Part of the diet includes chicken at a certain stage and that can be such a great treat for some. For others it is a step you aren’t required to take and you can stick with fish. If I went into all the ways you can prepare chicken this blog would become a cookbook! I will stick to a couple great ideas and tips, and then you can go from there.
Beginning I will remind my readers about food safety. So far you have been cooking a mostly vegetarian diet with some fresh fish thrown in. While you need safe food handling with all that you prepare, and with fish as well, never is it so important as when handling raw poultry. Even with cleaner farming techniques, meat fabrication, and sterile plastic wrapping, the risk of salmonella is still there. That being said lets get to it!
How do you want to eat your chicken now that you are far enough along on your Pain Free Diet! Congratulations by the way for those of you who have made it this far, and I hope, have been feeling the benefits of the diet as outlined in the Book. Unfortunately if you are like me you also love Duck. It is too high in fat to include in our diet, but there are many ways of impersonating it with turkey and dark meat chicken, following similar recipes for the preparation of this bird.
I mentioned food safety in an older post, click this link to get to it. Mainly it is about practicing good hygiene and avoiding cross-contamination. That means, boiled down, not dripping chicken blood onto your raw, ready-to-eat salad, etcetera.
So review that post and let’s talk Turkey! Or chicken, or Cornish Hen, or Quail…
My culinary heroine for great Mediterranean cuisine is Claudia Roden. She knows Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern. If our publishers would allow it, I too could travel the Mediterranean and Middle East in search of great culinary inspiration for this blog *ahem*. However, my daydream is just that at present, but I always have Claudia to inspire my palate and plenty of hole-in-the wall Shawarma places in Boston.
Chicken is so common, so generic in flavor, that so many have taken to referring to un-nameable proteins as “tasting like chicken”. This is also it’s saving grace, as it can become so many things in so many dishes. Even alone it does have a “chicken flavor”, albeit a soft one. You can grill, bake, roast, saute, steam, broil, put it in soups, and have it on a shish kebab. Some of the best accouterments to chicken, which follow our dietary guidelines, are as follows:
Almonds, apples, asparagus, basil, cabbage, cherries, chervil, chives, citrus, coriander, corn, cranberries, curry, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, five-spice-powder, garlic, ginger, grapes, herbs, horseradish, lemon, lime, mangoes, marjoram, mint, morels, mushrooms, mustard, mussels, olive oil, olives, onions, oranges, oregano, oysters, paprika, parsley, peas, pecans, pepper, pineapples, plums, prunes, rosemary, savory, sour cream, soy sauce, star anise, sweet potatoes, sumac, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes, truffles, vinegar, walnuts, wine, yogurt and zaatar. To name a few.
Marinating is a great way to infuse flavor into skinless chicken for use in many final dishes. A general rule is you want to marinate for a minimum of 20 minutes. You can leave it for several hours, refrigerated, even overnight. Never leave raw poultry out at room temperature for more than 2 hours at a time. You should get into a habit of working with the ingredients while the poultry stays under refrigeration until you are ready to apply your cooking techniques, this includes marination prior to cooking as well. If you are concerned at all with any re-heating or preparation of items refer to my previous link above which will take you to my food safety post.
The best ingredients for marinades contain an acid and an oil, as well as flavor enhancing spices and herbs. Puncturing the meat prior to marinading may be an old family tradition, but it should stop with you! This doesn’t enhance marination, and will result in a drier piece of meat due to moisture loss in cooking. The best technique is to use a sturdy zip top plastic food storage bag, which is large enough for the amount of meat you want to marinate. This allows less marinade to be used once the air has been squeezed out of the bag, allowing all surfaces to be coated. The next step is time, allowing the penetration of flavor into the meat.
You may also prefer a dry spice rub, and to allow time to enhance the spices to penetrate the natural poultry juices. This is also great and packs a lot of flavor. We will talk about this as well.
I’m going to take a step back into my Florda roots here and offer up my favorite marinade; Mojo Criollo. I love it. I love the *POP* of flavor it gives to chicken. It is a bright, happy, pungent, mouth watering marinade.
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (the kind with seeds, not Naval)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sliced, fresh garlic from firm cloves
3 tablespoons freshly toasted, and ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons Kosher salt or 1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
In a small sauce pot heat the olive oil until just about to simmer and add the garlic cloves. When you can smell the garlic, about 2 minutes, and before it begins to turn brown, quickly and carefully, pour in the orange juice and lime juice mixed together with the cumin added. You can do it off the heat and do it quickly so as not to splash hot oil onto yourself. Let this mixture come up to a boil, then turn off the heat and add sea salt or Kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Now, this will be hot so we cannot use it to marinate right now, or it will poach the meat. Let this cool in another container in the refrigerator before use. If you like you could then add fresh chopped cilantro, or oregano to this marinade for another twist. I have also made this marinade substituting the orange and lime with grapefruit juice and the cumin with fresh, chopped rosemary. Keep the garlic, it is intrinsic to the flavor profile. Once the marinade has cooled pour it over your meat that you would like to prepare. You can do this in a plastic food storage bag, or storing the product flat in a shallow baking dish with the marinade coating. Either way use good sanitation and make sure you do not reuse marinade that has been in contact with raw meat unless you plan to make a sauce with it, and will boil it prior to consumption. This amount of marinade will cover 4-6 skinless chicken breasts.
