Perfect (Indoor) Grilled Chicken

Grilled = leather.

First off, I’m not talking about artful, experienced charcoal grilling, or even lighting up the gas grill.  I’m not talking about butterflied, bone-in, skin-on cuts of chicken. I’m definitely not talking about brined cuts of meat.  I’m talking about what happens in home kitchens on busy weeknights when the sun is gone by the time you get home — the Foreman Grilling of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts.  That last-minute, indoor staple of modern life.

The fact is that it’s hard to cook lean meat without drying it out. You want those nice dark grill marks and smoky flavor but if you grill that un-marinated, boneless, skinless chicken breast for too long you’re going to feel like you’re eating footwear.

There is a way to have both grilled flavor and juicy meat. It’s not voodoo. You just have to learn rethink what it means “to grill.”

Step 1:
Get rid of your Foreman Grill.  Why?  It will never get hot enough to make good grill marks quickly or give good grilled flavor.  It’s too hard to clean anyway, despite what the ads say.  If you put a piece of salmon on it, it’s going to smell like salmon fat for a week.

Step 2:
Buy a cast-iron grill pan.  Pre-seasoned so it’s non-stick (naturally).  They’re cheap.  I’ve seen them as low as $20 at Target.  Easy to clean, easy to maintain, can be put in the oven, and it may outlive you.

Step 3:
Buy an instant-read thermometer. Use it to cook your chicken to 165F internal.  Ignore the 185F advised by your meat thermometer’s markings–that’s a total lie.  According to my local health department, chicken is safe at 165F.  That’s one reason that restaurant chicken is juicy and yours isn’t.

An instant-read cannot stay in the oven while the meat cooks, but most chicken breasts are too small to accommodate the thick stem of a standard meat thermometer anyway.  Just pull the chicken out, stick the stem of the instant-read into the thickest part, and wait for the temp to stabilize.  As the name suggests, it won’t take long.

Step 4:
Buy decent chicken.  Organic is great, “all-natural” is good.  Even if you can’t afford the free-range bird, go for the brand with the least water (and other crap) injected into it.

Step 5:
Don’t grill the chicken all the way. Use the pan for lovely grill marks and flavor but finish it in the oven. The oven provides the steady, even, all-enveloping heat that will cook the meat to temp without drying it out.

Perfect (Indoor) Grilled Chicken

boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil, for rubbing
instant read thermometer

Preheat oven to 375F.  Preheat grill pan over high heat.  It’s Ok if your pan starts to smoke. Turn on your exhaust fan.

Rub chicken with just enough oil to lightly coat.

Season your chicken with salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs.

Grill chicken for 1.5 minutes per side.  No more.  Do not move the chicken while it’s grilling – you’ll only get good grill marks if you let the meat stay in constant contact with the pan.

Move the pan to the oven.  (Or, if you need to grill more than one batch, remove already grilled chicken to a baking dish or pan.)  Bake 8-10 minutes or until the internal temp is 165F as measured by your thermometer.  Remove chicken from the hot pan immediately to avoid overcooking.

Delicata with Rosemary and Red Chile

Winter squashes are taunting you, right?

They are gorgeous, but what on earth do you do with them? And even if you try a recipe, the thick inedible skins, the goopy guts, and inconsistent sizing are often just enough of a barrier to keep you from cooking them regularly.

Butternuts are the most common and are sweet and tasty. The cylindrical tops are easy to peel by running your knife down the sides and the resulting skinned flesh is easy to dice. However, the round bottoms require a lot more effort without much payoff. Once you take the goop out and try to peel a curved surface, there’s not much flesh there. When we need a lot of butternut squash at work and we’re short on time (always), I wind up only using the tops. A small army of bottoms always comes home with me and looms in my refrigerator, taking up space that rightfully belongs to beer. I know I should just scoop them and roast them, but honestly, I don’t want to turn on the oven for only a little yield. I find it all too depressing. Especially when I think of what I paid for those bottoms. I hate to admit that they often get old and funky (and disposed of) before I get around to them.

Delicata, the striped oblong squash, is the low-maintenance squash. Its pale flesh is still sweet but the thin skin is totally edible. Its shape makes prep especially easy. If you slice it into half-moons, the curved exterior doesn’t result in a bunch of crazy cuts that won’t cook uniformly. If you’re not so good with a knife, this is the squash for you.

And once roasted, it looks fabulous still wearing its stripes.

Roasted Delicata with Rosemary and Red Chile
A hit of herb and heat add just the right notes to delicata’s tender, sweet flesh. I love to eat the leftovers cold, with my fingers, straight out of the bowl.

Serves 4 to 6

2 medium delicata squash
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. fresh rosemary, minced, or to taste
dried red chile flakes, to taste
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 450F.  Line a baking sheet with foil (if you hate doing dishes).  Lightly grease.

To prep squash:  Trim and discard the ends.  Cut squash lengthwise.  Use a sturdy spoon to scrape out seeds and goop.  Place the flat, cut sides down on your cutting board and slice into half moons, 1/2″ thick.

Toss squash with minced rosemary, red chile, salt, and pepper.  Lay flat on the baking sheet in one layer.

Roast for 15 minutes or until fork tender and lightly browned.