I’ve always been puzzled by the popularity that chicken breasts enjoy, in particular here in the US. If you ask me, I’d nominate them as the world’s least interesting protein. Especially in this age of industrial poultry farms, chicken breasts tends to lack any discernible flavor, and then they dry out when overcooked, as it’s all too easy to do. Admittedly, they’re pretty good as cutlets and even better when enriched with a butter bath, but on the whole I much prefer the ‘dark meat’.
Still, there are way to use chicken breasts’ mild flavor to your advantage. Like pasta or rice, they can serve as a foil for other flavors. And here’s one especially appealing example, scaloppine di pollo alla valdostana, or Chicken Scallops in the Style of Val d’Aosta, a small region located in the northwestern corner of the country.
“Alla valdostana” is often short-hand in Italian cookery for dishes with ham and cheese, and so it is here. The chicken breasts are sliced in half lengthwise, seasoned and lightly floured and, after a quick sauté, drizzled with white wine and topped with slices of ham and cheese, then let to simmer just until the cheese melts. A simple dish, but very tasty. Enough to make a convert even of me.
- 4 chicken breasts
- Flour, as needed
- 8 slices of cooked ham
- 8 slices of fontina (or other meltable cheese)
- White wine
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A sprig or two of parsley, finely minced (optional)
Split the chicken breasts horizontally into two scallops, and if they are still a little thick, then pound them gently to flatten them out a bit more. Trim off any bits of gristle or strands of meat. Season the scallops generously with salt on both sides, then wrap them up and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to cook.
Heat olive oil and a knob of butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the scallops in one layer. Meanwhile, lightly flour the chicken scallops and, when the butter melts and is about to turn brown, add lay them in the skillet. Brown the scallops over a lively flame until they are lightly browned on both sides.
Add a splash of white wine to the skillet, turning the scallops so they are covered on both sides with the pan juices. Lower the heat, then gingerly lay a ham slice on each scallop, followed by a slice of cheese.
Cover the skillet and let the scallops simmer, just until the cheese has melted entirely, no more than a minute or so.
Transfer the scallops to a serving dish and nap them with the cooking juices in the skillet. If you like sprinkle with minced parsley for color, then serve with they’re still warm.
Notes on Scaloppine di pollo alla valdostana
Chicken in this country is bred to have enormous breasts to cater to the majority preference for ‘white meat’. Hence the need to split the breasts in half lengthwise and pound them into scallops. In some cases, you may even need to slice the breasts into thirds. If you live in a country where chickens have normal sized breasts, you may well be able to dispense with this step and just pound them gently.
But in all cases, do season the breasts and let them chill for a bit before browning, if you have the time. It will add savor to this rather bland bit of meat.
Fontina is a fantastic choice for topping your scaloppine di pollo alla valdostana, and the classic one, especially if you can find fontina d’Aosta. But if you can’t find fontina or don’t want to spend the dash, you can make do with another Alpine cheese— gruyère or Emmenthaler, for example—or any other readily meltable cheese for that matter. I’ve even made this dish with the kind of sliced Munster they sell for sandwiches and it was perfectly lovely. Taleggio, with its skin removed and sliced, is another fine and quite affordable choice.
The sliced ham, too, needn’t be anything fancy. Again the sliced ham you might use for sandwiches will do you well. Some recipes call for prosciutto crudo, but personally I much prefer cooked ham for this dish.
The slices of ham and cheese should be roughly the size of the scallops, so you may need to cut them down to size or fold them over if you prefer. And if you’re being fancy, strain the pan juices through a sieve to filter out any stray bits of melted cheese (which the cook may savor at his or her leisure).
And by the way, although any flour will do, I find Wondra, a brand of “instant” flour often used as a thickener, is particularly suitable also for flouring scallops and other foods before sautéeing or frying. It coats the scallops well but lightly, without getting soggy, and produces a lovely crispy crust. Although I’m not usually a big fan of commercial food products, I’m a fan of this one. Not sure if similar flours are marketed abroad—I’d be curious to hear from our international readers.
Scaloppine di pollo alla valdostana
- 4 chicken breasts sliced in half lengthwise and lightly pounded
- Flour as needed
- 8 slices of cooked ham
- 8 slices of fontina (or other meltable cheese)
- White wine
- olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A sprig or two of parsley finely minced (optional)
- Split the chicken breasts horizontally into two scallops, then pound them gently to flatten them out a bit more. Trim off any bits of gristle or strands of meat. Season the scallops generously with salt on both sides, then wrap them up and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to cook.
- Heat olive oil and a knob of butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the scallops in one layer. Meanwhile, lightly flour the chicken scallops and, when the butter melts and is about to turn brown, add lay them in the skillet. Brown the scallops over lively heat until they are lightly browned on both sides.
- Add a splash of white wine to the skillet, turning the scallops so they are covered on both sides with the pan juices. Lower the heat, then lay one ham slice on each scallop, followed by a slice of cheese.