You can alternate your favorite ingredients, bear in mind that a good marinade has an acid and an oil to carry flavors, and coat. So if you like vinegar use it along with olive oil, fresh herbs and spices. When you are ready to cook the meat it is not necessary to keep the marinade as it will have penetrated into the meat during the extended time in contact. Not all marinades require cooking, you can approach them the same way you would make any vinaigrette for salad. I have found that my Mojo recipe works best when heated and cooled, as it helps to really carry the flavors of the garlic and cumin. You may also just coat the meat in some Dijon mustard and herbs and leave that to marinate for a few hours before baking. Something as easy as this carries a lot of flavor into meat, as it already has an acid added to it and loads of wonderful flavor.
If you plan to saute, make sure to pat dry your protein before applying it to a pan, so as to guarantee a good sear. The same goes for baking or roasting, but since leaving the skin on is not recommended, in order to reduce fat, it is not as much of an issue as it would be should you require a crispy skin.
Dry marinating is also great for impacting poultry with lots of flavors. It does not require wet ingredients, or oil and this can reduce calories and fat. You can use a wet ingredient in small quantity such as honey, or yogurt though. I look to my culinary dream region of the Mediterranean islands for this next one. I have mentioned Zaatar and Sumac in previous posts for their flavor and aroma. To boot they are excellent on poultry.
For 4-6 chicken breasts:
2 Tablespoons plan, Greek style Yogurt
3 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground sumac
1/4 cup Zaatar spice
Zest of one Meyer lemon, or regular lemon if Meyer cannot be found
Salt and Pepper
In a clean bowl, mix all ingredients well, and taste for seasoning. Rub all over the chicken and let sit, either in a plastic baggie, or in a baking dish, covered tightly in plastic wrap, for no less than 2 hours. You can omit the yogurt all together if you prefer.
I love this marinade on chicken that will be grilled or used in a shish kebab. If you have metal, or bamboo skewers handy and some yummy vegetables like zucchini, yellow squash, large chunks of red onion, bell peppers, and such you could arrange them on the skewers and marinate all of the ingredients together! You don’t even need to grill this they are so easy to cook in a pre-heated oven set to broil on a parchment lined, sheet tray. Set them in rows on the sheet tray, or baking sheet, or use a roasting rack that fits neatly onto a sheet tray if you have one, and slide into a pre-heated oven to bake on 400 degrees or to broil, close it and let it rip for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken cubes.
If you want to simply salt and pepper your chicken and roast it for use in salad, this is great. Chicken salad is a wonderful lunch, as long as you use soy mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt to bind the ingredients. As listed above items that are great with chicken include: cranberries, grapes, cherries, plums, tarragon, walnuts, mustard, almonds, garlic, citrus, apples, and chives. These specific ingredients make for great chicken salads, especially tarragon and chives. You can serve it over a bed of shredded Napa cabbage, or on a leaf of Bibb lettuce, or on a slice of toasted, multi-grain wheat bread.
If you love making soup have some chicken or vegetable stock on hand as often as you can. If you make it at home, you can store it in the freezer for later use. I find that once my chicken stock cools completely, I can take several sturdy, zip-top, plastic freezer bags and place them over a container that is tall, and fill them with stock, close them tightly, then store the stock lying flat in my freezer! I have it on hand, and it takes up little space this way. Both light and dark meat, skin off, are excellent in soups. A trick I learned in culinary school is to have your meat seasoned and roasted prior to using in the soup you are making, as this helps retain moisture and texture. If your stock is good you don’t need to cook the poultry in it with the other ingredients, and having it cooked off ahead of time is a better way to go, as well as a great way to use leftovers from a different meal with chicken. Generally you don’t need to season a soup until the end, and do so to taste with salt and pepper. Fresh herbs can also be added at the end.
Chicken is best cooked in standard methods, so allow a little time for these, or purchase pre-cooked meat. Be aware of labels though, and check for sodium and calories. I say this because microwaves are great for many things, but not meats. There tend to be “cold spots” in microwaves which can cook unevenly, and the last thing you want with poultry is uneven cooking temperatures!
I also want to talk quickly about Quail before I wrap up here. Quail are a small, wild game bird, related to pheasant. They are about the size of a pigeon, and are very delicious. They are found fresh, or frozen in gourmet markets and are easy to prepare. If thawing make sure to thaw refrigerated before use. Here is a quick recipe to cap off my post:
Quail with White Grapes:
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
appx. 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup of white wine such as a Riesling
1/3 cup of chicken broth
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon, fresh, minced tarragon
2 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
1/2 cup of seedless white grapes (or 1/4 cup golden raisins if you prefer)
2 tablespoons of toasted almonds, sliced
Rinse the birds and pat dry inside and out, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. In a non-stick skillet, saute the quail in olive oil until golden. About 5 minutes on each side, at medium heat. Add the wine, chicken broth, garlic, tarragon, and remaining lemon juice. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, checking to make sure the broth does not reduce too quickly. Add the grapes and almonds and cook for 5 more minutes or until the birds are tender.
This can be served over a bed of wilted Swiss chard, cabbage and kale for a power packed meal.
I hope I have helped inspire you on your way to adding poultry to your diet. Remember that chicken is like a blank canvass for your culinary creativity. It plays very well with others, and when handled smartly, makes a great addition to your diet.