Monday, April 2, 2012

Smothered Italian Chicken

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – September 7, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Smothered Italian chicken recipe originally published in Simple and Delicious – June/July 2011.

Alright, I’ll say it… chicken can be boring.  There is your basic sautéed in a sauce chicken and then a panko/breadcrumb breaded baked version.  Serve it on a bed of rice and you’re done.  True, it can be a quick, tasty and healthy meal, but it can be boring.  That’s why I’m always looking for different types of chicken recipes. 

When I came across this recipe, it was still your typical breaded chicken, but how it was breaded made all the difference to me.  The breading was tomato-flavored crackers and instead of an egg/flour wash, it uses an herbed mayonnaise.  Throw in some fresh, yummy and healthy spinach (something I’ve been trying to eat a lot more of lately) and mozzarella and it makes it hard to turn away.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken
I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if the mayonnaise alone was going to help the breading stick, but this recipe proved me wrong.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a piece of chicken turn out this pretty in terms of breading.  The spinach and cheese just make it look perfect.

Also, I was intrigued that there was no traditional “sauce” and kept my fingers crossed it would be juicy and delicious.

© Simple and Delicious
I wonder if they used smaller chicken breasts than I did because it looks like they have a lot more cheese than I did or maybe they just had bigger pieces of cheese.  In any case, the pictures match up well and I wish I would have taken a picture of my chicken cut in half like their picture.

My bad.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessEH – Luckily, there isn’t a lot of equipment that you need and there aren’t a lot of ingredients to pull out.  Still, if you’ve ever breaded chicken before, you know it is a messy process.  The reason it only gets an EH rating is because the process with the mayo and crackers isn’t nearly as messy as doing a flour/egg/panko coat.  Also, I had all the dishes cleaned up (with the exception of the baking dish) and counters cleaned before the chicken was done, so that is another plus.

Start-to-Finish Time: LITTLE OVER AN HOUR – I will admit that this took me a little longer because of my – ahem – injury I sustained during prep (see below).  Essentially, it took me double the time and I’m not sure how long it took for me to treat my finger.  I have to go with how long it took me though.

Prep Work: WARN THE ER – so I know it should be more around SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS because all you have to do is crush crackers.  Unfortunately, I almost DID end up in the ER with this one.  I made the idiotic mistake of using one of my sharpest knives to open the chicken package.  I was holding on to the top of the package and trying to pierce it at the same time.  It did cut the package… and then shot through to my hand, slicing across the top of my index finger with a lot of pressure.  I was just about to leave for the hospital when I got it to stop bleeding.  I ended up doing the Michael Jackson single glove to protect my hand and food from cross-contamination.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - injury sustained and dressed

Ease of Recipe: THE BASICS – It’s even easier than a traditional flour/egg/panko coating and then baked.  Doesn’t get much simpler than that when making chicken.

OverallNOT BAD – I was really excited about the spinach and cheese topping but about half way through I felt “blah” about the dish.  We finished it all, but it wasn’t the most exciting dish I’ve ever made and I’ve found better tasting spinach dishes to take its spot.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes

Since you’ve only got 4 chicken breasts, the servings are pretty accurate.  In terms of timing, I think even 15 minutes of prep is a lot of time to crush some crackers and measure out some ingredients.  I’m guessing this includes the breading of the chicken, preparation of the spinach and assembly.  If that’s the case, I’d say it’s about 10 minutes too low.  Also, I’m not sure how they got the Bake Time at 20 minutes when the first bake (chicken only) is 20-25 minutes and then you have to add the spinach and cheese and bake another 5-7 minutes.

I guess someone didn’t add up the minutes correctly.

Here is how my timing worked out:
  • Prep: 19 minutes
  • Hands-on Time: 18 minutes (some done while chicken baking)
  • Bake Time: 32 minutes
  • Total Time: 67 minutes
Again, 19 minutes of prep time is ridiculous, but since I was tending to an injury sustained while making the dish, I had to add it in there, as embarrassing as it is.  Remember a small lapse in concentration or judgment (as was my case) can take a very simple recipe and turn it into a nightmare.

Nutritional Information – 1 chicken breast half:
  • 535 calories
  • 27 g fat
  • 7 g saturated fat
  • 128 mg cholesterol
  • 795 mg sodium
  • 27 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fiber
  • 45 g protein
I was actually shocked at the nutritional information for this recipe.  Then I remembered it includes a significant amount of whole fat mayonnaise, crackers and a slice of full fat cheese.  My fear was that they weren’t being totally accurate with their numbers and it was going to be much worse. 

