Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cinco De Mayo - just about


I love Cinco De Mayo.  For the deeply thoughtful reason that it's a great excuse to make yummy Mexican food, and usually avocados are on sale for nice and cheap. So in honor of that, I am posting a string of Mexicanish-type recipes this week. Maybe in between times, I'll do some research and see exactly what it is that I am celebrating.

Lime-Honey Marinated Chicken Fajitas
Spring has been sprung here in SC for a good month or two now.  This is my favorite time of year to be outside. The weather is sunshiny, clear and warm with not a trace of our summer humidity.  Grilling dinner is perfect reason to step out of the kitchen and spend time outdoors.

First of all, let me be perfectly honest here and admit that I have some issues when it comes to grilled chicken.  Really, I should just get over it and try to be normal. But there is nothing worse then enjoying the tantalizing fragrance of chicken on the grill, only to be disappointed by dried up, tasteless chicken breasts that have all the appeal of sawdust.  After much trial and error, here are my tips to keep sawdust from happening to you.
  • When grilling boneless, skinless chicken breasts, before anything else, puh-leeze take the time to pound the chicken to the same thickness.  In it's natural state, a chicken breast is much thicker at one end. If you cook the thick part until it is done, the thinner parts will be completely dried out. To pound chicken, place a single chicken breast in a heavy resealable plastic bag or between waxed paper. Find a can of soup, or a meat mallet, or a heavy skillet - whatever you have is fine  -  the idea is get some thing heavy. Now whack away on that chicken.  You'll see it start to spread out.  That thick part will get thinner.  Flip it over and do the other side.  This is a great time to let loose of all aggressions that you have been trying to suppress. Imagine the chicken is - well, I don't know.  Whatever/whoever you'd like to beat. Try to get the whole thing around 1/2 an inch thick. There! Not hard. You can also try slicing the chicken breast in half, technically known as butterflying, but be careful of your fingers. Or purchase chicken cutlets, which are already cut nice and thin.
  • Marinate your chicken breast. A little marinade will go a long way to impart delicious flavor and tenderness to your chicken.   5-6 hours of marinade time is a good target to aim for.  Less time and the chicken will not absorb much flavor. Let it go for overnight, and the chicken can start to get mushy and the marinade flavor too strong. Bone-in chicken is a different story and can hold up to a longer marinade.

  • Once your chicken is nice and thin, all soaked in a marinade bath, it's time to throw it on the grill. Turn grill on high. Let it get good and hot. Lay your chicken on it. Turn heat down to medium and leave it alone for about 4 minutes(if that). Flip the chicken over.  Let it cook for another 4-5 minutes. Juices should run clear when you cut into it with a sharp knife.  Cover and set the chicken aside for 5-10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute instead of running all over the plate when you slice it.
Uh - I sort of got carried away with the tips there didn't I? I'm kind of obsessive about this grilling thing.  If you are still reading after all that blathering, here is the recipe!

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded to an even thickness

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Juice and zest of one lime
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous teaspoon cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

1 large sweet onion
2-3 medium bell peppers, a combination of red, green, yellow or orange
vegetable oil
salt and pepper

8 flour tortillas, cilantro, diced tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole

Method:  Pour oil, lime juice and zest, vinegar, honey, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper into large resealable bag. Stir and shake around until well combined.  Add chicken and turn, coating it in marinade. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours, turning now and then. 

Core, seed and cut peppers into strips. Peel onion and cut into thick slices. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat grill to high heat. If you are really coordinated, you can lay veggies directly on the grate. I always manage to lose some down  the cracks, so I lay a sheet of aluminum foil over grate, splash on some extra oil to keep things from sticking and grill veggies on that. Grill veggies over high heat for about 10 minutes, turning once.When done, remove to a skillet and set aside.

Remove meat from marinade. Place on hot grill.  Turn heat down to medium and cook, covered for about 4-5 minutes. Turn chicken over, baste with marinade and cook for another 4-5 minutes.  Discard remaining marinade.  Cover chicken and set aside for a few minutes while you set the table and chop lettuce. After chicken has rested for at least five minutes, slice thinly on the diagonal.  Combine with grilled onions and peppers in skillet. Turn heat on high, just for a minute or until everything is nice and hot.

To assemble, pile sliced meat, onions and peppers into a flour tortilla. Add your favorite toppings and enjoy. Isn't May a great month?!

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