Adapting Suvir Saran: Paneer (cottage cheese) pesto stuffed chicken breasts

I don’t normally do this. I don’t post a recipe or pictures of the food I cook; but today I’m going to. I’ve always thought there were enough websites and blogs out there to get your recipes from. And when I’m inspired to “create” my own recipes I post a method because that’s how I cook. But I don’t have the camera or the skill to take good pictures or for that matter, the plating skills. But today’s dish demands a recipe and a pictures. I want you to see what I did with Suvir Saran’s original recipe.

I’ve been a fan of Suvir Saran ever since I first saw him on an episode of The Next Iron Chef on Food Network a couple of years ago. Such a gentleman he is! You know how in reality shows some judges are prone to extreme reactions, but he was mild-mannered and humble, yet extremely well-spoken and clear. I ran to my nearest computer to read about him and then to the library to get his book Indian Home Cooking and kept it for as long as the rules would allow. I followed that book with American Masala and then when I left the US bought the latter. How I now wish I had bought the first one too! His recipes are simple, elegant and diverse, as diverse as his homeland of India and adapted home of New York City.

On Tuesday night I received a little ego boost from an unexpected source which left me so excited and energized enough that I decided to do something special for dinner on Wednesday night. I started thinking of options. I have been craving a meatloaf and mashed potatoes type dinner for a while now. So I thought I might do a chicken meatloaf and fell asleep dreaming of what I would put in it to make it juicy. Then in the morning I thought I would read Saran’s recipe for a tamarind glazed meatloaf and see if it could be adapted to chicken. Before I reached the meatloaf, my eye fell on his goat cheese pesto-stuffed chicken breasts. And I fell in love.

As is often the case in with love at first sight, life gets in the way. I remembered that at GNB, my supplier of cheese and all lovely food things, goat cheese and pine nuts are quite expensive. And so as we do in life everyday, I compromised. But how do you substitute the creamy, buttery, tangy taste of goat cheese? So I decided to take the recipe a different way and use freshly made soft paneer and make a coriander and mint pesto with cashews and spike it with a little amchur or dried mango powder to give it a slightly sour taste. I also used some dried apricots along with raisins since they have a tart flavor. As I blitzed everything in the food processor a beautiful smell of lemony coriander and fresh mint filled the air. The pesto was a beautiful light green color and tasted creamy from the paneer and cashews, spicy from the garam masala and red chili powder and sweet from the bits of apricots and raisins. It was beautiful! I kept opening the box in the fridge containing the leftover pesto and smelling it for comfort and then this afternoon it went into making koftas. Lovely in them too.

Then came the part I was a little scared about. Halving the breasts. I have done it before when I made bleu cheese and pecan stuffed breasts. Still, my knife skills left me feeling a little skeptical. So I shook aside all doubts and just did it. Took the knife and went right in. The knife wasn’t perfect – I am missing my serrated knife – and I felt like a amateur butcher. A little pushing and prodding was needed and a few tears later, I had an opened up breast. Then I pounded it out with the bottom of a nice heavy skillet which is always fun and my chicken was ready. Here is a picture.

The next step was to ready the marinade. Even though I only had two breasts I made enough marinade for four because I like my chicken to have a little sauce after its time in the oven. It is a simple marinade made exactly as Suvir’s recipe with roasted besan, sour cream, garlic, oil and spices. I was all set to substitute the sour cream with yogurt until I went to GNB and found that they had started carrying a locally produced sour cream which was much cheaper than the imported version. Not just sour cream, the same company is now making ricotta and mascarpone! Two kinds of mascarpone in fact – cow’s milk and buffalo milk mascarpone. And since I am reading Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking I actually know the difference. Such joy. Thank God for small mercies and local dairies.

Once the marinade was ready, I stuffed the breasts, put them in the baking dish and poured the marinade over. The chicken then got a nice sour cream massage after which it went into the fridge for some rest.

Just before dinner time I pre-heated the oven to 400F (200C) and took the chicken out to get its chill off. Then it went into the oven for 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes under the grill to brown up. Here they come!

The husband was the first one to eat as I had to give the baby his dinner first. He plated up the chicken and the salad ( apple cider vinegar and lemon juice dressed crunchy veggies with pickled jalapenos) and cut the chicken and took the pictures. Let’s just say he did the better job with the pictures!