I always run their ingredients and servings through a separate nutrition tool, so I plugged the recipe and got the following:
  • Calories 522.1
  • Total Fat 24.0 g
  • Saturated Fat 5.9 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 8.0 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat 4.3 g
  • Cholesterol 127.4 mg
  • Sodium 788.6 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 28.3 g
  • Dietary Fiber 3.3 g
  • Protein 49.6 g
A little healthier overall and I included two additional numbers – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.  These are two beneficial fats that help control cholesterol levels and help lessen your chance of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Since I didn’t alter any of the ingredients, I didn’t have to run the nutritional information again, but I wanted to point out some other benefits of this dish.  It is high in:
  • Vitamin A – this vitamin is vital to vision and cellular growth
  • Niacin – helps the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates during metabolism
Changes denoted by red text

© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - ingredients
22 fire-roasted tomato Triscuits, crushed

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons garlic-herb mayonnaise, divided

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)

4 cups fresh baby spinach

4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese

Dash pepper
Cooking Spray

Ingredient Notes:
Garlic-Herb Mayonnaise – I only found this by Kraft and it came in a 12-ounce bottle.  I used almost all of it, so don’t be afraid to get the larger bottle.

Chicken Breasts – the package was 1-1/2 pounds but it only had 2 chicken breasts in it.  I cut them in half (see additional equipment) to get the appropriate sized serving.

Baby Spinach – When I measured the amount of baby spinach, I didn’t pack it but lightly pushed it down into the measuring cup.

Cooking Spray – The recipe calls for the baking dish to be greased and this is the easiest way and healthiest way to do this.

Equipment Needed:

© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - equipment
Ziploc Bag
Rolling Pin
Cutting Board - Raw Meat
Sharp Knife
(2) Shallow Bowls
13x9 Baking Dish
Large Microwave Safe Bowl
Spoon – Mixing

Equipment Notes:
Ziploc Bag and Rolling Pin – This is the technique I always use to crush food and I used it to crush the crackers for the dish.

Cutting Board and Sharp Knife – If you buy smaller chicken breasts, you won’t need this equipment, but I had to cut my chicken into small pieces.  I usually go with a plastic cutting board (easier to use and transport than glass) since wood can trap bacteria and cross-contaminate your food.

(1)   Preheat oven to 375°F and then prep the ingredients.
Ordinarily, I have you prep the ingredients first, but since it shouldn’t take too long (barring any injuries like mine) I decided to preheat the oven before prep.  I had to wait out the rest of my preheat time.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - breading setup
(2)  Place crushed crackers and 3/4 cup mayonnaise in separate shallow bowls.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - chicken prepared to bake
(3)  Dip chicken in mayonnaise and then coat with crackers. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.

(4)  Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until no longer pink.
I cooked my chicken for 23 minutes and its internal temperature was 147°F.  Now the goal for chicken is 165°F, but the dish has another 5-7 minutes of cook time so I didn’t want to overcook it.

(5)  Meanwhile, in a large microwave-safe bowl, combine spinach and remaining mayonnaise. Microwave on high for 30-60 seconds or just until spinach is wilted.
The original recipe called for 30-40 seconds, but it took me 60 seconds.  I did the following with my spinach mixture: cook 30 seconds – stir – cook another 30 seconds and then it came out wilted.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Smothered Italian Chicken - Assemble chicken with topping
(6)  Spoon spinach mixture over chicken; top each with a cheese slice.

(7)  Bake 5-7 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. The chicken should be 165°F. Sprinkle with pepper.
My chicken went in for the entire 7 minutes to get it to the 165°F.

Overall, the dish was tasty and the coating was strong enough to give it a nice kick of tomato flavor.  Unfortunately, it didn’t add anything to the spinach-cheese mixture and I got bored while I was eating it.

If I were to make it again, I’d make a few changes:
  • I would probably pound out the breasts to a slightly thinner piece.  I think it would help the cheese cover the entire breast.
  • I probably would add something to the spinach like garlic, basil, salt and/or pepper to give it a little punch of taste.
  • Use a more flavorful cheese or sprinkle a little shredded parmesan on top.
Hope you enjoyed this tasty chicken post.  As always… Happy Cooking!!!

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