It is, if you’re in a bar (tavern) in Williamsburg, Virginia. Of course, during the American colonial era, from which Williamsburg draws its inspiration, most taverns supplied visitors not only with libations, but also with meals and a bed to spend the night. It was a combination of the modern-day bar, restaurant and inn.
Guests of the Shields Tavern very well may have sampled something similar to the Chicken with Virginia Apple Dressing pictured above. Served, perhaps, alongside a tankard of the tavern’s house ale, the meal would fortify visitors before they turned in for the night. The meal would be warmly satisfying, as would the ale, allowing guests to drift to a contented, comfortable sleep as a storm blustered outside. At least that’s the idea.
The Colonial Williamsburg Cookbook captures such a moment as it presents the recipe for today’s entry. Not only does it supply a notion of what visitors to the Shields Tavern may have enjoyed 250 years ago, but the preparation celebrates the bounty available to local cooks.
First, a stuffing is prepared with bread and a little butter, sweetened with local honey and apples. The latter two ingredients keep the stuffing light and interact pleasingly with the chicken’s clean, almost sweet, notes.
A filet of the bird is flattened, wrapped around the stuffing, and is lightly breaded. The entire piece is pan-seared briefly, which gives it a golden-brown tone and seals in the stuffing. This allows the chicken to baste the stuffing as the bird finishes cooking in the oven.
It may be food served in a bar, but it rises above much of what makes up that category today. The dish both fills the stomach and satisfies the soul. For those curious about such things, it’s edible history.
Shields Tavern Chicken with Virginia Apple Stuffing
For the stuffing:
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup raisins (*1)
- 4 cups fresh bread crumbs (*2)
- 1 cup canned apples, drained and chopped (*3)
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
In a small saucepan, boil the water. Stir in the honey, butter and raisins. Immediately turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit, uncovered, for at least ten minutes. The raisins eventually will puff
Mix the bread crumbs, apples and nutmeg into the cooled mixture.
1 – Which I hate, and thus I substituted dried cranberries. Cranberries are an obvious choice, as the berry compliments both the apples and, ultimately, the chicken.
2 – It was easiest to get these by toasting about eight pieces of whole-wheat bread, then by tearing/crumbling it into small pieces.
3 – Canned apples? In a colonial dish? It was just as easy, and much more “authentic” to dice an apple, then to season it lightly with cinnamon, sugar and a few grinds of nutmeg. The apple taste was more pronounced this way, too.
For the chicken:
- 8 6-ounce chicken breast halves, boned and skinned
- seasoned salt (*4)
- Virginia Apple Dressing, as described above
- egg wash (one egg mixed with 1/3 cup milk)
- bread crumbs
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees
Sprinkle the chicken with season salt on both sides, then pound it with a tenderizer until the breasts are flattened and are of uniform thickness.
Place some of the dressing in a line along the center of each breast, then roll the meat around it.
Roll each breast in flour, then dip it in the egg wash. Finally, roll each breast in the bread crumbs.
Saute each breast in skillet in which butter has been melted. Place each breast “seam” side down at first, to seal the opening. Rotate the breasts two or three times after this, so that they are uniformly golden-brown. All in all, this stage should take about five minutes.
Put on a rack in the oven to finish cooking, about 40 minutes.
4 – As the Chesapeake Bay isn’t far from Williamsburg, I used Old Bay. The small amount used did give the chicken a nice taste.