Pecan Chicken on Pancetta Polenta

  • Yield 6 servings

Ingredients

For polenta:
8 ounces pancetta, diced into approximately 1/3 inch cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 quarts chicken broth, plus 1/4 cup, if needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups uncooked polenta coarse yellow corn meal
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup freshly grated Fontina chese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper
For chicken:
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1 3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 fresh sage sprigs
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 8 ounces each)
Sage and thyme sprigs for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Prepare the polenta:

  1. Saute the diced pancetta in large, deep non-stick skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is fairly crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings.
  2. Add the onion to the drippings and saute until golden, 2 minutes. Add the 2 quarts chicken broth and salt and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta in a slow steady stream. The liquid will be absorbed. Lower the heat and continue to whisk until the polenta is quite thick and smooth, about 15 minutes. Add the cream and butter; continue to stir until incorporated, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in both cheeses until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the polenta to keep warm while you prepare the chicken.

Prepare the chicken:

  1. Finely grind the pecans in a food processor or mini chopper. Transfer to a medium bowl; mix in breadcrumbs and chopped sage. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and drizzle it over the breadcrumb mixture along with 3 tablespoons of the maple syrup; stir to moisten evenly and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Boil the broth, sage sprigs, thyme sprigs, and remaining 3 tablespoons maple syrup in a medium saucepan over high heat until the mixture reduces to about 1 cup, about 10-12 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and then place flat-side down in skillet. Cook until the chicken is golden brown on bottom side, about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat. Turn the chicken over and mound the pecan mixture atop the golden side of each chicken breast, dividing equally and pressing it to adhere. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the chicken is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Add reduced broth to the same skillet, stirring to scrape up browned bits on the bottom. Boil over high heat until the broth is reduced to about 3/4 cup, 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add the remaining 8 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking until melted. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
  5. If the polenta has thickened too much while the chicken was being prepared, stir in about 1/4 cup chicken broth over medium-low heat to thin out. Place about 1 cup of the polenta on each of 6 serving plates, or mound it “family style” on a platter. Center the chicken breasts on top of the polenta. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and garnish with fresh sage and thyme sprigs. Serve hot.

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