Some weeks the grocery list looks the same as all the previous. You know the drill: Skim milk, sandwich bread, cereal, bananas, baby carrots, salad fixings, chicken breasts and cheese sticks. Boring. For the shopper and the cook.
Fortunately, the myriad condiments in most grocery stores today can jolt us out of the boredom. Take those chicken breasts, for example. Employ bottled salad dressing, curry pastes and hot sauces as marinades, barbecue sauces as glazes and tomato sauces as braising liquids. Suddenly the mundane rises to new flavor heights. The cook gets motivated. Dinner gets made. The family offers gratitude in the form of dishwashing, lawn mowing and laundry folding. Everyone wins.
This summer, we're happily using a sesame and chili-paste infused marinade to season chicken breasts, pork tenderloin and thinly sliced beef steaks. Pounded thin and seared over hot coals (or on a gas grill), dinner never tasted so good so quickly. The zesty marinade penetrates the bland meat quickly and thoroughly. This means leftovers taste great in salads the next day or as sandwich filler for the lunch box.
Keep the marinade creative by varying the chili paste style from the Korean version to Chinese or Thai. Mexican hot sauce — particularly a smoky chipotle version tastes great here too. Substitute an apple for the Asian pear. Maple syrup can sub for the agave syrup.
This marinade makes a generous 11/2 cups. You'll need about half to marinate six large chicken breasts. Store the remainder in the refrigerator up to 1 week. It also can be used to season the salad recipe here or to marinate pork chops, steak or shrimp.
Grilled chicken with sesame-chili marinade
Prep: 30 minutes
Marinate: 1 hour
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
You can skip pounding the chicken breasts, but you'll want to increase marinating time to 2 or 3 hours and cook the chicken slightly longer on a cooler grill.
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup agave syrup or 2 tablespoons mild honey
2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Korean chili paste, sambal oelek or sriracha chili sauce
1/4 onion, chopped
1 small Asian pear or other pear, peeled, quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 Pound each chicken breast half with a heavy, flat mallet between sheets of heavy plastic to a uniform 1/2-inch thickness. Place in a glass baking dish.
2 Puree soy sauce, vinegar, syrup, sesame oil, chili paste, onion, 1/4 of the pear and garlic in a blender until smooth. Pour half of the mixture over the chicken. Turn chicken to thoroughly coat it with the marinade. Refrigerate chicken, turning once, for 1 or 2 hours. Refrigerate remaining marinade in a covered container.
3 Cut the remaining pear into fine slivers. Set aside. Prepare a grill for high heat. Remove chicken from marinade; place on grill directly over heat source. Cover grill; cook 2 minutes. Turn chicken. Cover; grill until nearly firm when pressed, about 2 more minutes. Transfer to a large platter. Serve sprinkled with slivered pear and green onions.
Per serving: 310 calories, 22% of calories from fat, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 146 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 54 g protein, 567 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Grilled chicken and noodle salad
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 main-course servings
Have all ingredients prepared and near the cooking surface before you start stir-frying. For the noodles, use Korean vermicelli, very thin bean thread noodles or thin whole wheat spaghetti.
8 ounces long thin noodles
1 or 2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 small carrots, peeled, cut into fine long slivers
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 pound baby bok choy, trimmed, quartered lengthwise
2 grilled chicken breast halves, see recipe, thinly sliced
1 tablespoons soy sauce (or 1/4 cup marinade from above recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as mint or cilantro)
1 Cook noodles in large pot of boiling water until nearly tender, about 2 minutes for Korean vermicelli and 8 minutes for whole wheat spaghetti. Drain well, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a large shallow serving bowl; toss with sesame oil.
2 Heat a large wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil. Add garlic, onions, carrots and mushrooms. Stir-fry until crisp-tender, 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the noodles; gently toss to mix.
3 Return wok to high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add bok choy; stir-fry 1 minute. Add sliced chicken and soy sauce or marinade; toss to coat. Heat through. Spoon chicken mixture over noodles. Garnish with herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.