So the hubby’s verdict was: like it, love it, gotta have it. This despite the fact that in the morning when I told him what I was going to do, he said, “Why would you stuff paneer into chicken? Why put two similar tasting bland things together?” Which made me feel worse about skipping on the goat cheese. But after eating it, he admitted that though the pesto was very rich it didn’t feel heavy, it was very easy on the palate and the tummy. The chicken was juicy and flavorful thanks to Suvir’s wonderful marinade. I was walking on air until I tasted it myself and found that I liked it too. I had feared that the hubby might be too nice! But he wasn’t – me, my worse critic, liked it. The moist, flavorful chicken complemented the spicy, sweet pesto. The textures also played off each other – the outside chewy, the inside goey. Not bad at all.

There was one thing I would change though. The apricots didn’t chop up well enough in the food processor and there were big chunks in the pesto. So when you got a chunk the bite became too sweet. Next time I will definitely chop them up before putting them in the machine. This was one time I was sad there were no leftovers. I only made the two breasts and wished I had more! And believe me, it was a lot of chicken. Suvir suggests using half breast per person, I made one breast each and we still didn’t feel like we were going to die from all the meat, partly because we ate no starch.

So a pat on the back for a job well done, again something I don’t normally do and here comes the recipe for 4 chicken breasts each approximately 200gm in weight.

For the paneer pesto:

3/4 cup cashew nuts, toasted on a skillet over a low flame until browned

1 1/2 loosely packed cups fresh coriander leaves

3/4 loosely packed cup fresh mint leaves

2/3 cup fresh soft paneer (made from 1 litre 3.2% milk – approximately 150gm)

3 tbsp finely chopped apricots

3 tbsp golden raisins

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp red chili powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

For the marinade:

3 tbsp besan

1/2 cup sour cream

2 small garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp garam masala

To make the pesto, place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

For the marinade, heat the besan in a small skillet over medium high heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until it is browned and a wonderful warm aroma of besan fills your kitchen. If it starts to get too dark, take the skillet off the heat and stir to prevent burning. It can burn quickly so take care during this step. I caught mine just in time! Then put the besan in a bowl and whisk in all the other ingredients.

Now prepare the breasts. Using a sharp, serrated knife cut across the breast at its thickest point, but not all the way through. Open the chicken up like a book. Then cover it with a piece of plastic and pound it using a heavy skillet, meat mallet or even a good old rolling pin to an even thickness of about 1cm. Remove the plastic and place 2-3 tablespoons of filling in the center of the chicken. Then fold one side over the centre, followed by the other so it becomes like a roll. Place it seam side down in your baking dish. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Pour the marinade over the chicken and spread it carefully all over the chicken, making sure you get under the folds of the meat. Then cover it and keep it in the fridge for at least half hour. I kept mine for almost 3 hours.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400F (200C) and get the chicken out of the fridge get the chill off.Β  Then cook it in the oven for 20 minutes and finish off under the grill for a further 10 minutes to brown the tops nicely.

Finally, eat and enjoy.

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About Aditi

My thoughts are who I am and I am what my thoughts make me.
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5 Responses to Adapting Suvir Saran: Paneer (cottage cheese) pesto stuffed chicken breasts

  1. Looks Yummy dee.. I will try it out πŸ™‚ !!

  2. Suvir Saran says:

    You are too kind and generous towards me in your post.
    I am humbled that you liked the cookbooks. Glad you enjoyed their diversity.
    I was never in my head going to be a cook or a chef, rather I always knew I loved great food. But it seemed that cookbooks had recipes, but very poor recipes. In-authenticity or dishonesty or carelessness in sharing details – led me into wanting to write a book that kept no details fugitive, either out of desire, or lack of interest.
    Now writing cookbooks has become my calling and passion. Teaching is what keeps me learning.
    I am a fool to enjoy what is so laborious and fluid. But such is life.
    With people like you who work so hard and give me credit as well, I feel it is well worth it.
    Sorry about the apricots. Perhaps the ones we used when testing (yes each recipe gets tested multiple times and by many different people too) or that the blades could have been sharper or the brands of the machines different – too many variables… and silly of me to not ask for chopped apricots.
    Thanks for giving credit and thanks for using my books.
    Please keep well and in touch.
    Best,
    Suvir

  3. Pingback: The humble salad. | Just another foodie mom.

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