Polenta-battered chicken breasts

Good to look at, better to eat and best to cook, this Italian-influenced masterpiece might just have been invented by Michelangelo, and offers yet another inspiring way to cook chicken.

Polenta-battered  chicken breasts
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To make polenta-battered chicken breasts with basil pesto for four, you will need:

For the pesto:

  • 5 or 6 bunches fresh basil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Half a cup pine nuts
  • A little salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil 

For the chicken breasts

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  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 200g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 eggs

Pesto at its most simple is a highly flavoured olive oil sauce. The big deal, as always, is freshness of the main ingredients plus a hearty texture. Remove the basil leaves from the stems. Place the dry ingredients in a food processor, pour in 100ml of extra virgin olive oil and rev the machine in short bursts until a coarse paste results. What we don’t want is a smooth paste like mayonnaise or baby food.

Texture – plus a slight crunch between the teeth – is what we are looking for. If it is too dense, add a little more oil. Salt to taste. Pour it into a sealable bottle and store in the fridge any that is not immediately consumed. Remove the bone and skin from each chicken breast. Take care to remove and retain the little self-contained fillet that you will find close to the breast bone. Place the filleted breasts on a work surface, cover with clean clingwrap and flatten them to an even 8mm thickness.

A light wallop is all you need to produce a satisfactory uniformity of thickness. Next, the batter. Pour the polenta, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and fresh thyme into a food processor and rev it to the red line. Pour the dry mixture into a medium bowl. In a second bowl, whip the two eggs while a cup of white flour is poured into the third bowl. Dip the flattened breasts plus the little fillets first into the beaten egg, then into the polenta-breadcrumb mixture and finally into the flour. Knock off the excess with a firm tap.

Select a large heavy-based frying pan. Pour in extra virgin olive oil to a depth of 20mm and bring this up to frying heat. Fry the battered chicken breasts plus the additional little fillets for as long as it takes to cook right through. Remember that undercooked chicken is the one-way street to gastric hell. When cooked, arrange the chicken on fresh paper towel or unused brown paper to drain the excess oil. Serve at once on warmed plates with a generous tablespoon of fresh pesto over a serving of buttery mashed potato. A chilled glass of Chenin Blanc gives this meal the salute it deserves.

Contact David Basckin at [email protected]. with ‘Real cooking’ in the subject line.