Tender grilled chicken breasts marinated with tangy buttermilk and fresh basil. Serve with a lemony shaved fennel, arugula and cannellini bean salad for a fuss-free plate.
Remember Emeril Lagasse? He might not be the most eloquent (or even interesting) celebrity chef out there, but the guy has a gift for one-liners — you know, BAM! and everything. The one about pounding his meat amuses me whenever I make these buttermilk-marinated chicken breasts.
The chicken breasts in this recipe do require a good meat-pounding. Specifically they’re butterflied and THEN pounded. It’s one of those little tricks that really transforms what would otherwise be dry white meat into chicken that’s juicy and tender.
Pounding chicken breasts ensures the meat cooks more evenly and quickly.
I recently replaced my rusted old pounder for a much more elegant one I can stick right in the dishwasher when I’m done. I use the smooth side of the pounder to make the chicken flat and even.
After pounding, the breasts marinate in a tasty blend of fresh basil, fennel seeds, lemon and tangy buttermilk, adding lots of flavor and tenderizing a step further.
When I first created this recipe I was thinking of tagliata, a simple Italian dish of thinly sliced beef served with a tangle of arugula and shaved Parmigiano cheese. I switched out the beef for thin chicken breast cutlets, also called chicken paillards.
Paillards are great for a fast, fuss-free meal. They take just a few minutes to cook and you can serve them with a fresh salad and be done.
I usually make this quick-cooking chicken recipe right on the stovetop using my favorite heavy grill pan. But if outdoor grilling is an option for you, by all means fire it up! Just note that the chicken cooks pretty quickly — you might want to grill-roast some vegetables too, while it’s hot.
I boosted the satisfaction factor in this arugula salad by mixing in some shaved fresh fennel, cannellini beans, and more lemon (because you can never have enough lemon).
It’s not hard to butterfly chicken breasts, but if you’d rather skip that step go ahead and ask your meat counter to do it, or buy small chicken cutlets if your market sells them.
You can also leave the meat-pounding to the butcher, but I have to say smacking chicken around is a great way to relieve some stress 🙂
Looking for more easy chicken recipes?
- Chicken with Thai Basil and Chili Garlic Sauce
- Juicy Chicken Breasts with Rosemary and Lemon
- Roasted Chili Chicken Thighs
buttermilk basil chicken breasts with cannellini and fennel salad
Yield 4 servings
- If you don't want to bother with butterflying the chicken breasts, ask your meat counter to do it or buy 8 small chicken cutlets.
- Marinate the chicken up to 2 hours ahead.
- The chicken will take less than 10 minutes to cook. You can use a stovetop grill pan or fire up your outdoor grill.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (divided)
- 1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
- 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 lightly packed cup fresh basil leaves
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon crumbled chili pepper
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
- 1 fennel bulb, preferably with fronds attached
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups baby arugula
- a small hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano or parmesan cheese
- Butterfly the chicken: with the breasts facing you lengthwise, cut 3/4 through the center of thicker, long side of each chicken breast and open flat. Pound to an even thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. Put the chicken in a large shallow baking dish.
- Puree the buttermilk, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, fennel seeds, garlic, basil and 1 teaspoon salt in a blender or mini food processor. Pour over chicken, turning to coat. Cover and marinate 15-30 minutes.
- In medium bowl, mix together remaining lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, chili and salt to taste. Add the cannellini beans, sliced fennel, parsley and toss gently.
- Coat a heavy grill pan with cooking spray or lightly brush with oil and heat over medium high heat until the pan is very hot (a few drops of water should sizzle and instantly evaporate). Cook chicken until it's no longer pink inside, about 3 minutes per side. You might have to do this in batches depending on the size of your grill.
- To serve, slice chicken 1/2-inch thick. Put the chicken and some arugula on a serving plate and spoon fennel salad over the arugula. Use a vegetable peeler or small sharp knife to shave curls of cheese over the plate.
Courses main course/chicken
Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
As the recipe developer, photographer and publisher of Familystyle Food, I share recipes and tips for making easy seasonal meals that are healthy and flavorful.
Have a question or feedback? Get in touch or leave me a comment below — I love hearing from you!