Yesterday I made a dish the whole family really liked – Grilled Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Salami and Mozzarella. In addition to the meat and cheese, there was a small portion of flavored butter, using garlic and basil. The pickiest eater in my house admitted it was "actually pretty good" and cleaned his plate. That's high praise.
The recipe was kind of published in Cooks Illustrated magazine this month. I say kind of, because they did an article about stuffed chicken breasts. But this version of the recipe was only available online. It actually took a bit of work to be able to find it on their site. Even though the link published in the print magazine was to their home page, you had to poke around on "Current Issue", "Stuffed Chicken" and then the recipe variation. That sounds straight forward, but the chicken recipe is also on their home page, and if you click there you get taken to a "Subscribe here" page.
I'm quite a fan of what Cooks Illustrated publishes, and highly recommend the magazine to any level of home cook I'v.e been a subscriber since Issue 2 (they're on 105 currently). But they charge for online access even if you are a print subscriber – so I can't search for past recipes, etc. Or they write about the process used for a taste test, but won't show the results unless you're an online subscriber. Believe me, there's no way I'm paying for the same content twice.
Don't get me wrong, I love their magazine and their approach to creating awesome recipes – they challenge accepted techniques and test extensively to get them just right. But I've been pretty cranky lately, so I'm whining about another frustrating visit to their site. I'll get over it.
ANYWAY…..this was a really good recipe for a lot of reasons. Below you'll notice the phrases "multiple kinds of flavor" and "[good] proportion of ingredients". These are two of the most important aspects of higher quality cooking. Most recipes don't achieve either of those goals.
- The cooking technique specifically solves some tricky problems of grilling chicken breasts – dryness, flare-ups, multiple kinds of flavor
- It calls for skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, one of the most cost-effective ways to buy chicken. The skin is easily removed after cooking if you don't want the calories, but is a fairly important part of the cooking process.
- The proportion of ingredients is very well composed
- They shared a unique way of tying up a chicken breast (not a bad idea for stuffed breasts) – which is the fastest method I've seen ever.
- And the recipe is easily adapted to different stuffing ingredients
The variations they published were stuffed with:
- Prosciutto and Fontina, flavored with fresh tarragon
- Black Forest Ham and Gruyere, flavored with thyme and Dijon mustard
The cooking technique alone is not novel, but the combination of several steps serves very well for stuffed chicken in particular. The method is:
- Get your grill really hot (white ash charcoal piled on one side of grill, or gas grill on high 20 minutes)
- Put vegetable oil on paper towels, then using tongs, wipe the grill to create a non-stick surface
- Grill breasts skin side down on hottest part of grill for 3-5 minutes – enough to brown, but not burn
- Turn chicken over and cook on hot portion of grill 2 minutes
- Transfer skin side up to cool portion of grill (turn off 2 burners on a gas grill)
- Cook covered for 25-35 minutes, until thickest part registers 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer
You may be well versed in using this technique, known as a two-stage fire. However, there are some subtle improvements suggested here:
- Using skin-on breasts means that the skin chars up first, not the flesh, and keeps the chicken from drying out
- By using bone-in breasts, the bone at first provides a slight heat barrier, then once warm provides a bit of internal heat retention as the chicken cooks slowly. Oh, and they add more flavor too.
- Butterflying (slicing a pocket) bone-in breasts for stuffing seems easier than with boneless breasts – maybe due to extra stability
If you want to make this recipe, it's not too hard, it's a little time consuming, but the results are worth it. You can get their recipe here (but not the helpful illustrations about butterflying, building your fire and the tying method).
As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of good things about this recipe. But I have a hard time recommending a pretty time-consuming recipe that involves brining (I didn't mention that yet, did I?), butterflying and tying up poultry. So I thought I'd use the same ingredients, some of the techniques and make it into a simpler dish, and incorporate it with pasta to create an almost one-dish meal.
The recipe will be published in the next post, which I guess I'll call Pasta with Grilled Chicken, Salami and Mozzarella. Clever, huh?
[cooks cover here]
If you're interested in subscribing to Cook's Illustrated click here (and I'll get a few cents referral fee – yeah!). Some of the other good articles and recipes in their issue this month are:
- Memphis-Style Barbecued Ribs (ironic, huh?)
- Charcoal Grilled Argentine Steak with Chimichurri
- Spinach Salad with Carrot, Orange and Sesame
- Sweet Cherry Pie
- Testing Metal and Plastic Spatulas
- Diced Tomato Taste Test
- Chiles 101 – two pages of useful info on peppers