Homemade is Better—Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken

This past week I decided to get a little chefy.  I’m sure many people think that’s what restaurant cooks do–and it is, but it isn’t.  You have to have a real passion for the art; I’ve worked with people who do, but I’ve worked with more people who don’t. For them, it was just a job to get paid.  But the longer I’ve been out of restaurants and cooking professionally, the more my passion for great food grows.

I recently purchased a sous vide machine and wanted to use it, so I made up this recipe.  You don’t have to spend money on a sous vide machine if you don’t have one, though.  I’m going to give you this recipe with the intent that you’ll use a frying pan and the oven.  Use a frying pan that can go into the oven OR transfer the seared chicken to a baking dish to finish it.  The accompanying pictures are from when I used my sous vide to cook this dish.

Now to answer your question, “What is a sous vide?”  Sous vide is a method of cooking using water and heating it to the exact temperature you want your food to finish at.  Because it’s a long cooking process, you do not get the carryover cooking you do with the other cooking methods.  It is so precise that you can often set the machine to a half degree, and then the food can stay in the heated water until you’re ready to cook with it.  There is a catch, though, you cannot put the food directly in the water; it must be sealed in a bag.  A zipper locking bag works, but many people use vacuum-sealed bags instead.  You can use these bags to marinate the meat and just cook with it.

Let’s say you want to sous vide this recipe.  You would fill the chicken as you will do when you read the instructions, then you can use either vacuum seal it or put it in a large zipper-lock bag.  You would partially close the zipper and then place the food into the water to force the air out—and you need to get the air out.  Once done, you can let it rest while you set up your container to cook in.  Attach your sous vide machine, put your food in the container, then fill it up to the highest line on your device.  Remove the food, turn on the machine to 145F and let it come up to temperature.  Now, anyone who has cooked chicken before is having a fit, “145?  The chicken won’t be done; you have to go to 160!”  No, not with sous vide.  145 is perfect; the chicken will be cooked.

Now that you have your sous vide set to 145 let the water warm up to that temperature.  It could be a large pot of water and take the better part of 30 – 40 minutes to warm up, so give yourself enough time.  Once it is warmed up, put your closed bag of chicken in and cook for about an hour.  Again, one of the beauties of Sous Vide is that the water temperature will stay constant so your food will not overcook.  It will hit equilibrium at 145F.  Now you can sear the chicken in the pan, and it will hit it up, and you can finish at 160F.  Remember to rest for 5 minutes, so the juices of your chicken don’t rush out.

Let’s Cook!

Cream cheese stuffed chicken

Ingredients:

12oz softened cream cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 TBSP milk
1 TBSP Chives
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp onion powder
Pinch white pepper
8-10 chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Black pepper
One large zipper-lock bag
1 TBSP vegetable oil

Directions:
  • Combine the cream cheese and shredded cheeses in a bowl or stand mixer and mix until well incorporated.
  • Add the chives and milk and mix some more
  • Add the garlic salt, onion powder, and white pepper. Not too much white pepper, it’s powerful, and if you don’t have white pepper back is ok, and you can add more.
  • Mix until everything is well mixed, then transfer it to the large zipper-lock bag. Push everything to the bottom of the bag and as close to one corner as possible.
  • Place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes; it lets the flavours blend. The mixture could also be done the day before.
  • Preheat your oven to 350F.
  • Get a clean frying pan, one that ovenproof is preferred. It will need to be large enough to cook all the chicken; otherwise, you can use a sheet pan or an ovenproof dish.
  • Get your chicken and a small sharp knife; you do not want a standard chef’s knife for this.
  • Pierce the largest part of the breast towards the pointed end. Then slowly cut a pocket into the breast.  It doesn’t have to go all the way to the end; you just need a bit of a pocket in it.
  • Once all of the chicken breasts have been cut, grab your cheese mix and cut off the tip of the bag. You’re going to pipe the mix into the chicken.  Fill them up until they just start to puff up.  When you’re done, if there is any mixture left over, keep filling up chicken until its gone.
  • Wash your hands, which I hope you were doing anyway.
  • Put a tablespoon of oil in the pan and put the temperature on high. If you’re using cast iron for this and you don’t have a good hood fan, I recommend you open all the windows now.
  • Once the pan heats up, sear each piece of chicken on each side. Remember now, and DON’T move the chicken unless it lets you.  It should be easy to lift it, and it shouldn’t fight.  It is not going to burn; the Maillard (my-ard) reaction is taking over!  And when the chicken is browned, it will let go.
  • Once all the chicken is seared, put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Check the temperature.  Once the thermometer reads 145 – 150F, take out the chicken and cover it with foil to rest.  The phenomena called carryover cooking will happen.  It will continue to cook until all the juices have settled down.
  • Serve that dish and enjoy a nice beverage!
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