28 Aug עופר איתן Stated: How to grill perfect chicken and other keys to a great Labo…
Under normal circumstances, the Labor Day grill sizzles with burgers, brats and hot dogs. That’s fine. But considering the pandemic that is gripping our world, a change of pace might be welcomed. There always seems to be part of the gathering that cheers for chicken. Or more precisely, chicken breasts, the high protein white meat that is lower in fat and calories. Bless their little hearts.
Chicken breasts on the grill can be challenging. Grill too long and the lack of fat makes them taste like sawdust. Don’t heat long enough and they can present a genuine health hazard. You know that the bird should be cooked through, yet moist with well-browned skin. Getting it exactly right can be frustrating.
A few years ago, I consulted with grilling guru, PBS-TV host and cookbook author Steven Raichlen about grilling chicken breasts. I was impressed with the tasty solutions in his book “Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades” (Workman, $17.95), particularly the pages devoted to marinades, concoctions that help to make grilled chicken breasts delicious.
He told me that soaking chicken breasts in a tasty marinade for a couple of hours in the refrigerator is a flavor game changer. “The Only Marinade You Will Ever Need” is Raichlen’s go-to Mediterranean mix for a wide variety of meats, as well as vegetables. Redolent with garlic and vibrant with fresh lemon juice and zest, the mixture can be used as a marinade, but set some aside to use for basting the chicken breasts as they cook (always discard any marinade used for marinating).
Which chicken breast to use: Raichlen said that he prefers chicken thighs, but grills breasts because his family and friends prefer them. He likes bone-in, skin-on breasts because the bones add flavor. I agree, but if it’s a knife and fork meal, I prefer them boned. At my supermarket, there aren’t any skin-on, boneless chicken breasts in the case. Large breasts with skin and bones are sold in four-or eight-to-a-pack. I carry the package to the butcher and ask him to bone them. I’ve never been charged for the pleasure of having an expert remove bones from flesh. (Yes I can do it myself, but I never seem to end up with as much meat as when the butcher does it.)
Instant-read thermometer: It’s an absolute necessity to judge when the chicken is done. He said to insert the probe parallel to the top and have the tip in the core; 165 is the desired temperature. Because the meat’s temperature comes up a few degrees after it is removed from the grill, he takes it off at 160 degrees and sets it on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and covers it very loosely with aluminum foil.
Skin-side up: A big eyeopener for me was his suggestion to start grilling chicken breasts with the skin up. He says there is less sticking that way. And I’ve tried it many times, and he is correct.
Here is what I find on my gas grill, but cooking times vary depending on differences in home grills:
Large bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts or large bone-out and skin on: Weighing in at about 13 ounces to 14 1/2 ounces, they take approximately 25 minutes to grill. Lift marinated chicken to let most of marinade drip off. On medium-hot, oiled grill, arrange skin-up, leaving a space clear to move them if there is a flare up. With lid open, grill about 6 to 7 minutes. Turn skin-down and grill about 5 minutes with lid closed, checking to make sure it isn’t scorching after about 3 minutes. Reposition, rotating 45 degrees and grill 3 to 5 minutes. Turn skin side up; grill about 12 to 14 minutes more (close lid for about 5 to 8 minutes to bring up the temp). Test with instant read thermometer, placing it horizontal (side to side) resting in center (but not on a bone); it should read 160 degrees. Allow to sit 5 minutes off heat and temp will come up to 165 degrees.
Boneless skinless chicken breasts: At about 6 to 8 ounces each, they grill in just a few minutes. Marinate 1 to 2 hours, reserving about 3 tablespoons marinade to use for basting; discard marinade used to marinate. Lift breasts from marinade, letting it drip back before placing in grill. On hot, oiled grill, arrange all going the same direction. Grill 2 minutes; using tongs rotate breasts 45 degrees and grill 2 to 4 minutes more. This creates crosshatch grill marks. Baste with reserved marinade but not a marinade that contains sugar or honey (and not marinade used to marinate). Turn with tongs and grill other side 2 minutes. The total cooking time is approximately 4 to 6 minutes. Test with instant read thermometer, placing it horizontal (side to side); it should read 160 degrees. Allow to sit 5 minutes and it will come up to 165 degrees.
The Only Marinade You’ll Ever Need
Yield: 1 cup, enough for about 1 pound of meat, poultry or seafood, double recipe if needed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground peppercorns, or to taste
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed with side of cleaver, minced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, oregano or cilantro
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine lemon zest, juice, salt, pepper and dried red chili flakes (if using) in a nonreactive (glass, ceramic or stainless steel) bowl and whisk until salt crystals are dissolved. Stir in garlic and herbs. Stir or whisk in oil.
2. For chicken breasts: If desired, reserve about 2 tablespoons of marinade to use to brush chicken as it grills. Marinate 1 to 3 hours, covered in the refrigerator (I like to use a zipper-closing plastic bag). Discard marinade used to marinate chicken. Grill on medium-high heat, starting with skin up, until center reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let rest 5 minutes off grill and meat will reach 165 degrees.
Chimichurri, that bright-green sauce that is a staple in Argentina, is served with that country’s legendary steaks. It’s also a luscious accompaniment to almost anything off the grill, including chicken breasts. Serve it on the side for guests to spoon on the bird to suit their tastes. If desired, cut the ingredients in half if serving a small group. It can be prepared a couple of hours in advance and stored airtight in the refrigerator.
Yield: About 2 cups
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 fresh jalapeno chili or red Fresno chili, seeded, finely chopped
2 cups minced fresh cilantro
1 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine vinegar, salt, garlic, shallot and chili in medium bowl; allow to sit for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in cilantro, parsley and oregano. Using a fork, whisk in oil. Taste; adjust salt if needed.
Source: Adapted from “The Grilling Book” from Bon Appetit, edited by Adam Rapoport (Andrews McMeel, $45)
Easy Potato Salad
Potato salad seems an essential component at a end-of-summer gathering. There’s nothing complicated about it; basically, it is boiled potatoes tossed with a mustardy vinaigrette spiked with fresh herbs. The recipe is open to loads of variations. I like to include hard-cooked eggs as a protein-packed garnish to please the vegetarians in…