A few weekends back I was in the mood to cook but not a quick meal. Instead my taste buds were anxious to have comfort food such as Mom and Grandma used to make.
So what could be better than stuffed chicken breast with whipped potatoes, gravy and mixed vegetables? Mom and Grandma kept their cooking simple and that suited my mood and the time I had to devote to the meal.
I decided to really go old school by using a cast iron Dutch oven. That is what Grandma used to cook with on her woodburning stove. Now those were the days. Dad said she would put a pot roast in with some water and an onion that was likely only quartered at most, put the lid on and let it cook all day. By the time supper rolled around, the pot roast would be tender and falling apart. I’m told it would simply melt in your mouth and at the same time was so flavorful your taste buds would do a happy dance.
I wanted the chicken I was cooking to be just as tender.
A value pack of five large chicken breasts seemed a good choice for the meal but I only used three, putting the other two in the freezer for another day.
I cut off some of the fat on the breasts but they were skinless and boneless, so there wasn’t too much to worry about. I preheated the oven to 290 degrees. This dish would be cooking for awhile and I wanted to get that slow all day flavor and tenderness but didn’t want to overcook the chicken, making it too dry to enjoy.
About a half cup of water went into the bottom of the cast iron Dutch oven. I then placed the three chicken breasts on the bottom of the pan, upside down. They just fit in a nice circle. Next came seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. Nothing fancy here.
Even the stuffing would be a simple dish. It is basically, bread, melted butter and poultry seasoning. You can use sage if you don’t have poultry seasoning as it works just as well. In fact that is what Mom originally used when she first started cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
I had purchased a loaf of white bread from the bakery section of the grocery store. That way I can get the bread unsliced. I simply tear the loaf into bite-size chunks and place them in a large bowl. I melt a stick of butter in the microwave to begin with. While it is melting, I begin shaking poultry season onto the bread chunks. I will move the bread around to make sure all the chunks get coated with the seasoning.
Once the butter is melted I slowly pour it over the bread. I will move the bread around again as I add the butter to make sure the pieces in the middle and the bottom of the bowl get some of that goodness poured over them. If the loaf is a good size, as this one was, I will melt another half or even a second full stick of butter to pour over the stuffing. You want the bread mixture coated with butter and seasoning but you do not want to soak the bread completely.
Once the stuffing is made, I simply began piling it on top of the chicken breasts. I pressed the first few handfuls down onto the breasts so that the flavors would mix. Once I completely covered the chicken breasts with stuffing, I cut up two tablespoons of butter into four chunks and just placed them here and there on top, wherever the stuffing looked a little drier.
If at this point if you’re not sure if the 1/2 cup of water is enough, you can add a little more.
However, I knew that once the cast-iron lid was on, the steam as the chicken/stuffing cooked would create condensation and keep everything moist.
Into the oven it went.
Three hours later I checked on it. Upon opening the lid, the steam rolled out and water condensation dripped from the lid. The stuffing was a beautiful golden color with a crunching crust around the outside where the bread had come up against the sides of the cast-iron pan but the center was nice and moist. A fork test into the chicken below showed that it was tender and could be pulled apart with the fork.
I replaced the lid and left it in the pan and in the oven to make sure the temperature in the chicken was definitely at a safe level.
In the meantime, I quartered and cooked several peeled potatoes and put the mixed veggies in the microwave in their steam packet.
In no time, Dad and I were sitting down to a dish of comfort that we hadn’t tasted in a long time. I figure it was the cast-iron and the slow cooking that brought out the flavor we remember from long ago meals.
Dad said it tasted just like Mom and Grandma used to make and there could be no better compliment for me than that. Especially since this is not the first time I’ve cooked a stuffed chicken breast but it was the first time I went old school in the cooking process.
Just like Mom and Grandma made. I wanted to jump up and do a happy dance right along with my taste buds.