Some days you just feel like a culinary genius. Today was one of those days! Nothing super fancy — just chicken, but have you ever tried to come up with a chicken recipe that you have never tried before. Not the easiest thing to do. Chicken is so ubiquitous that it’s pretty much all been done. I’m not claiming that I’m the first person in the thousands of years that man has been eating chicken to try this combination of flavors, but I’ve never seen it, and as far as my taste buds are concerned, that’s all that matters. What is my masterpiece, you ask. It is a boneless skinless chicken breast stuffed with dates, capers, and bacon. To top it off I added a chopped walnut crust. In theory it sounded good, but I was a little nervous about how the flavors would blend in the finished product. No worries, it was as good as I had hoped! I like the combination of walnuts and dates, but you could also use pecans or maybe pistachios too.
This dish will be a little sweet, but is balanced by the salty capers and bacon. I recommend simple sides with this like steamed broccoli or mashed cauliflower.
Before getting to the recipe, a quick word about dates…
One of my Christmas cookie specialties (and the family favorite) is a date and nut pinwheel cookie. My grandma’s recipe called for finely chopped dates. If you have never worked with dates I will warn you — dates are sticky. Chopping them by hand the way grandma did was a nightmare. I did it exactly once, and then I bought a food processor. A food processor works much better, but you still have a sticky bowl and blade to scrape and clean. My world changed when I found pre-chopped dates —- more of a date paste really —- at a middle eastern market. If you can find these in a store or market near you, DEFINITELY go this route. At my market, I get a pack for $1.99. It contains a cup of paste —- enough for 4 to 6 chicken breasts. I’m not even sure I can buy whole dates that cheaply. Cheap and easy. Win win.
For my non-paleo or dairy eating friends — I really like Manchego cheese with dates and think it would be fabulous sliced thin and added to the stuffing in these. It is a harder cheese and doesn’t melt well, so avoid using big chunks.
1.) 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2.) 1 cup +/- date paste or finely chopped dates (amount will vary depending on how big your breasts are. Actually, the size of your breasts is irrelevant, it’s the chicken’s that count.)
3.) 4 tsp capers (could probably go a little heavier if you’d like)
4.) 6 to 8 strips of bacon
5.) salt and pepper to taste
6.) 1 egg – lightly beaten
7.) 1-1/3 c walnuts – Coarsely chopped (the measurement is before chopping the nuts)
Pound the chicken breasts to a relatively uniform thickness. Put each breast, one at a time, between a couple of sheets of waxed paper to keep chicken juices and pieces from flying everywhere. Then whack the crap out of it using a meat hammer, rolling-pin, or other weapon of choice (I personally have a heavy ice cream scoop I prefer) until the breast thickness is relatively uniform. Feel free to take this time to work out some stress. If you reduce the chicken to pulp, you may want to look into Prozac.
Salt and pepper both sides of each breast.
Spread with a thin layer of the date paste or chopped dates. There is nothing magic about the amount, just avoid big globs. Spread with the back of a spoon and work with fingers as needed. Top with a teaspoon or so of capers. (I used a tsp but may go a bit heavier next time).
Add bacon to pretty much cover the chicken. I used about a strip and a half for each medium-sized breast. For larger chicken breast you could probably easily use two strip.
I probably should have mentioned this before but, have a supply of toothpicks out on the counter so you don’t have to reach into the box with chicken-y hands. I’ll just leave this comment here and see how many of you read the recipe through before you start cooking.
Start at one end and roll chicken breast keeping things tucked in. Secure with toothpicks to hold its shape. I like to tuck the sides as well to keep all the good bits inside and cover with chicken.
Brush the outside of your chicken roll with egg and roll in the nuts to cover (don’t forget the sides!). If you have any nuts left over at the end, feel free to touch up spots you missed.
Bake uncovered at 325 degrees until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!