Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Simple Chicken

We're all always looking for simple, easy recipes for dinner. When I buy a package of chicken cutlets (I usually opt for Empire's Organic Chicken breasts when the price is right), and right when I get home I like to cut each chicken breast in half with a long, sharp fish filet knife (I have the Forever Sharp Fish Filet knife, which is great for this job). First I separate all the tenders and freeze them in a small Ziploc for making chicken fingers. I don't particularly enjoy butterflying and pounding the chicken, unless I'm making stuffed chicken breast. I think this job takes a little practice, to make 1 thick cutlet into 2 smaller cutlets; when I first started doing it I always screwed it up and ended up with something of the likes of what was once a chicken cutlet! Then I got the hang of it. After cutting the chicken I individually wrap each one in plastic wrap, and freeze all the cutlets in a big Ziploc. It makes it really convenient to make a last minute dinner. If you forget to defrost it in the morning, it's fine- the cutlets individually wrapped like this take no time to defrost in a bowl of cold water. Just switch the water every 10 minutes, and within a half hour (depending on the thickness), the cutlets should be well on their way into your stomach!

Another thing I like to do is take simple ingredients that you probably have in your fridge already and sophisticate them (can sophisticate be used as a verb?? Who knows!). For my first recipe, I took plain old duck sauce and added some other ingredients to make it even more delicious, but duck sauce is definitely a go to if you don't have time. I'm not a fan of buying pre-made marinades, because the first ingredient is most often- corn syrup. But not Gold's Sweet & Sour Duck Sauce.

My second recipe, Pesto Chicken, came about when I had made Pesto for pasta and had extra in the fridge. I was making chicken for dinner one night and since I was so busy, I figured why not just use the pesto on the chicken (just make sure it doesn't have cheese in it!), and it came out really great.

Citrus Duck-Sauce Chicken
-4 chicken breasts (I like to make extra to give Avi for lunch the next day ;-)
-1/2 cup Gold's duck sauce
-1 tbsp. dijon mustard
-1 tbsp. honey (tip: add a DROP of oil into the measuring spoon and rub around. Then measure out the honey and pour- it will slide right out, no need to scrape the sticky spoon with your finger to get it out)
-1 tsp. lemon zest, divided
-Juice of half a lemon
-1 tbsp. orange juice
-1.4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
-1 garlic clove, finely minced

-Heat a large skillet over medium-high with a little layer of olive oil
-Whisk together all the ingredients, except for 1/2 the lemon zest
-In a big plate or glass shallow dish, add some flour, salt, pepper, and the reserved lemon zest. Coat each cutlet in the flour, then add to the pan. Make sure to shake off any excess flour, you want the coating to be very slight. I find that this method gives the chicken great flavor, a little "crust," and when you don't have time to really marinade the chicken for hours, then this is a good option. However, you can definitely opt to skip this step. If you choose to marinate this chicken, I wouldn't let it marinate for more than an hour or the acid will effect the meat and start to "cook" and toughen it.
-Add the cutlets to the pan when the oil is hot. Cook for 4 minutes per side (depends how thick the cutlets are. When the edges on the top start turning white then it's time to flip)
-Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat to medium-low and add the marinade to the pan (be careful- it will splatter, so I recommend using a splatter screen). Let the chicken cook in the marinade just until the marinade is warmed through.

This next recipe can also be used with store bought pesto. If you are using store bough, jazz it up with just a little lemon zest and juice- it will make all the difference.

Spinach Basil Pesto Chicken
-I use the same dredging and cooking method as above. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, but can be made using any soft green such as spinach, arugula, or a mix of greens! This pesto recipe will probably yield more than you need for 4 chicken breasts, depending on how much you choose to use. You can marinate the chicken in it and then cook it, but I find that the pesto doesn't hold up all that well to the entire cooking process, which is why I like to add it at the end, when the chicken is already cooked through, just until it warms. This way, you maintain the fresh flavor of the pesto. You can also serve the seasoned floured chicken by itself, with the pesto as a dipping sauce.
-2 cups of packed spinach leaves
-1 cup packed basil leaves
-2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (since the flavor of the garlic won't really have a chance to cook out, you can add the garlic slowly and then add more at the end. It's easier to add more garlic then to take away a strong garlicky flavor!)
-1/4 cup walnuts (pine nuts or pignolias are the typical nut used in pesto, but walnuts are definitely a cheaper and more versatile nut, and definitely no sacrifice on flavor there!)
-1 tsp. lemon zest, + a light squeeze of fresh lemon juice (use bottled lemon juice or even lime juice if that's all you have at hand)
-Pinch of salt and pepper
-Pulse all ingredients in a food processor and stream in roughly 1/2 cup of olive oil (more or less, depending on the consistency that you desire). I do mine in batches in my mini food processor, way easier!

I find especially with pesto, the proportions are not usually cut and dry, rather to your individual liking, with adding more/less garlic, salt, and olive oil. So play around with the way you like it. To make it dairy to serve over pasta, just add some grated parmesan cheese- yum! In a previous post, I made pesto mayo as a dip for my grilled tilapia, simple and sooo good. Thin it out a little with some water or lemon juice for a great salad dressing. A little pesto goes a long way here. 

I hope these recipes help with some last minute dinner ideas! Take my advice on storing your chicken like I do, it will make such a difference when its 5 pm and you realized you totally forgot to defrost something for dinner! Happens all the time, admit it!

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