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Potluck : A Chicken in Every Potluck . . . : Skinned, Boned and Flattened

In all the years I’ve been teaching cooking, the single most frequent request I’ve had is for a recipe technique that works for all purposes. Several years ago, I responded with a fail-safe pastry dough that would work for fruit tarts as well as savory quiches.

Today I deal with poultry. My current recommendation is a cooking technique that works with skinned, boned and flattened chicken breast meat. We now eat more chicken than we ever thought possible. It is versatile, low-cholesterol and inexpensive.

Some butchers will skin, bone and flatten chicken breasts, but I like to do it myself. It’s easy to do--and saves money. Then I freeze the chicken breasts in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Once frozen, I stack the breasts on top of one another in practical packages, usually in fours. I place the stack in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air and seal airtight. Then I place this bag inside another, again sealing the outside bag airtight. Freezer burn and off-odors are less likely to develop with this careful wrapping. When I need chicken, I thaw them in the refrigerator, arranged single-layer on a jelly roll pan.

Two pointers to consider for successfully cooking these skinned, boned and flattened chicken breasts: Do not overcook them; two to three minutes a side, depending on the heat intensity, are usually sufficient to fully cook them on a grill or under a broiler. If you aren’t sure your meat is cooked, pierce the thickest part with the tip of a sharp knife; there should be no pink meat and the juices should run clear.

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Also, when grilling, be sure to keep the grill free of any burned particles before you start; a wire brush is useful for this. When one side is cooked, turn the breasts onto a clean spot on the grill to keep the mayonnaise coating on the chicken rather than transferring it to the grill.

The following recipes use grilled chicken breasts, moistened with an intensely flavored cholesterol-free mayonnaise that adheres to the chicken as it cooks; it’s not necessary to marinate the chicken for several hours unless you want to develop the flavor even more. The mayonnaise melts as it cooks.

The mustard-grilled chicken and bacon-goat cheese spread distinguish this club sandwich. Use the best - quality smoked bacon and sun-ripened tomatoes. Lightly browning the pita bread greatly enhances the sandwich; this can be done ahead, wrapping the pita bread in foil and keeping it warm in a 200-degree oven.

CALIFORNIA GRILLED CHICKEN CLUB

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1/4 cup cholesterol-free light mayonnaise

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 large chicken breast halves, skinned, boned and flattened

Salt, pepper

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2 teaspoons oil

2 pita bread rounds

1/3 cup soft goat cheese

5 strips bacon (preferably applewood-smoked), cooked and crumbled

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4 leaves green leaf or Boston lettuce

1 medium firm-ripe tomato, thinly sliced

1 small onion, sliced paper-thin

Combine 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and mustard. Coat both sides of chicken breasts with mayonnaise mixture, dividing evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Grill 1 side about 2 minutes. Turn and grill until cooked through, about 2 more minutes. Cut each breast piece in half. Split halves horizontally with serrated knife.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in non-stick skillet. When hot, lightly brown both sides pita bread over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining oil and pita bread. Cut rounds in half. (If not using immediately, wrap in foil and keep warm in 200-degree oven.)

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and goat cheese in small dish. Stir until smooth. Stir in bacon. Spread mixture inside each pita half, dividing evenly. Fill halves with lettuce, chicken, sliced tomato and onion, dividing evenly. Makes 2 servings.

The basil-grilled chicken with fresh vegetables is a cross between an entree and a main - course salad; hot grilled chicken is blanketed with room - temperature vegetables.

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BASIL-GRILLED CHICKEN WITH FRESH VEGETABLE GARNISH

4 large chicken breast halves, skinned, boned and flattened

1/4 cup cholesterol-free light mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

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1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

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Fresh Vegetable Garnish

Sprigs basil leaves

Trim chicken of all visible fat. Combine mayonnaise, basil, garlic and vinegar in small dish. Coat chicken breasts, dividing evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill 1 side about 2 minutes. Season top with salt and pepper. Turn and grill until cooked through, about 2 minutes longer.

To serve, arrange hot chicken on plates. Spoon Fresh Vegetable Garnish over, dividing evenly. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

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Note: Leftovers may be chilled for salad. Cut chicken into 3/4-inch dice and toss with vegetables. Serve chilled on lettuce leaves.

Fresh Vegetable Garnish

1 large firm-ripe tomato, shell only, diced 1/4-inch

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and diced 1/4-inch

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1 1/2-ounce piece red onion, minced

6 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

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1 tablespoon light-tasting olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground pepper

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Combine tomato, fennel, red onion, olives, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and sugar in 1-quart bowl. Toss lightly to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Can be made several hours ahead, refrigerated and covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Coleslaw is one of my favorite salads because it can be made well ahead. Here, I use napa cabbage to give the slaw a nice, light texture. But because napa cabbage is delicate, the slaw gets tossed together at serving time; however, the components can be prepared a day ahead. Often, I serve the slaw on a circle of watercress leaves for a prettier presentation.

ASIAN SLAW WITH GINGER-GRILLED CHICKEN

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2 large oranges

1/2 pound jicama, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch wide juliennes

1/2 large sweet red pepper, cut into 1/8-inch wide juliennes

3 large green onions, thinly sliced

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2 1/4 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon peanut oil

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1/4 teaspoon salt

Crushed hot pepper

Grilled Chicken

1 small head napa cabbage, thinly sliced

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2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Watercress leaves, optional

Remove zest from oranges with zester or grater and place in large bowl. Using sharp knife, cut away peel and pith from oranges. Cut between membranes to remove orange segments, working over bowl to catch juices. Squeeze membranes to release all juices. Set segments aside.

Add jicama, red pepper, green onions, sesame oil, rice vinegar, lime juice, peanut oil, salt and crushed hot pepper in large bowl. Add Grilled Chicken and toss gently to combine.

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Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate salad, cabbage, cilantro and orange segments separately.

To serve, toss salad with sliced cabbage and cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste. Divide between serving plates, arranging within circle of watercress leaves, if using. Garnish with reserved orange segments. Serve chilled. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Grilled Chicken

2 large chicken breasts, skinned, boned and flattened

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1 tablespoon minced ginger root

2 tablespoons cholesterol-free mayonnaise

1 teaspoon light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

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1/2 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Trim chicken of all visible fat. Combine ginger, mayonnaise, light-brown sugar, sesame oil and soy sauce in small bowl. Coat both sides of chicken breasts with mayonnaise mixture, dividing evenly.

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Grill seasoned side down over hot coals, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn and grill until cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Let chicken stand at least 20 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch-wide juliennes.


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