Paillard is a type of thin, usually pounded, cut of meat. Though this cut can be made of any meat, it is most often used with chicken or veal. It is always boneless and is a favorite for uneven cuts which can be evened out by pounding them flat. Recipes using paillard are extremely varied, but the cut is especially good for grilling and searing since the thin portions cook very quickly.
Originally a French term, paillard was named after the restaurant where it was first used. Its use began in the 19th century, but has since been replaced by the term escalope in France. Paillard is still the current term in the United States, however.
Thinly sliced meats suitable for use as paillard cuts can often be found in supermarkets. If they are not available, however, the cut can be made using shoulder or leg meat for veal or breast meat for poultry. Pork or beef leg or loin can also be made into a paillard cut.
To create a paillard cut, the meat is placed between two sheets of wax paper or in a small plastic sandwich bag. Then, a meat tenderizer, mallet, or simply something sturdy and easy to grip, like a thin can of vegetables or spices, is used to pound the meat flat. Care is taken to ensure the meat is even as it is pounded and not to break or rip it. For particularly thick cuts, like chicken breasts, the breast is usually butterflied or similar before pounding.
If plastic bags are used, once the meat is pounded it can simply be placed in the freezer until it is ready to use. Since the cut is so thin, the meat defrosts quickly when run under cold water. The meat should be left in the sandwich bag as it defrosted to prevent the juices from running out with the water.
Paillard meat is usually marinated, but may also be stuffed. When stuffed, the stuffing is placed on the top of the meat, then the meat is rolled and secured before cooking. It may also be seasoned with spice rubs.
There are several advantages to this cut. Pounding the meat flat increases the surface area, which not only aids in the marinating process, it makes smaller portions appear larger. Additionally, the thinness means the meat cooks quickly, which helps to prevent it from drying out — the more quickly it is cooked, the fewer juices are lost.