Thursday, October 09, 2014


I know it’s fall for the rest of you, but here in L.A. the hot, dry weather persists. I’m aching for a cool breeze right now, but at least it doesn’t feel strange to still be catching up on my summer recipes. This one hearkens all the way back to when I gambled on trying potato salad for the first time (and won in a big way). I wanted something appropriately picnic-like to accompany it, and also to round out a valid meal in case it turned out I hated potato salad. Sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue seemed like the perfect balance for all that creamy starchiness, but since the salad was fairly labor-intensive I wanted the second dish to be as easy as possible. Baking up some chicken in some sauce sounded about right.

I’ve made basic barbecue sauces before, for pizza and sandwiches, but since the sauce would be the main event here, I thought I should try something a little more complex. Unfortunately, the first recipe I chose was Not So Great. I had to make and apply a dry rub, sear the (bone in, skin-on) chicken on the stove, make and apply the sauce, then bake it in the oven, and both the rub and the sauce were loaded with sugar. It was perfectly edible, but a hassle. The next time around, I went straight to the boneless, skinless chicken thighs—way less fuss to make, and easier to eat too. For the sauce, I searched high and low to find something that looked like it wasn’t too sweet and had enough flavor complexity without calling for any extra steps (dicing an onion, etc.) or special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand (like chipotle chiles). As is often the case, I found exactly what I wanted at Serious Eats, aptly labeled Basic Barbecue Sauce. Because one of the ingredients is “your favorite barbecue rub,” I had to find a separate seasoning recipe and do some clever math to get the quantities right, but it was all worth it.

Barbecue sauce is a controversial topic (for instance, many purists cringe to see a recipe calling for ketchup), but this one suits me to a T. It’s still got some sweetness, but also acid and plenty of spice—in fact, I dial down the Tabasco a bit now, because the full amount was making my lips burn. You could bathe just about anything in this and it would taste delicious. The amounts below are for a half-recipe, which is roughly the amount you need for the chicken recipe with a little to spare, but the sauce keeps a long time in the fridge, so consider going for the full batch and you can have this meal again soon. You’ll definitely want it.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a nonreactive saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and gently simmer until dark, thick, and richly flavored, 10 to 15 minutes. (Sauce can be made ahead of time; store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
  3. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add about ½ cup of the barbecue sauce. Toss well until the chicken is completely coated. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake chicken for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Baste with additional barbecue sauce and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until the sauce just starts to bubble. Serve with more sauce if desired.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, and any extra, unused sauce will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to several months.

Saturday, October 04, 2014


I found this chicken recipe while paging through The Lemonade Cookbook. For those of you outside L.A., Lemonade is a local cafeteria-style chain serving “seasonal Southern California comfort food” (Twin Citians, think along the lines of a hipster CafĂ© Latte). A location recently opened next door to my office, and it’s definitely handy on those rare days when I don’t have leftovers to bring for lunch.

Ironically, though, the first thing that sprang to mind when I looked at this recipe was a salad from a competing local chain, Tender Greens. For a while, the Southern Fried Chicken Salad (“freckled romaine, butter lettuce, cucumber, radish dill dressing”) was my choice for emergency dinners or picnics on the go—until I started to feel like maybe I could do it just as well myself. So, from someone who doesn’t even eat out very often, here is a salad inspired by two different restaurants.

This is really just a spring/summery version of my old standby, Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad, so I went ahead and used the same creamy vinaigrette, my all-time fave dressing. I added homemade croutons for a little more heft and crunch, but feel free to leave them out. (The first time I made this I could only find a seeded baguette, and now I’m in love with making croutons that way—the toasted sesame seeds add a wonderful crunch and flavor.) I’m really happy with the resulting salad; the flavors meld together beautifully (cucumbers, radishes, and dill were made for each other), it’s refreshing yet satisfying, and I honestly like it even more than the restaurant version.

A word on the chicken, however: The marinade is a winner for sure, adding tenderness, tang, and a hint of spice to boring old chicken breasts, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the cooking method. I’ve made this twice so far, and both times found it hard to get the exterior fully crisp and brown without drying out the chicken or having all the breadcrumbs stick to the pan and fall off. Maybe you’ll have more luck, but I’m starting to suspect that keeping the marinade but switching to the flour-egg-panko coating and pan-frying method from the Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad recipe would be the best way to go here, even though it adds even more steps to an already long recipe. I’ll give it a try next time and let you know.

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
For the salad:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3-4 cups cubed (about ¾-inch pieces) French bread (I like to use a seeded baguette)
About 8 cups butter lettuce or arugula leaves (or a mixture)
6-8 large radishes, sliced
2 medium Persian cucumbers, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chopped dill
  1. To prepare the marinade, in a large mixing bowl whisk the buttermilk, mustard, hot sauce, paprika, salt, onion and garlic together to combine. Put the chicken in a plastic storage bag, add the buttermilk mixture and smoosh the chicken around to thoroughly coat in the marinade. Press out the air, seal the bag and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48.
  2. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade, wiping off any excess buttermilk, and discard. Season both sides of the chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a plate or place them in a shallow bowl. Press the chicken breasts into the breadcrumbs to completely coat all sides, shaking off the excess.
  3. Put a cast-iron or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, lay the chicken in the pan and sear for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the skillet (and chicken) to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the crust is golden. Remove chicken from the pan, place on a cooling rack, and let rest until about room temperature.
  4. While the chicken cooks, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed bread, toss well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast, stirring occasionally, until crispy and browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  6. Divide the lettuce/arugula, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and dill evenly between four bowls. Slice the chicken and place one breast atop each serving. Divide the croutons among the bowls, drizzle each salad with ¼ of the dressing, and toss well.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour, plus 1-2 days marinating
Leftover potential: Good; store components (chicken, lettuce, croutons, radishes/cucumbers/dill) separately and assemble just before serving.