As much as we may talk about slow food, it's a rare household that has the luxury of low, slow, all-day preparations. In a world where dinner is sandwiched between the exhaustion of work-work, homework and housework, we need slow food fast.
So when it comes to fast, easy weeknight meals, we all tend to play fowl.
It's no wonder -- boneless, skinless chicken breasts make for inexpensive, no-brainer suppers. Slap them on the grill or toss them in a saute pan. Could anything be easier?
But it's awfully easy to run afoul of the fowl. We overcook the tender bird. Or fall into a chicken rut and make the same old, same old over and over.
So we're offering up five fabulous new guises for everyone's favorite dinner ingredient, including something dressy, something grilled and a quick saute. Because the beauty of chicken, says former Bon Appetit food editor Kristine Kidd, is that it's a blank canvas, ready to become something special.
"Adding chermoulas and salsas, sprinkling it with Indian, Moroccan or Latin flavors just brings it to life," she says. "It's versatile, and it takes to so many flavorings and preparations."
The fact that it's affordable and healthful, especially when you're talking organic and free-range, is a plus, says the Los Angeles-based food writer, who also serves as food editor for the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. But the real delight, she says, lies in using fowl as a foil for wonderful flavors and taking clever shortcuts to get a truly delicious dinner on the table in minutes.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are perfect for that.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons green curry paste
1 1/2 pounds free-range, skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into chunks
Zest of 1 lime
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Heat the oil in a work or large frying pan. Add the curry paste and cook over high heat 1 minute. Add the chicken, lime zest and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened slightly.
Stir in the chopped cilantro and lime juice. Let stand for a few minutes, to allow the sauce to become creamier before serving. The flavors will deepen when the sauce is slightly cooler.
-- James Tanner, "Take 5 Ingredients" (Kyle Books, 176 pages, $19.95)
>Grilled Chicken with Marinated Peppers
3 large bell peppers (red, yellow and green)
1 small orange
3 tablespoons white or golden balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
6 chicken breasts, skin-on
6 slices crusty sourdough bread, 1/2 -inch thick
Heat grill to medium-high. Place the bell peppers on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well-charred. Cover and set aside until cool.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove zest from half the orange. Cut zest crosswise into thin slices.
Wipe most of the charred skin from the peppers. Cut in half and discard core and seeds. Cut into 1/4 -inch slices. Combine peppers with orange zest, vinegar, garlic, 6 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 -teaspoon pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 days, stirring occasionally.
Heat grill to medium-high. Brush both sides of the chicken and bread with remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Grill chicken until cooked through, at least 3-4 minutes per side. During the last 2 minutes, place the bread on the grill and turn it to lightly toast both sides.
Top each piece of bread with a chicken piece, transfer to a platter or individual plates, and let rest, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes. Top chicken with peppers and serve.
Note: Start this recipe a day ahead to allow time for the peppers to marinate. This juicy, succulent dish pairs beautifully with chardonnay.
-- Jill Silverman Hough, "100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love" (Wiley, 192 pages, $16.95)
>Zinfandel Chicken Marbella
1/2 cup zinfandel
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 a small orange with peel, cut in half, then in 1/4 -inch slices
1/2 a small lemon with peel, cut in half, then in 1/4 -inch slices
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup drained capers, plus 1 tablespoon brine
4 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 4-pound chickens, cut into pieces
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
In a large bowl, combine everything except the chicken and sugar.
Divide the chicken into two large resealable plastic bags. Pour in the marinade and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, in a single layer on two rimmed baked sheets. Squeeze the marinade, including the fruit, olives and capers, out of the bag and over the chicken. Sprinkle with brown sugar and bake, basting every 15 or 20 minutes, until cooked through, 50-60 minutes. (If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, reduce baking time to 25-30 minutes.)
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken, fruit, olives and capers to a platter or plates. Spoon pan juices on top. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Note: This red wine riff on the Silver Palate's Chicken Marbella is fruity, bright and zinfandel-friendly. Start this recipe the night or morning before. Use whole chickens, cut into pieces, or chicken breasts or thighs.
-- Jill Silverman Hough
>Grilled Chicken with Basil-Walnut Sauce
2 boneless, skinless chicken cutlets
Coarse kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more
1/4 cup basil leaves, packed
1 tablespoon walnut pieces
Place the chicken on a plate. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Brush with olive oil. Let marinate while preparing sauce.
In the bowl of a small food processor, combine the basil, walnuts, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of pepper. Process until finely ground. With the machine running, gradually add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning.
Prepare a grill for direct-heat grilling over high heat. Add the chicken, cover and cook as desired, 3-4 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Transfer to warmed plates. Top with basil sauce and serve.
Note: If you are using a large food processor, you may need to double the basil sauce ingredients to get it to grind properly. Use any leftover basil sauce for pasta or seafood.
-- Kristine Kidd, "Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Fresh Fast" (Weldon Owen, 240 pages, $29.95)
>Chicken Breasts with Lentil-Radish-Mint Salad
1 cup lentils, rinsed
1 small red onion, cut in half, divided use
1 bay leaf
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, divided
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 bunch radishes, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
7 tablespoons fresh mint, minced, divided
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
Place the lentils in a saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Add half an onion and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer under the lentils are just tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon vinegar. Drain the lentils and transfer to a medium bowl. Discard the onion half and the bay leaf.
Finely chop remaining onion half. Mix the onion, celery, radishes and 3 tablespoons mint into the lentils. Set aside.
Place the mustard in a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup oil. Add remaining mint. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside 3 tablespoons dressing to use as a sauce. Mix remaining dressing into lentils to taste.
One chicken breast at a time, place the meat between wax paper; hit with a rolling pin a few times to flatten slightly to an even thickness. Transfer chicken to a plate; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread flour on another plate. Dredge the chicken in flour; shake off excess. Place 2 large nonstick frying pans over medium-high heat; warm 1 tablespoon oil in each. Add 2 chicken breasts to each pan. Saute until cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side.
Slice the chicken, transfer to warmed plates, and spoon lentil salad alongside. Drizzle chicken with the reserved dressing and serve.
-- Kristine Kidd