(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
There are many benefits to pounding meat, especially boneless chicken breasts. Pounding makes them a consistent thickness so they cook more evenly. It also reduces their thickness so they cook more quickly -- which makes it great for a weeknight meal. Pounding will break up some of the fibers and make the chicken more tender as well. Finally, because the chicken is thinner, you get more of the flavor of the coating or seasoning on the outside of the chicken.
Here is my procedure for pounding out chicken breasts:
Place the boneless, skinless chicken breast between two layers of plastic wrap. The plastic will help the breast to slide without tearing as it is pounded and it will prevent chicken juice from being splattered across the kitchen. Using a rolling pin or the flat side of a meat mallet, start pounding in the center of the thickest section and work your way out to the edge of the breast.
Repeat pounding in the center to the outside to spread the breast out. Use less force as you pound the thinner parts and as you get to the edges so that the breast forms a uniform thickness, about ¼ to ½ inch thick depending on what you are going to do with it.
If you are going to stuff and roll it, it will need to be closer to ¼ inch. If you are just going to coat and fry it, a ½ inch thickness is fine. If you find that your breast is still sticking to the plastic, put a few drops of water between the plastic and the breast.
When it is the thickness you desire, pull back the top layer of plastic and remove the pounded breast and replace with the next one to be pounded. If your plastic gets a tear in it just replace it with another piece.
Blackened Chicken Caesar Salad is a really easy summer salad. Tear romaine lettuce into a salad bowl and top with tomatoes, black olives and parmesan cheese. Toss with bottled Caesar salad dressing.
In the meantime, sprinkle bottled blackening seasoning on both sides of a pounded chicken breast. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet and add the chicken when the butter is bubbling. Sauté a few minutes on each side until the chicken is cooked through. Slice the chicken and place over the salad. Top off your salad with croutons.
While chicken breasts are the most common thing I use my meat mallet for, there are other uses as well. One is to pound out pork chops to stuff and roll. Another is to even up a roast that you have butterflied to stuff and roll up.
So whenever you need to make meat thinner, more even, quicker cooking or more tender, think of the meat mallet and pound your frustrations of the day away!
-- Whitney Danhof is a UT extension agent for Bedford County. Her column, Tips & Tricks runs monthly. Contact her at 684-5971.