Chicken Paillard with Roasted Grapes and Almonds
The technique of butterflying a chicken breast to create a paillard is really simple and results in twice the surface area on the chicken for lots of extra colour and flavour. Cooking grapes to serve with savoury food may seem like a novel idea, but here the roasted grapes are delicious when combined with the sweet chicken, crisp almonds and rosemary. The juices that escape from the cooked grapes mixed with the olive oil make a light sauce for the dish. Look out for home-grown grapes in the autumn, which generally have a wonderful flavour, but especially the Muscat variety, which is a particular favourite of mine.
2 large chicken breasts, skin on
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
450g grapes, cut into little bunches of about 6 grapes
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp whole unskinned almonds
boiled new potatoes
Preheat the oven to 200?C/gas mark 6. Remove the fillets from the chicken breasts and reserve. Place one of the chicken breasts on a board, skin side down. Cut into the chicken breast from top to bottom, leaving it hinged on one side so that you can open it out like a book. If the opened-out breast looks a little uneven, just flatten it with the back of your knife. Repeat with the other breast. Place the breasts and fillets in a bowl with 2 tbsp of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently to coat the chicken in the olive oil and seasoning.
Place the grapes in a bowl with the thyme sprigs, the remaining 4 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper and mix gently. Transfer to a small roasting tray that holds the grapes snugly and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. If the roasting tray is too big, the olive oil and grape juices will burn. The cooked grapes should be lovely and tender but still holding their shape.
Remove from the oven and add the lemon juice and rosemary. At this point, I usually squash a few of the grapes to release their juices into the oil. This almost makes a warm vinaigrette for dressing the chicken. I leave the thyme sprigs with the grapes and they become part of the presentation. Cover the grapes and keep warm.
Roast the almonds on a dry baking tray in the same oven as the grapes for about 10 minutes, until crisp and well coloured. Remove and allow to cool a little, then chop coarsely. The grapes and almonds can be prepared ahead of time to this point. If necessary, the grapes can be popped back into a hot oven to reheat later.
Preheat a heavy grill pan over a moderate heat until the pan is hot. Place the chicken pieces on the pan, skin side down. The chicken should sizzle the moment it hits the pan. If it does not, remove it immediately and wait for the pan to be properly hot. Allow the chicken to become golden brown on the skin side. This will take about 10 minutes and you will need to keep an eye on the temperature of the pan to maintain a hot but not blistering heat. Resist the temptation to move or turn the chicken before it is properly coloured and the skin is crisp. As the skin and flesh cook and colour, it almost lifts off the pan and should no longer be difficult to turn. Cook on the other side for about another 8 minutes, until the chicken feels firm to the touch and the juices run clear. When the chicken is cooked, I like to rest it for 5 minutes or longer in a low oven set at 100?C/gas mark ?. I place the cooked meat on an upside-down small plate sitting on top of a bigger plate. Any juices that run out of the resting chicken are saved in the larger plate.
To serve, divide the bunches of grapes and thyme sprigs between hot plates. At this point the thyme sprigs will be looking a little skeletal, which I like. If that is not to your liking, just discard them. Carve the breasts in half and put on the plates with the chicken fillets added to the plates of the bigger eaters. Scatter the almonds all over the plates. Quickly reheat the juices from the grape roasting tray along with any juices from the chicken resting plate to a simmer and spoon over. Serve immediately with bowls of boiled cabbage and boiled new potatoes on the side.
Extracted from Cook Well, Eat Well by Rory O'Connell (Gill Books, €24.99). Photograph by Joanne Murphy.