As new variants of the Covid virus sharply remind us that the pandemic is far from over, some are choosing to once again forego large family gatherings and keep the holidays in a more intimate way with only their immediate household.
Never mind that this provides many of us with a convenient excuse to avoid some of our more tedious relatives, most of us have had just enough freedom for it to still be disappointing, especially those whose households are just two or even one person.
It also makes the large roast that's the centerpiece of the traditional feast impractical. But there doesn't actually have to be a honking big turkey, goose, standing rib, or crown roast in the middle of the table for the meal to be sumptuous and festive. A nice, fat roast chicken with dressing will feed four, and a stuffed Cornish hen will feed two sumptuously if it's preceded by a soup or appetizer.
For those who really don't want to deal with a whole bird, the rolled stuffed chicken breasts that follow are always festive and make neat single portions. The recipe serves four, but easily halves to serve just two. Round it out with Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon and shallots, glazed carrots, and/or a small potato gratin or baked mac-and-cheese for an intimate dinner worthy of any celebration.
Chicken Rolls with Mushroom and Ham Dressing
Many markets sell trimmed chicken breast cutlets, but they're usually not split and making them is easy enough: Trim a boneless chicken breast, removing any fat cartilage and connective tissue. Lay it on a flat work surface, skin-side up, and lightly pressing it down with your passive hand, use a sharp knife to cut it in half horizontally.
Turkey cutlets can also be found in some markets and work well in this recipe, as do pork tenderloin scallopine. To make those, trim the tenderloin and remove the silverskin, outer membrane, and fat. Cut it crosswise into 1-inch-thick rounds, the lay them cut-side flat on a sheet of plastic wrap, cover with a second sheet of wrap, and beat them out to scaloppine a little less than ¼-inch thick.
4 chicken or turkey breast cutlets, about 5-6 ounces each (see notes above)
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
3 ounces (roughly a third of an 8-ounce package) small brown (cremini or baby bella) mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup finely chopped scallion or shallot
3 tablespoons finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons chopped prosciutto or country ham
1 cup packaged plain cornbread dressing crumbs or stale crumbled cornbread
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage or 1 scant teaspoon crumbled dried
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
Whole nutmeg in a grater
About 2 cups chicken or turkey broth
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
½ cup dry white wine, dry white vermouth, dry sherry, or dry Marsala
1. Lay the cutlets on a sheet of plastic wrap, cut side down, and cover with a second sheet of wrap. Beat them out to a little less than ¼-inch thick as you would for scaloppine. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set them aside. Trim the mushroom stems even with the caps, wipe them clean with dry paper towel, and chop them.
2. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter and scallion or shallot in a deep, heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté, tossing often, until the scallion or shallot is translucent and softened but not colored, about 1 minute for scallions, 3 for shallots. Add the celery and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes longer. Raise the heat and add the mushrooms, and continue sautéing until the liquid evaporates and the vegetables are just beginning to color, about 4 minutes. Add the ham and toss until it loses its raw red color and turn off the heat.
3. Combine the cornbread crumbs, sage, and thyme in a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables and ham and toss until well-mixed. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and toss again. Mix in enough broth to make it wet but not soggy, then divide the mixture among the cutlets. Roll up and tie them with twine or skewer them with toothpicks.
4. Wipe out the pan in which the vegetables were sautéed and add the remaining butter and the oil. Warm it over medium high heat, then lightly coat the chicken rolls with flour and slip them into the pan. Brown them well on all sides, about 5 minutes altogether, then pour the wine over them, bring it to a boil, and add enough broth to nearly cover the chicken. Bring it to a simmer, cover, and cook, turning the rolls several times, until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the stuffing registers 165° F. on a meat thermometer, about twenty minutes.
5. Transfer the chicken rolls to a warm platter and remove the twine or toothpicks. If the liquid left in the pan is thin, raise the heat, bring it to a boil, and cook until it's slightly reduced and thickened. Spoon it over the cutlets and serve at once.