Chicken breast with mushroom and chestnut stuffing
Heading into the chillier days life as a chestnut would have to be pretty swell. Happily nestled into a cosy little pod lined with silky fur with the protection of a magnitude of needle like spikes to ward off any hungry creatures. Nature really got it right when it comes to nurture and defense when if comes to these little gems, but with the imminent arrival of winter one thing leads to another and along with the golden leaves these treats are delivered to the ground for people and critters alike to forage.
Many years ago I was living in Wanaka with an old friend Luc living the dream skiing and snowboarding all day pretty much every day. We often collected chestnuts from a tree outside the house and roasted them on the fire. Luc and I both have a real passion for cooking and we spent many winter evenings cooking up a storm for our friends. One of the most memorable creations we made was a chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and chestnuts, the memory of that meal sings to me when I think about it and that is where the inspiration for this recipe came from. ‘Luc, my old friend, I hope you get to try this one and I hope you think it does the original justice!’
4-6 Chicken Breast Fillets (depending on size)
1/2 cup flaky salt (or 1/4 cup table salt)
1/4 cup caster sugar
Herbs, chopped onions, garlic, whole spices as desired.
Stuffing & Sauce
24 fresh sweet chestnuts, peeled and skinned
2 tbsp olive Oil
300g (11oz) mixed mushrooms of your choice, chopped finely
1 Shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crème fraîche or cream
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and thyme)
Combine approximately 1L (1 qt) of water with salt and sugar in a pot, place on the heat and stir until the salt and sugar has dissolved.
2. Add remaining water plus any seasonings and chill.
3. Once the brine is cold submerge the chicken breasts in it and leave to brine in the fridge for about 2 hours (the longer you leave it the saltier your chicken will be).
4. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with a paper towel.
Stuffing, Sauce and Assembly
1. Shell your chestnuts (*see note) and roughly chop.
3. Heat oil in a pan, add the mushrooms and shallots and fry gently till soft (about 5 minutes).
4. Add in the chopped chestnuts,herbs and half of the cream or crème fraîche then season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for another minute or so.
4. Divide the mixture between the chicken fillets and carefully stuff the mixture into the cavity you have created in the breast.
5. Place in a roasting dish in the oven just below the center and roast (use the roast function if you have it) using fan bake at 190°C (375°C) for 30-45 minutes (the timing will depend on the size of the breasts).
5. Remove from the oven, drain the cooking juices into the pan and leave the chicken to rest. Add the remaining crème fraîche or cream to the pan and simmer gently for a few minutes to thicken.
6. Slice the chicken and serve with the gravy and sides of your choice.
* the best method I have discovered for removing the chestnuts from their shells is to take a small sharp knife and make an incision right across each chestnut. Then 6-8 nuts at a time pop them in the microwave for 1 minute. Allow them to cool just enough to handle the chestnuts then peel the skin away. Once they cool down they become difficult to peel again hence cooking just a few few at a time is the secret to success.