As I explained a few weeks ago, chicken should really be thought of as three different products: the whole bird, breasts, and legs and thighs — wings as a separate product altogether. Today’s little lesson is about the breasts (quit snickering like little degenerates).
As most of you may know, the breast, or white meat, is the leanest part of the animal. In fact, if you remove the bones and skin, the breast is 99 percent fat-free. This is both a gift and a punishment for obvious reasons: Lower fat equals fewer flame-ups on the grill and, sadly, fat is flavor! Now that sounds like a Cheffed Up challenge: GIVE FLAVOR TO THE FLAVORLESS!
Boneless, skinless breasts are wildly popular amongst you beautiful, time-challenged omnivores. The advantages of using these parts are quite apparent: They are extremely low-fat, make for quick prep, are versatile and cook quickly. The first cookbook I purchased, way back in the day, was on cooking chicken. This was before I attended culinary school, when I didn’t know squat. You could say I was just like you neophytes: ignorant, hungry and willing to learn.
The most important lesson was learning which cooking techniques to employ. Because these parts don’t have bones or skin to protect them from the heat, they can turn out very dry, rubbery and flavorless. If treated correctly, they can actually be delicate and delicious. Think of them as vehicles of flavor — kind of like chameleons that can be transformed into myriad flavor profiles.
Although other ethnic cuisines don’t commonly use boneless, skinless breasts, we chefs can adapt those flavor profiles to a more modern, healthful version. The best cooking techniques to employ with these delicate morsels are sauté, stir-fry, grill, or pan-fry. Notice all methods are executed on high heat for very short cooking times.
When you sauté or stir-fry, the object is to slice the meat very thin, cook quickly, and remove from heat when just barely cooked. This will allow you to return the chicken to a pan with delicious, flavor-packed, mouth-watering sauce. Voilà! You have transformed flavorless little chicken breasts into the savory dish of your dreams.
Grilling is another outstanding technique perfect for allowing these feeble little pieces of protein to reach their full flavor potential. Once again, this technique utilizes high heat and a very short cooking time. But beware: Grilling is a minefield filled with potential disasters — mostly drying, overcooking and charring the chicken.
One scrumptious solution is a marinade or brine. Marinades and brines provide three vital benefits: a giant flavor punch, moisture retention and tenderizing.
Now that your chicken is ready to meet the heat, try this Thai satay marinade. You’ll like it — just don’t burn it beyond recognition like last time!
Chef Bill’s Chicken Satay Marinade
• 2 Tbs. lemongrass, minced
• 1 Tbs. garlic, paste
• 2 Tbs. canola oil
• 2 Tbs. fish sauce
• 2 Tbs. brown sugar
• 1 lime, juiced
• 1 Tbs. tamari sauce
• 2 Tsp. turmeric
• 1 Tsp. ground coriander
• 2 serrano chilis
• 1/2 can coconut milk
1. Combine all ingredients in a food processer or blender. Blend until smooth.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, at [email protected] with your recipes or questions, to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!