Grilled Chicken Breast in Three Simple Steps

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: June 24, 2015 15:08 IST

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Grilled Chicken Breast in Three Simple Steps
Countless words are devoted every year to finessing the usual centerpieces of your summer barbecues: how to grill up the perfect burgers, juiciest steaks, flakiest fish, most tender pork butt.
But what about the humble boneless, skinless chicken breast? The staple of dinner tables all over this country most of the year, it doesn’t get much attention when grilling season arrives.

This may be because as easy as boneless chicken breasts are to eat (all that uninterrupted white flesh), they can be tricky to grill just right. The usual outcome is either an attractive bronzed, crisscrossed exterior covering a desiccated center, or something rubbery, pale and slightly burned around the edges.

But given a little forethought and attention, the grill can be perhaps the best place to cook chicken breasts, imbuing them with enough char and smoke to bring out the best in their delicately flavored meat. So, to figure out exactly what the fastest, easiest road to grilled chicken breast perfection was, I spent some time experimenting this spring.

The upshot is that grilling juicy, well-cooked chicken breasts involves three basic steps: pounding the breasts to even out the thickness, marinating them aggressively with salt and aromatics, then grilling them hot and fast.

The pounding, a technique I picked up from the grilling guru Steven Raichlen, is probably the least intuitive, but solves the problem of their uneven shape. Chicken breasts bulge at their middles and taper at the edges, making them hard to cook evenly over a direct hot fire. But constantly moving them around back and forth between direct and indirect heat (another option for uneven or large pieces of meat) can compromise the char because they cook so quickly.The trick is to pound the chicken breasts, but not too thin, which could dry them out. Aim for about a thickness of about 1/2 to 3/4 inch.

Seasoning them before does two things: It helps keep them juicy because the salt forms a brine, which locks in moisture, and it improves the flavor, which mild-tasting chicken breasts desperately need.

You can season the marinade or rub with anything you like. Herbs and garlic are classic. Soy sauce and sesame oil are rich and complex. A brown sugar-based spice rub gives them a spicy, shiny glaze, a little like barbecue sauce but less sticky. Don’t marinate them the day before; a few hours ahead is plenty.



Then build a hot fire, or get your gas grill nice and hot, and throw them over the flames. They’ll cook quickly and please nearly everyone - except perhaps the die-hard dark meat lovers. If you have those in your group, just substitute a couple of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the breasts and grill them along with the breasts. Dark meat is more forgiving than white, so they don’t need pounding. But they will take a few extra minutes to cook through.

When the chicken is done, if you’ve used charcoal, you’ll still probably have some life left in the coals. Throw on some ears of corn, red pepper halves or zucchini slices, and your dinner will be complete without much added fuss. This is how summer should go.

Lemon and Thyme Grilled Chicken Breasts

Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating
Yield: 4 servings

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 lemons, as needed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
Torn basil or mint leaves, as needed



1. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound each to an even thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not make them any thinner or they could dry out.

2. Place chicken breasts in a large bowl and toss with salt, pepper, thyme, garlic and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Mix in olive oil. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Remove chicken from fridge while you preheat the grill.

3. Light the grill, building a hot fire, or preheat your gas grill to high. Once grill is fully heated, brush breasts lightly with olive oil and place chicken on the grill. Cook until undersides are browned and chicken is about halfway cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip breasts and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.

4. Transfer chicken to a platter. Drizzle with oil and garnish with additional lemon juice, olive oil and basil.

Grilled Sesame Lime Chicken Breasts

Time: 30 minutes, plus at least 1 hour marinating
Yield: 4 servings

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian-style fish sauce
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves, grated
2 limes, as needed
2 tablespoons peanut oil, more for grill
Sesame oil, as needed
Coarsely chopped cilantro, for garnish
Thinly sliced red or green chilies, seeded, for garnish (optional)

1. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound each to an even thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not make them any thinner or they could dry out.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger and garlic. Grate in zest of 1 lime and squeeze in its juice. Whisk in peanut oil. Place chicken breasts in bowl and turn breasts well to evenly coat with mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Remove chicken from fridge while you heat the grill.

3. Light the grill, building a hot fire, or heat your gas grill to high. Once grill is fully heated, brush breasts lightly with peanut oil and place chicken on the grill. Cook until undersides are browned and chicken is about halfway cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip breasts and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.

4. Transfer chicken to a platter. Drizzle with sesame oil; garnish with lime juice and cilantro, and chilies if desired.

Sweet and Spicy Grilled Chicken Breasts

Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating
Yield: 4 servings

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced fresh chives

1. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound each to an even thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not make them any thinner or they could dry out.

2. In a small bowl, combine sugar, coriander, salt, mustard powder and cayenne. Place chicken breasts in a bowl and rub well with spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Remove chicken from fridge while you heat the grill.

3. Light the grill, building a hot fire, or heat your gas grill to high. Once grill is fully heated, brush breasts lightly with olive oil and place chicken on the grill. Cook until undersides are browned and chicken is about halfway cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip breasts and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.

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4. Transfer chicken to a platter. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard and chives. Whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Serve chicken with mustard for dipping.



Comments© 2015 New York Times News Service

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