- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

There are many good reasons why skinless, boneless breast is the wonder of the chicken world. In the words of Richard Lobb, who is something of an authority on the matter: “It’s easy to cook. It cooks quickly. It’s hard to ruin. And you can eat it without looking at it.” This last comment refers to the idea that we need not watch what we are eating while we are eating.

Because skinless, boneless breast has no bone, skin or fatty bits to remove, we can cut it and eat it while watching television or talking on the phone.

It’s funny to think that skinless, boneless breast hasn’t always been around. When it was introduced in the mid-1970s, says Mr. Lobb, director of communications for the National Chicken Council, a nonprofit trade association, no one thought it would sell. But by the 1980s, Mr. Lobb says, skinless, boneless was big.

This makes sense. Studies indicate that boning chicken breast ourselves doesn’t really save much money. What with all the other projects we have to do now that we didn’t used to (self-service was supposed to save us time), is it surprising that many have embraced skinless, boneless as the hurry-up way to cook? Even those who prefer the cooking properties and flavors of chicken in skin have to admire the effortlessness of skinless, boneless.

Chicken breast has been a growing American passion for a while, and not just because of mad-cow scares every now and again. Chicken is high on nutrition and low on fat, especially the white meat and particularly when the skin is removed.



The U.S. Department of Agriculture says about three ounces of chicken breast without skin contains 165 calories, 3.6 grams of fat and 31 grams of protein. This fits in a healthy way into the USDA recommendation that the average sedentary adult with a diet of 1,600 calories a day consume two to three servings of meat and 36 grams of fat. And then there’s the no-carb characteristic, but we won’t encourage you in that one.

It’s obviously not just about health. In 2004, an estimated 8.8 billion pounds of breast sold retail in the United States, 60 to 80 percent of which was skinless and boneless. Not even adding in all those chicken nuggets vended by fast-food chains and sold frozen, it’s a huge amount of chicken.

This leaves us with the much less popular, and therefore cheaper, dark meat, one-third of which is exported to (in this order) Russia, China, Hong Kong and Mexico. (As an aside, Mr. Lobb says chicken legs nicknamed “Bush legs” for former President George H.W. Bush became popular in Russia after the United States shipped tons of them there as humanitarian aid in the early 1990s. So maybe good deeds do pay off on occasion.)

Much of this cut’s appeal must be its versatility. Check out the National Chicken Cooking Contest winners from years gone by at www.chickencookingcontest.com. A good selection of chicken breast recipes prevail.

Even beyond the world of rotisserie chicken — the current hottie of the chicken world — skinless, boneless is a huge growth item that is popping up in a variety of new styles, including individually packaged breast halves and those that are pre-seasoned with spices and marinades.

There are a couple of things to remember when cooking boneless, skinless chicken breast. Because the fat content is low, it tends to dry out quickly. So preparations that involve marinating or simmering showcase it at its best.

If working with chicken tenders — thin wedges of chicken breast — the cooking time will vary greatly from the big, thick breasts of 6 to 8 ounces each that are the current fashion. The same is true of marinating time. The more time, the better marinated for thick breast pieces.

Whether pre-treated or made from scratch, boneless, skinless is dinner without fussing, as is evident in the recipes that follow.

None should be attempted after work, though, when primal urges are propelling us toward dinner and inhibiting patience.

That’s where already-cooked rotisserie chicken comes to the rescue.

These dishes are best made on the weekend or on weekday mornings, when we’re not driving a car pool to school before work.

Chicken with cinnamon couscous

3 tablespoons canola oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons dried parsley

Salt and white pepper

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Cinnamon couscous (recipe follows)

2 lemons, halved

In a lidded plastic dish large enough to hold chicken, whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, dried parsley, salt and lots of white pepper to taste. Add chicken and turn so that it is covered with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. (I do this in the morning before work, and it is ready to cook for dinner.)

When ready to eat, make cinnamon couscous and grill the chicken and lemons, cut side down for lemons, until chicken is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes on an outside grill, or 2 to 5 minutes on a George Foreman or other contact grill.

The time will vary with the thickness of the chicken and the intensity of the heat. Cut into center of the thickest piece to see if it is done.

When cooked through, cut chicken into slices and serve atop cinnamon couscous with grilled lemons on the side to sprinkle over.

Makes 4 servings.

CINNAMON COUSCOUS:

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup couscous

1/4 cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or cilantro

1 tomato, chopped for garnish, optional

Bring broth, oil, vinegar, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a medium nonstick saucepan.

Turn off heat, add couscous, stir, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Add almonds and parsley or cilantro, and fluff with a fork. Garnish with tomato, if desired.

Peanut chicken

You will need wooden skewers (soaked in water for 30 minutes before grilling) or metal skewers for this recipe.

6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

Juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fresh mint sprigs and cherry tomatoes for garnish

Cooked brown or white rice

Cut breast halves lengthwise into thirds or quarters.

Mince garlic and mint in food processor. Add peanut butter, oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar and cayenne pepper to taste to processor, and blend.

Pour half of sauce over chicken; marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 1 hour or overnight. (I do this in the morning before work, and it is ready to cook for dinner.) Cover and refrigerate remaining sauce.

Thread chicken onto skewers and grill or broil until done, 4 to 6 minutes. Heat remaining peanut sauce over very low heat or in microwave. (It may separate if heated too quickly. If this happens, stir to remix.) Serve with rice and peanut sauce for dipping. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Oven-fried Indian chicken

This recipe is adapted from Rafiq’s oven-fried chicken, a recipe created by a friend.

Nonstick cooking spray

2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

4 tablespoons cold butter

1 cup uncooked rice

3/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional

1 lemon, cut in wedges, optional

Mist a 3-quart oven-proof baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Bring chicken broth to a boil. Turn off heat but keep warm.

In a bowl, mix together curry powder, paprika, cinnamon, garlic powder, cayenne and salt, and dredge chicken pieces in spice mix until thoroughly coated.

Place coated pieces in baking dish. Cut butter into pieces and sprinkle over chicken.

Bake uncovered in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from casserole, cover to keep warm, and set aside.

Add rice, peas and 13/4 cups hot broth to baking dish.

Return it to oven, then bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until rice is tender. (Add remaining 1/4 cup broth to rice if required to keep it from drying out during baking.) Stir peas into hot rice and let sit for a minute so that peas heat through.

To serve, mound rice onto a serving platter and top with hot chicken breasts.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges for sprinkling over, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Chicken with rosemary

This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet.

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1/2 cup white wine

1 14.5-ounce can chicken broth

2 tablespoons fresh, chopped rosemary

1/2 6-ounce can tomato paste (about 5 tablespoons)

Salt and pepper

Cooked pasta, rice or green beans

Heat oil in large frying pan; saute garlic about 1 minute to soften. Add chicken; saute until chicken is browned a little on both sides.

Add wine, chicken broth, rosemary, tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer 30 minutes. Sauce will be reduced by about one-half.

Serve with pasta, rice or green beans. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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