Keep on keeping on

{First off, a total tangent – I cannot find a good way to work it in, but I just loved this post from Tea and Cookies. Anyone else eating flowers these days? We have lots of towering, flowering arugula around here and the small, creamy-white flowers from the old plants are stunning over tender new arugula leaves, tossed with a few drops of balsamic — or sprinkled on the radishes and baby peas now appearing in the garden — the blooms echo the flavor of the arugula but are softer, and just look pretty …}

But on to what brings me here this evening. That is, chicken. And cilantro. And lime. And as Lucas would say – “Mmmmmmmm!”

Chicken is something we do around here about once a week. I am not crazy about chicken – I have to brace myself for dealing with it raw, and I just don’t ever really flip for the results, even now that I have (finally) learned some good ways to cook it without drying it out. But my husband has his meat-based food pyramid and we all need protein and Jacob has declared crisp-roasted salty chicken skin his very favorite food – and so, a weekly chicken-including dinner it is. Sometimes we roast a whole one and then Kyle gets ‘lunch meat’ for the week – but this week was two chicken breasts in a pan. More on that in a minute. 

Before we get there, I need to tell you something. A confession of sorts. That is – for a long time, I hated cilantro. Hated. Not a word I use lightly. This hating was sort of a problem for me, and not just because cilantro is the darling of fusion-cuisines state-wide or because I pride myself on my openness to all (non-meat-part) foods. It was a problem because cilantro is arguably my husband’s favorite herb. He likes it so much that I actually knew he liked it before I even met him. We argued about it before I even met him – and we worked together professionally, this was no Match.com! So you see, I wanted, really wanted, to like cilantro. But the problem remained – it tasted just like lotion to me. Lotion! Grody to the max, as we used to say. (Wait – we were the only ones who said that?!)

Long story short, he married me anyway. Then a couple years ago I read this article – which suggested that repeat cilantro exposure might offer a solution, and also that chopping cilantro might make it more palatable.

So I kept on with it, forcing myself to eat cilantro-coated, cilantro-infused, cilantro-spiked this-and-that. And as it turns out, you can (or at least, I did) learn to tolerate it, and even to like it. Now I have several cilantro-based recipes in my regular rotation – a couple favorites combine cilantro with lime, which is bright and refreshing and seems palatable even to many avowed cilantro haters (Julia Child being perhaps the most famous hater of all!).

All this to say – if I can cook chicken, with cilantro, and love it – well, you just never know what you can learn to love. And even if cilantro doesn’t ring your bell, the serving suggestion down below has a lot of other flavors going for it … so there’s that.

Happy cooking.

Lime-Cilantro Chicken
We serve this in a sort of Thai-themed, bastardized California taco, with multigrain tortillas, a mango-scallion salsa-fresca, salted avocado chunks, and coconut rice (just replace your rice’s cooking water with light coconut milk). I use a cast iron skillet here, but a grill would definitely work (you just wouldn’t get the yummy sauce), and Kyle dreams about the day we try this on steak … It is super easy and has a ton of flavor -and with the cast iron skillet method you can make a terrific pan-sauce. We have a Bearss lime tree on the patio, and our garden cilantro (yes, we now grow our own!) runs rampant and weed-like, so we use this flavor combo a lot. I cooked two boneless skinless chicken breast halves with this, since that is the amount our family eats at a sitting – but this recipe could easily double or triple, depending on the size of your pan.  

3 good-sized limes (zest and juice)
3/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Big pinch of coarse salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

About an hour before you plan to cook the chicken, mix together all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Put the chicken breasts in to the mixture, and turn several times to coat well. Let marinate, turning once or twice.

When you are ready to cook: Heat a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, put the chicken breasts into the pan (they should sizzle). Dump any extra marinade in over them. Cook for a minute or two, until the side against the pan is seared. Then flip the breasts, and cook for one more minute. Then add about two cups of warm water to the pan, reduce the heat slightly, and cover. The water should quickly come to a simmer – you are basically poaching the chicken. You don’t want a hard boil but you want the water hot enough to cook the chicken through. Let everything cook, covered and undisturbed, for about five minutes, then turn the breasts over. Let them cook five minutes more, then check for doneness (if they are very thick, you can cut them in half to speed cooking).

Once the breasts are cooked through, uncover, remove them from the pan, raise the heat, and let the liquids in the pan simmer down and reduce. You will get a lovely pan sauce for zero effort here if you just give it time to cook down – scrape the pan bottom and stir a few times, to make sure you are incorporating all those bits of marinade that stuck to the bottom :) Once the sauce is thickened to your liking, turn off the heat. Slice the chicken and return it to the pan – toss everything together.

Serve with coconut rice (see head note), avocado chunks tossed with salt and a few drops of balsamic, homemade tortillas, some mango-scallion salsa*, and some shredded cabbage –  you can host your very own taco-fusion party.

(If you want, you can even listen to Kermit sing about limes and coconuts mixed together!)

* Mangos are everywhere these days in our shops … they are definitely not local to me, but we keep finding ourselves with one or two … this is a nice, simple way to use them. Just peel, dice, and mix with a few chopped scallions, a couple teaspoons of orange juice, and a dash of white balsamic vinegar. 

2 thoughts on “Keep on keeping on

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