Grilled chicken paillard is regular summer weeknight dinner at my house. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are pounded thin. It only takes a few minutes on a hot grill to cook them to juicy and tender perfection. The Italian way is to mound a heap of lemony arugula salad on top. The flavors are fresh and simple yet exciting – tangy lemon, peppery arugula, sweet ripe cherry tomatoes and savory grilled chicken. For an extra treat add crusty bread and chilled white wine.
If you don’t have a meat mallet (I don’t) you can easily flatten a chicken breast using a rolling pin. You just hold it by one and gently pound the chicken breast, starting at the middle and working towards the edges. Don’t pound too hard or the chicken will break. You want a uniform thickness of about 1/4 inch.
Once pounded into “paillards” the chicken is marinated in a few tablespoons of lemon dijon vinaigrette before grilling.
I first learned about chicken paillard in Italy. You’re going to hate this story, but here goes: As a teenager I travelled to Italy with a girlfriend and we dieted the whole time. Not a bite of pasta or bread in 10 days of Rome and Florence. We basically lived on peaches, arugula, and veal or chicken paillard. Despite the fact that I had a mild starvation headache the whole week, we had an enjoyable trip, seeing the sights and shopping. If you are thinking “who in their right mind would travel all the way to Italy and not eat the food?” I am wondering the same thing even though that person was me! Despite serious missed opportunities for pasta and prosciutto and such, the summer peaches were spectacular and so was the chicken paillard with arugula salad.
As for dieting in Italy, there might have been some positives that came out of it. Firstly, when I look back on some of my teenage choices it makes me a more sympathetic parent to my own teenagers and their “interesting” choices. Secondly, I discovered my love for chicken paillard. Lastly, it gave me the resolve never to miss out on any delicious things anywhere ever again!
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ½ a small garlic clove, pressed
- ¼ teaspoons salt
- Several grinds of fresh ground black pepper
- 2 large whole boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 large handfulls of arugula (about 8 ounces), washed and dried
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed and sliced in half
- Lemon wedges
- Dressing Whisk the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Slowly add the oil while whisking, to emulsify. Set aside.
- Chicken Slice the whole chicken breast down the middle, into halves. Put one half breast into the center of a large ziplock baggie, then on a cutting board or butcher block. Using a meat mallet or a rolling pin, pound the breast gently 12-20 times, starting at the middle and working towards the edges, until you get an even thickness of about ¼ inch. Repeat with the other 3 half breasts. Spread 4 tablespoons of lemon dressing over the bottom of a non-reactive baking dish or container. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the fridge for ½ hour or up to 4 hours.
- Heat the grill to medium-high (about 400ºF) Sprinkle the chicken with salt. Grill chicken for 2-3 minutes per side, until juices are clear when pierced with a knife.
- Divide the chicken among 4 plates. Toss the arugula and cherry tomatoes with 5 or 6 tablespoons of dressing and mound the salad on top of the chicken. Add fresh ground pepper, to taste. Put lemon wedges on the plate to garnish. Enjoy!