- Cover the skillet and let the scallops simmer, just until the cheese has melted entirely, no more than a minute or so.
- Transfer the scallops to a serving dish and nap them with the cooking juices in the skillet. If you like sprinkle with minced parsley for color, then serve with they're still warm.
It looks gorgeous! I’m drooling on my keyboard! 🙂
Have a nice day
Ah! This recipe snuck by me the other day, so I’m glad I saw it. This sounds like my kind of meal, Frank. I totally know what you mean about chicken breasts, but there is a ton of flavor packed into this one. It sounds almost like a deconstructed chicken cordon bleu. And I seem to recall that Val d’Aosta produces a very nice Pinot Grigio. I’m feeling like a whole menu plan is coming together here!
I like your plan, David! 🙂
I do love a good chicken breast, but like you said, they’re usually not that good 🙁 This is such a different recipe than anything I’ve ever made before and I do think I’d like it! Thanks for another idea for using those breasts!
Hope you like it. 🙂
What a great combination: chicken, cheese, ham, and white wine!
Hard to beat… 😉
You are so right about humongous, flavorless chicken breasts. Thanks for another great recipe; yours make up my ‘favorite Italian cookbook’. Maris
You’re so kind, Maris! 🙂
I totally agree with you about chicken breasts and as you the only way I like them is slowly cooked in a lot of butter with Panko, but my waist size says I should avoid it…
Ha! I’m sure the occasional treat won’t do too much harm…
I remember ordering and then copying this at home absolutely ages ago. Like Eva Taylor ‘cordon bleu’ came into my mind also . . . Altho’ I eat a fair amount of chicken I almost always buy thighs and do try to purchase organic. Thus have not come up against ‘super-size’ and doubt such would end up in my shopping bag. . . . that said this Aosta-dish could soon be on my menu . . .
Thanks, Eha. Hope you like it. 🙂
Ham and fontina purchased today. On the menu for this week! I am in complete agreement with you on chicken breasts. But we get them on occasion for recipes just like this.
Hope you like it, David!
We loved it, Frank — made it last night. Not only was it incredibly tender and flavorful, but it only took minutes to make. Thanks again! Stay safe and well.
I’m with you on prefering dark meat over white when it comes to chicken. But you’re right, I think, that today’s chickens are the result of industrial breeding. Back in the 50s and 60s, chickens were normal size — 2 to 3 pounds — and the breasts were a lot smaller and had a lot more flavor. Today they are flavor-challenged, alas. Anyway, this dish certainly adds a ton of flavor to a kinda bland ingredient. Really nice — thanks.
Yep I can still remember normal chickens from my childhood and even into young adulthood. And they had a lot more flavor, too!
Ciao Frank!! You are right on the mark when it comes to chickens. Sometimes the meat is stringy and tough — that’s because the birds look like baby turkeys. I have to laugh when a recipe calls for a 3 pound chicken. Good luck in finding anything under 4 pounds. Bigger is not necessarily better. We do eat a lot of chicken – mostly marinated and grilled. Your recipe sounds intriguing. I’m definitely putting on our menu this week. Hope you are well and staying safe.
I do hope you guys like it, Marisa Franca!
Fabulous! My husband only wants chicken breasts, so I slice them routinely horizontally, for cooking. But the point is, don’t overcook chicken breasts, or any kind of meat! That sounds a bit trite, but seriously, people need to learn how to cook meat first, don’t you think? I absolutely love this recipe. And fontina may be the best, or at least, my favorite nibbling cheese!
I definitely agree that proper cooking is fundamental, with overcooking being the worst sin. And that goes for steak, too, although I realize not everyone would agree…
I only had a few chicken breasts I liked. I think I would like this recipe because the ham and cheese give it the needed flavor. Stay safe, Gerlinde
I was blown away at the size of American chicken breast! I’m pretty sure I bought one that was 500 grams! Ours, thank goodness are normal-size, 250 grams at most but the majority are 110 grams – 130 grams!
This recipe reminds me of chicken cordon bleu deconstructed! My MIL used to buy them ready-made from her butcher. We hadn’t had them in years but last week I made one for dinner! Wow, it was good! I agree about the cook ham. I always have some thick slices in the freezer but I’ll need to figure out how to thinly slide them. I like that you don’t need to roll it all up, so much easier.
PS, we have a similar flour called easy blend. Although I haven’t bought it for years.
I guess it is rather a deconstructed cordon bleu when you think about it. But a lot easier!
Hi Frank! I’m with you on chicken breasts. If I do happen to have any in the fridge then this is the way I love to do them. Or marinated quickly in lemon juice and garlic then egg and breadcrumbed and fried. My preference is for thighs for flavour. But these are delicious!
Thanks, Susie. I’m a thigh person too, but I make an exception for this dish.
I have to agree with you about chicken being the least interesting protein, but these do look good. i actually just realized that when i am in Italy the only time i ever have chicken is August 15, when it is traditional to have sugo made with ‘la gallina’. Stay safe! Cristina
Thanks, you too!