Recipe: Basque-style chicken

Basque-style chicken with pancetta, nicoise olives, and thyme sprigs.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Chicken breasts have a bad reputation -- too often they’re considered nothing but diet food, and dried-out diet food at that. But that’s the fault of the cook, not the ingredient. The challenge of a chicken breast is that it’s uneven, fat on one end and thin at the other.

The trick to cooking it well is to even it out -- pound it into a thin paillard. Once that’s done you can make this dish by former Test Kitchen director Donna Deane in a flash. Give the breasts a three-minute pan fry until they’re nearly done, and then in the same pan make a quick Basque-style sauce -- tomatoes and olives and herbs, slightly smoky pancetta. It’s all fantastic with the perfectly cooked chicken breasts that are so tender the meat is almost silky. And it’s done in only 35 minutes.

Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: 2

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. Espelette pepper is available at specialty food stores. You can substitute canned San Marzano tomatoes for fresh tomatoes.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 7 ounces each

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/8 teaspoon Espelette pepper

3 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup diced tomato, cut into 3/4 -inch dice

1/4 cup nicoise olives

1. Place each chicken breast between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet or heavy skillet, pound each breast until it is uniformly about one-fourth-inch thick. Season each piece with one-fourth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Place each breast on top of a large piece of plastic wrap or wax paper.


2. In a large skillet, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken, one piece at a time, and sauté until golden-brown, about 2 1/2 minutes on the first side and 30 seconds on the other. Remove the chicken to a plate. Set aside in a warm place.

3. Drain the excess fat from the pan and add the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until browned, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and sauté for 1 minute, until tender, then add the garlic and sauté just until aromatic, a few seconds, being careful not to brown. Add the wine, stirring to scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

4. Stir in the chicken broth, the Espelette pepper, thyme and tomatoes. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes so that the flavors develop. Stir in the olives.

5. Add the chicken back to the pan, spooning the sauce over it. Cook for 1 minute, then remove the chicken to a plate. Spoon the sauce evenly over each piece, and serve immediately.

Each serving: 515 calories; 45 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 30 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 135 mg. cholesterol; 1,144 mg. sodium.