Ok, look at the title and try to imagine a way this wouldn’t be delicious. Can’t do it, can you? Exactly. It’s awesome. There’s also garlic in there, and on top, and there are cherry tomatoes strewn around and a breadcrumb topping… it’s basically a symphony of good ideas. In fact, come to think of it, look: it’s basically a caprese salad in and around a chicken breast. You’ve got your mozzarella, your basil, and your tomatoes. Boom.
Plus I get to feel accomplished because the filling didn’t all ooze out everywhere (I mean, a bit of oozing is to be expected, but it’s not a disaster), and if I can do it, then anyone can. Other than a vegetarian, I suppose. Or a person who keeps kosher. But if you don’t have a problem with meat or meat in the company of cheese, this is a brilliant idea and you should do it immediately. I don’t care that it’s still hot out. Put the oven on and stick it out; the results are worth it.
The recipe comes from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, and she also shared a hot tip on how to stuff them without cheesesplosions happening: get big thick ol’ chicken breasts, the kind that are really more like chicken bosoms, and cut a slit into the thick part, about 3, 4 inches long, and don’t be too zealous and get super close to the far edge of the chicken, but you’ve probably got a good bit of room to manoevre in there. Then when you’ve stuffed it, you can just sort of press it closed – it won’t stay welded shut, this isn’t pastry, but it’s actually a lot more reliable than you might think. You can stab a toothpick through it just to be sure, I did, but you might not even need to. I only used one, smack in the middle, and it was totally fine.
I halved the recipe so this ostensibly serves 2. Now, since you’re using big chicken breasts, you might want to do what we did and wind up just eating half of one – it’s fine, just reheat the leftovers in the oven or the toaster oven so the crumbs re-crisp. I imagine the microwave would make them kind of sad.
Mozzarella and Basil-Stuffed Chicken
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (I actually used up the last of a Mexican cheese blend we had and made up the difference with mozzarella)
2 tbsp minced basil, divided
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (for me this was a little less than half the lemon – I squeezed the rest into a glass of ice water and chucked in a couple basil leaves and acted sophisticated)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
2 thick boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (or whatever. This is what I had on hand and the flavours work with the dish)
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling
1/2 pint container cherry tomatoes (eyeball it), cut in half
Preheat oven to 425. Orrrr if it’s ridiculously humid that day like it was when I made this, do this once you’re just about to take out the chicken and start cutting it. No need to make your kitchen hot if you don’t want it hot.
In a bowl, combine the mozzarella, 1 tbsp of the basil, 1 tsp of the garlic, the lemon juice, the milk, the salt, and the pepper.
In another little bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, the olive oil, the rest of the basil, and the rest of the garlic.
Get out your chicken breasts and cut the slits in them as described above.
Spoon half the cheese mixture into each chicken breast, trying not to leave it too close to the edge so that it falls out.
Seal with a toothpick if you want, or just press closed and hope for the best.
Carefully transfer the chicken to a casserole dish.
Spread the mayonnaise on top of the chicken.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the chicken and press it a little to adhere. There will be some overflow. Don’t worry. It’ll get all bakey with the tomatoes.
Chuck the tomatoes into the pan around the chicken.
Drizzle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Pop into the oven for 25 minutes – if the chicken’s not quite done at this point (mine was… borderline), cover with foil to keep the breadcrumbs from burning and sling it back in for another 5 minutes or until the chicken’s done.
We ate it with this delicious When Pigs Fly bread – they have a location in our neighbourhood now, which rules.