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Who you Calling Chicken?

By: Jon Gatewood

    Whenever I make a chicken breast for someone they act as if its the first time they've tasted it. In a way, it is. Sure they've had that dry, tough, cooked to 165 degree stuff. But not tender, juicy, and flavorful chicken. As with many of the culinary world's mysteries, you may be surprised by how easy it really is.

    Marinades work well to tenderize and add juiciness to that poor old chicken breast. Try a simple mix of olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt and pepper to marinade for about an hour before cooking. Yummy! The flavors are subtle but the effect is immense.

    Also, the cooking method will do a lot for you. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper then on a hot grill or hot pan, sear the chicken for the flavor (not exactly to seal in juices) then lower the heat and cook slowly until done. No, not 165 degrees. The chicken is already dead you dont need to kill it again. Pull the chicken out between 155 to 160 degrees and let it rest three or four minutes. Then temperature will "carry over" to that magical number of 165 (the temperature needed to kill Salmonella) and the chicken will stay moist.

    Another secret is to use fresh chicken whenever possible. Granted, raw chicken does freeze relatively well but freezing causes expansion of the cells causing some cell walls to break. This, in turn, releases moisture from the cells when thawed again. That's one of the reasons previously frozen fish tends to stick to the pan, but Im getting off the subject. Braising the chicken breast is a great way of reintroducing moisture. After searing the chicken (in a little olive oil perhaps) turn over and add some wine, stock, or even water to the pan. Enough to come about half way up the breast. Then gently finish in the oven, not forgetting to pull it out before it reaches 165 degrees and letting it rest. While it rests, you can make a sauce in the same pan. How?

    Simple. Add a little garlic, some shallot or onion, maybe a bit of fresh herb, good old salt and pepper then reduce it by about half. Give it a little butter, yes butter, a squirt of fresh citrus and stir until the butter is melted. You could also thicken the sauce with a slurry of corn starch and cold stock if you must leave out the butter. Taste the sauce. Does it need more salt? Is there enough citrus? Good! Dinner is served.

    Now, I know what you're thinking, "This is all about method. Where are the recipes!". OK, OK. Here are a few ditties. Jjust remember, follow the methods described above and you won't go wrong.

    This twist on pesto brings summer home with the rich fragrance of sun dried tomatoes. Add a touch of cayenne and see what happens.

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Serving Size  : 16   Preparation Time :0:20

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
   1      cup           sun-dried tomatoes
     1/2  cup           pine nuts
   2      tablespoons   garlic
     1/4  cup           lemon juice
     1/3  cup           olive oil
     1/4  cup           fresh basil -- chopped
          to taste      salt and pepper

If the dried tomatoes are hard soak them in warm water for about a half hour until softened.
in a small sauce pan over medium heat bring the olive oil, dried tomatoes, pine nuts and garlic to a slow simmer.
Simmer for around 5 minutes.
This will toast the pine nuts, soften the dried tomatoes further, and roast the garlic.
Transfer to a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
Add remaining ingredients and puree.
May need a touch more olive oil.

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    On cold, rainy days I like to warm myself and my family with this easy and delicious jambalaya.

Chicken Jambalaya

Serving Size  : 6    Preparation Time :2:00

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
   2      tablespoons   olive oil
   6      each          chicken thigh, no skin, R-T-C
     1/2  cup           white onions -- chopped
     3/4  cup           carrot -- chopped
     1/2  cup           celery -- chopped
   2      tablespoons   garlic
     3/4  cup           white wine
   1      each          bay leaf
   1      teaspoon      thyme
   1      teaspoon      paprika
   1      teaspoon      chili powder
   2      cups          tomato -- chopped
   1      quart         chicken stock
   2      cups          brown rice
          to taste      salt and pepper

In a large braising pan over medium heat, brown the seasoned  chicken in olive oil on both sides.
Remove chicken and reserve.
Add onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaf.
Saute until briefly then add garlic, and deglaze with the wine.
Reduce slightly, add stock, tomatoes, and all remaining spices.
Once the liquid is simmering add rice, stir, and cover.
In 20 minutes remove cover, stir and adjust seasoning.
Cook to desired doneness.

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    If you marinate your chicken breasts with a little chili powder, lime juice, olive oil and cilantro before cooking this "green sauce" is your ticket to south of the border excitement.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Serving Size  : 16   Preparation Time :0:30

  Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
   2      pounds        tomatillo, whole -- peeled
   1      bunch         scallion -- chopped
   2      each          cloves garlic -- chopped
   2      tablespoons   sugar
   1      cup           white wine
   2      tablespoons   white wine vinegar
   1      cup           water -- or stock
   1      tablespoon    cumin
   1      teaspoon      chili powder
          to taste      cayenne
          to taste      salt and pepper

Chop scallions finely, reserving greenest parts for later.
In a medium sauce pan bring all ingredients to a simmer.
Simmer about 15 minutes.
Transfer to blender or food processor, add reserved scallions and puree.
May be strained or served as is.

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NOTES : Tomatillos should be soaked in cool water briefly to remove the sticky layer between the skin and fruit.

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