April 12, 2005
We all need easy and healthy meals that can be whipped up in very little time (and even less planning) for a week-end lunch or a weeknight dinner, without sacrificing taste or feeling like you're slapping ready-made stuff together. So I thought I'd share the very very simple lunch we had last Saturday.
I'm sure you've noticed how the way you cut your vegetables affects their taste, giving them different textures and causing them to cook in different ways depending on the surface that's exposed to the heatsource. Zucchini is a good example because it lends itself to myriads of possible shapes that I like to play with: half-moons, dice, thick slices, super-thin slices, teeny matchsticks, tagliatelle or papardelle-like ribbons, or today's little sticks.
As for chicken breasts (blancs de poulet in French, literally chicken whites), I hardly ever buy them because they are so ubiquitous and boring and it feels so easy to overcook and ruin them -- thus reproducing one of the most famous dishes in the history of cinema, "Shoe Sole à la Chaplin". But I made an exception the other day at the (gasp!) grocery store, buying two organic chicken breasts that actually managed to look engaging through the plastic shrink wrap.
What I did with them was exceedingly simple: I just rubbed them with the Bed of Roses spice mix I mentioned before, headily full-flavored and slightly spicy, throwing in a few extra red pepper flakes because I like spicy. Of course, this would work beautifully with other spice rubs and mixes too, including tandoori and curry. The meat was left in the fridge for the chicken to absorb the flavors while I worked on my zucchini sticks.
Exceedingly simple, yet something I had never really realized was that easy, or that good: these little chicken un-nuggets were delightfully moist -- I kept as close an eye on them as I could without burning my retina -- and the spice coating formed a thin aromatic crust, making the whole thing look mouth-watering and taste delicious.
Chicken & Zucchini
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (the best quality you can afford)
- 4 small zucchini (choose firm ones, free of blemishes and uniformly green)
- the spice rub of your choice (I used Bed of Roses and red pepper flakes)
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme
- olive oil
- salt, pepper
Rinse the chicken breasts under cold water. Trim the little white parts, and cut the chicken in one-inch pieces -- not too small, otherwise they will dry up as they cook. In a small mixing-bowl, combine the chicken pieces with a tablespoon of olive oil and a rounded tablespoon of spice rub. Sprinkle with salt if desired (and if the spice mix doesn't already contain some). Use your hands or a fork to coat the pieces evenly. Add in more spice if needed (this depends on the strength and spiciness of the mix you're using: I use roughly 2 Tbsp of mine). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and reserve in the fridge (this could be prepared up to a day ahead).
Clean your cutting board thoroughly (or better yet, use a different one for poultry and veggies). Rinse the zucchini and trim the ends. Slice one zucchini vertically in two, then slice each half in two vertically again, and again for each quarter. This will get you eight long sticks of zucchini. Cut these sticks in two or three equal chunks to get smaller sticks. Repeat with the rest of the zucchini.
Heat some olive oil over high heat in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add in the zucchini and thyme, stir to coat, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 20 minutes or until the zucchini is cooked to your taste and slightly golden in places. Remove the lid for the last five minutes.
About ten minutes into the cooking of the zucchini, take the chicken out from the fridge. Put another skillet over medium-high heat and drop in the chicken when the pan is hot. Cook for about ten minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through (preferably with those super handy stainless steel tongs) until they are nicely golden outside and no longer pink inside (you may want to cut a little slit through one to check). Don't overcook or you'll get no-good little chicken rocks.
Serve immediately (serve the zucchini with a slotted spoon so the cooking water stays in the pan).
Zucchini and Chicken Salad with Raspberry Vinegar
Zucchini Noodle Salad
Zucchini Pasta with Almonds and Lemon Zest