I love it when a new cookbook gets the first little oily splotches on a page. This happened last weekend when I made something from “Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen” – a birthday present from my friend David. When I made this I didn’t have a few of the ingredients to hand, so I’ve adapted it a little. Indeed, if I don’t adapt it, I can’t post it! I substituted Abla’s almonds, raisins and spring onions with walnuts, currants and french shallots, respectively.
This dish has beautiful flavours, and it would make a wonderful dinner party main course, especially for any gluten-intolerant guests.
You will need to approach this with patience, however. Rolling up a sticky, leafy mixture with lots of little bits that fall out easily into a fillet of chicken that is likely to tear is not exactly straightforward. Give yourself time and expect to take a few goes to get it right. Also give yourself at least an hour of prep time – there’s lots of little bitsy jobs to do here and it takes longer than you might think on reading the recipe.
- 1/3 cup basmati rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ground walnuts
- About 50 g – enough to loosely fill a standard plastic fruit & veg bag – English spinach leaves, washed and chopped coarsely
- 1/3 cup currants
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 french shallot (small red onion, brown skin), finely diced
- Pepper & salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 4 chicken breast fillets
- extra olive oil & lemon juice
Step 1 – Make the Filling
Boil some water in a small saucepan and add the rice. Cook for 5 minutes, it needs to be slightly undercooked. Drain and set aside.
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and gently toast the pine nuts, taking care not to burn. Place them on a paper towel when they are golden. Put the ground walnuts in the pan and do the same. Set the nuts aside.
Put the spinach, shallot, currants, nuts, allspice, lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix until combined. Set aside.
Step 2 – Prepare & Stuff the Chicken
Butterfly the chicken breasts – slice carefully in half from one side to the other, but don’t cut all the way through. Flatten them out a little, placing them between two sheets of baking paper and gently bashing with a mallet, or a rolling pin. They’ll be easier to roll if not so thick. Place each butterflied fillet on its own large piece of baking paper. If your fillets end up with too many holes and gaps, you can put two together (as I did) and overlap them a little. Place about a quarter of the filling at one end, or about half the filling if you’re doubling up the chicken. The spinach filling will reduce as it cooks, so don’t worry if it looks overstuffed. Using a spatula or wooden spoon to hold the mixture firmly down, roll the fillet over. Use the paper to continue rolling, as you would use a bamboo mat to roll up a sushi roll. See my photos below for a demonstration of how I did it.
Carefully seal with skewers (I used wooden ones snapped in half). I used about 3 on each double fillet to keep it all together. If you’re making these in advance, put them in the fridge now until you’re ready to cook.
Step 3 – Cook
Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Heat some oil in a frypan, and fry each fillet on each side for a few minutes to brown. Transfer to a baking dish with a little oil and water in the bottom of the pan to prevent burning, drizzle with some extra olive oil and lemon juice, and bake for 20 minutes, basting once or twice throughout. If its too dry to baste, drizzle some extra oil and lemon juice over the top.
Remove the skewers, slice as best you can and serve with a salad or vegetable side dish. I served this piled messily onto one platter, with any filling that spilled while slicing scattered over the top.
I had extra mixture when I made this, which I rolled up in a sheet of puff pastry and baked like a sausage roll. I wish I’d thought to put some fetta in it though – that would have been perfect!
BAZ THE WINO SAYS:
Had dinner at Abla’s this weekend, with a pinot and a shiraz. Pinot was clearly the better match for the flavours in this dish.
If you can get hold of it, Curly Flat from the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne is sensational (*cough* I worked the last two vintages there *cough*).
Rich red fruits and oak-derived vanilla flavour with a hint of coffee and candy musk, good acid up-front carrying back through the palate with broad, mouth-filling tannins to finish dry. Get the 05 or 06 if you can. Rathdowne Cellars has it for about $50 and City Wine on Spring St should also have it in stock.
Something cheaper and more widely available is Paringa’s Peninsula Pinot. The current release is the 2009, which was cooler than previous years and resulted in excellent fruit quality. Cherries again (I’ve had cellar door customers ask “so at what stage do the cherries go into the wine?”) and a little spicier than the Curly Flat, as befits the warmer climate of the Mornington Peninsula, but lighter on the oak. Not as rich as the Curly Flat but cracking value at about $23 at Dan’s.