Frozen chicken breasts (Recipe: chicken ratatouille)
Call me an exhibitionist, but today, for the first time in The Perfect Pantry, I am baring my breasts.
I know what you're thinking.
Maybe she's taking that whole "food porn" thing a bit too literally?
Fear not, my breasts are absolutely G-rated, and they are an essential part of my culinary arsenal. More than any other food product, boneless, skinless frozen chicken breasts are the save-my-bacon ingredient I turn to week in and week out, whether I need to create a meal in a hurry or I'm cooking for a crowd.
Whenever I can, I buy "happy meat" from one of our local Rhode Island farms, but I always keep a bag of Empire kosher chicken breasts in the freezer. Based in Pennsylvania, Empire buys chickens from farms within an hour's drive of its plant, and processes them according to Jewish dietary laws.
What kosher means for the consumer is a guarantee of a high-quality chicken grown and slaughtered under humane conditions. What it means for the cook is amazing flavor. As part of the koshering process, Empire chickens are salted to draw out the blood, and then rinsed and dried. The salting results in a chicken breast that has great taste and is, in effect, pre-brined.
Empire chicken comes in bags of 5-6 well-trimmed breast halves, available at Costco for $8.99. You can find it also at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and several supermarket chains.
There are at least 1,001 ways to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts: in salad with tarragon mayo; grilled with curry or with lemon and capers; yakitori meatballs; garlic-fried or boursin-stuffed; in a tomato-chickpea sauce or with good old marsala; and on passionfruit pizza with bacon and mushrooms.
What's your favorite way to bare your (chicken) breasts?
A farmers' market delight, ratatouille -- a classic Provencal stewed vegetable dish -- with chicken makes a delicious main course or picnic take-along. Use fresh corn in season; otherwise, canned or frozen corn will be fine. You can omit the chicken for a vegetarian version, or add cold poached shrimp for another main dish variation. Leftovers make a great filling for sandwiches or omelets. Serves 8 as a main course.
2-3 thin Japanese eggplant, stem end trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 Tbsp or more kosher salt
1 large red-skinned or Yukon Gold potato, with skin on, cut into half-inch dice
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 green peppers, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced
2 yellow peppers, sliced
2 large tomatoes (beefsteaks are great), seeded and cut roughly into chunks
1 small can kernel corn, or the kernels from several ears, or 1 cup frozen kernels
White wine, approximately 1 cup
1-1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
Black pitted olives (small size), 1/2 cup or more to taste
Place the diced eggplant and zucchini in a colander and toss with the salt. Allow to drain for at least 30 minutes. Then, rinse and dry the vegetables.
Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large stockpot. Add chicken, and saute for 5 minutes over low-medium heat. Remove chicken and set aside. Add eggplant and zucchini to the pot, and cook uncovered, stirring to keep the eggplant from sticking, for 10 minutes or until eggplant is falling apart. You may need to add more olive oil to keep the pot from burning (and because the eggplant soaks up a lot of the oil) -- add one Tbsp at a time. Add the onions and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more. Add the peppers and tomato, and cover. After 5 minutes add the wine, oregano and pepper. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and the chicken, and cook just until the mushrooms are heated but not soggy. This should be very stew-like, with all the vegetables extremely soft. Serve at room temperature, or hot, or cold.