeds and paneer (cheese). Capers and pesto are essential to Chicken Siciliana and Italy’s version would include a fontina cheese and prosciutto. All of these are variations of a chicken roulade, or roll-up.
Now that we’ve traveled across part of the world, we can return to Pechugas Rellenas. Again, it’s a delight to discover so many options. If you’re lucky, you could locate Spanish serrano ham for Pechugas de Pollo Rellenas. (Prosciutto is a great substitute for Spanish serrano ham.) In Puerto Rico, plantains and tomatoes are included. On a Mexican menu, ham is present along with a blend of classic cheeses; in this case Oaxaca with Cotija crumbled in for added zest. While many recipes call for cheeses as part of the filling, they will melt out. It’s better to place them on top in the last few minutes of cooking.
Pairing sauces is equally fun and, here, I’ve selected a roasted serrano-infused mushroom blend that delivers on heat with a nod to voloute for the base. Of course, you can bring this to the table with a red or green salsa. Refried black beans is another wonderful option.
Think of Pechugas Rellenas as an easy dish that you could prepare quickly on a weekday evening. Then, imagine dressing it up as an alternative or addition to a holiday meal. The level of presentation is up to the cook! At the end of this recipe, I’ll list a few variations that keep things simple, but will make a big impact on taste.
Yields 4-6 servings
4 chicken breasts
4-6 ham slices (deli-thin)
5-6 ounces Oaxaca cheese (mozzarella is a fine substitute – it’s stringy and holds together well without producing oils)
½ cup Cotija cheese
Oil for a quick browning in the skillet
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
Pound each of the chicken breasts until they’re about ¼-inch in thickness. (Note: you can also cut a slit in thicker breasts and just fill them instead of rolling.)
There should be enough to split the flattened breasts into roll-ups.
Place a ham strip on each of the breast halves.
Heat oil in a skillet, add the roll-ups and brown on all sides.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place roll-ups on a lined cookie sheet or in an oiled casserole dish.
Blend the ¼ cup olive oil with the cilantro and brush across the tops, reserving some for further basting.
Bake for about 30 minutes (approximately).
Add slices of Oaxaca on top, sprinkle with Cotija and bake for another 10 minutes. (You can finish off under the broiler, too.)
(About 2 cups)
3 serrano peppers
11 button mushrooms (8 ounces)
Oil for sautéing peppers and mushrooms
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
¾ cup half-and-half
Salt and pepper to taste
Roast the serranos, let cool, remove skins and de-seed (if desired), then dice.
Clean the mushrooms and slice.
Dice about half of the mushrooms into smaller pieces.
Use about ¼ cup oil to sauté mushrooms and peppers until softened.
Make a roux with the butter and flour, then slowly add in broth.
Stir to continue thickening, then add the serranos and mushrooms.
Cook for 10 minutes, then add the half-and-half, salt, and pepper.
Keep hot until ready to serve.
Spoon onto plates and add the roll-ups.
Wrap the roll-ups in bacon to keep them moist while baking.
Roll in bread crumbs for a crust (baked).
Roll in egg, then in flour or bread crumbs before baking or frying.
Season the flour before rolling with a taco mix or other blend.
Add sautéed onions, roasted peppers, garlic, or chipotle peppers as fillings.