It looks fancy, but really it’s simple.
It’s so simple it’s not even fair. It’s so simple it’s like cheating.
It’s so simple I had to add a step just to make it more complicated!
And it’s fast!
It’s Mozzarella Basil Chicken cutlets!
Preheat your oven. Go ahead. Do it. 400°.
Oh, and place a large, heavy bottomed, oven proof skillet over medium-low heat while you’re at it.
Start with some chicken cutlets. I got a pound, which happened to be three cutlets…but part of the beauty of this recipe is how easy it is to double (or triple, or more!) depending on how many you are feeding!
Chicken cutlets are just chicken breasts that have been butterflied or sliced in half flat-wise to create two, super thin pieces of chicken. I like ‘em because they cook quickly and very nearly always come out super juicy.
I also like ‘em because they are the perfect size for one serving.
I also like ‘em because they are so thin that any seasoning can penetrate the whole piece in a very short time, so they turn out super flavorful every time!
I also like ‘em because they are very difficult to screw up.
I like ‘em, is, I guess what I’m getting at here.
Anyways. Take your super thin chicken cutlets and lay them out on a very sturdy cutting board, then cover them with a good layer of plastic wrap.
Then pound them out with a rolling-pin or meat mallet until they are even thinner and an even thickness all the way across.
Or, you know, mostly even.
Long day at work? Frustrated and exhausted? Make chicken cutlets!
We’re looking for a thickness of about ¼” all the way across.
Sprinkle a little salt on each side of each cutlet. Or forget, like I did, and have to figure out how to get the chicken seasoned after it is topped.
Next, tear up some fresh basil leaves and layer it evenly over the cutlets.
Now, you could mince the basil. You could chiffonade the basil. You could lay whole basil leaves across the chicken and not mess with their shape at all!
This is just what happens when you get home from the store and discover that your vibrant, green, fresh basil is wilty and spotty and actually a little less than fresh. You tear out all the little spots and use whatever still looks good.
As it turns out, this method worked just swimmingly, so, you know, I recommend it!
Next, top each cutlet generously with mozzarella cheese!
In the recipe I give below, I am going to tell you to top each cutlet with ¼ cup of mozzarella cheese.
But you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to! You can use lots of mozzarella cheese if you want to! You can use as much as you want!
But don’t tell anyone I told you.
Sprinkle a little pepper over the top and set the cutlets aside for a couple of minutes while you get everything else ready.
Now, if you are like me and you can’t in good conscience make dinner without the use of a little garlic, do this:
Pour a little olive oil into your preheated skillet. Let it warm up a bit, then dump in a smashed clove or two of garlic. Stir them around in the warm oil for a minute or two…just long enough for the cloves to soften and become fragrant and mouth-watering, but not long enough for them to start to color. Let the oil absorb all that wonderful garlic aroma and flavor, then pull the garlic cloves out and discard them.
Listen to the rumbling of your belly, and be glad that dinner is now less than fifteen minutes away!
(This, by the way, is the extra step. It is entirely unnecessary. Dinner will still be delicious if you skip it. But I love garlic, and this step will give your chicken just enough delicate garlic taste to make your taste buds hum with happiness the second you take a bite!)
Now increase the heat under your skillet to medium. When a drop of water flicked (CAREFULLY!) into the skillet (FROM A DISTANCE!!!) dances and evaporates right away, it’s ready!
If the oil begins smoking, you’ve got things too hot. Just slide the skillet to a cold burner for a couple of minutes until things cool down a bit. If the oil starts to smoke and smell burned, pour it out, wipe down the pan, and start over with fresh oil and new garlic.
To avoid this, keep a close eye on your skillet!
When the skillet is ready, add the cutlets, keeping them evenly spaced (don’t over crowd them…try to keep the edges from touching. If you’ve doubled the recipe, you may need to use two skillets or do things in batches). If you are like me and you forgot to season the cutlets before you topped them, sprinkle a light layer of salt over the oil before you add the them to the pan.
Let the cutlets sauté on one side, without moving them, until the edges of the chicken have turned white. At this point, just slide the whole skillet onto the middle rack of your preheated oven and let it all cook for another ten minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is completely melted. If you want, towards the end of cooking, turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes and let the cheese bubble and brown a bit.
Mmmmm. That’s what you want. With all the cheesy and the chewy and the melty and the bubbly and the creamy…
Let sit for a couple of minutes, then serve up with some salad and some simple buttered pasta!
(I cooked some pasta and simply tossed it with a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts…minus most of the oil. The easiest pasta sauce ever!)
I like a simple tomato salad with this recipe: sliced tomatoes with a light drizzling of extra virgin olive oil and a little sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I even got red, orange and yellow tomatoes to make things even prettier!
As it turned out, everything in this meal ended up being varying shades of browns, golds and oranges, so I got a sadly monochromatic plate for all my efforts.
Not great for photo taking.
Here’s the recipe!
MOZZARELLA BASIL CHICKEN CUTLETS
4 thin sliced chicken cutlets
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 c. basil leaves, torn
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400⁰
Preheat a large skillet over medium-low heat.
Place cutlets on a sturdy cutting board and cover with a layer of plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound to an even thickness of about 1/4 “. (If the cutlets are already very thinly sliced you can skip this step).
Sprinkle both sides of each cutlet with salt and pepper. Sprinkle basil evenly over one side of each cutlet. Sprinkle cheese over basil.
Pour olive oil into skillet, turning to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add two smashed cloves of garlic and cook gently, stirring, until the garlic has softened and released its flavor into the oil.
The aroma is to die for!
Remove the garlic and increase the heat to medium, letting the skillet warm up for a few more minutes before beginning the next step.
Skillet is hot enough when a drop of water flicked on it sizzles and evaporates right away. If the skillet is smoking it is too hot.
Immediately add cutlets, cheese side up. Cook for 3-5 minutes (or until the edges of the chicken have turned white) then transfer skillet to oven. Cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink and the cheese is completely melted and beginning to brown. Let sit for a couple of minutes before serving.
Eat with salad and pasta and be happy!
Note: This recipe also rocks because you can adapt it to your tastes and cravings on any given night…try it with sage and fontina, or thinly sliced tomatoes and cheddar, or sautéed mushrooms and swiss…you get the idea! Have fun!