Friday, September 25, 2009

Pan-Seared Chicken with Tomato Chutney

One of the worst things you can do to chicken is to overcook it. That is especially true of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. However, due to the risk of food-borne illness, you must thoroughly cook your poultry. This leaves you with a razor-thin line: fully cooked, but not overcooked. I avoid dry, tasteless chicken by using a hybrid method: 1) Sear the chicken's outside over high heat. 2) Make a sauce using the fond created by the searing process. 3) Slowly finish cooking the chicken in the sauce. This method has many advantages: searing brings flavor, slower finishing makes it hard to overcook, and cooking in the sauce enhances flavor and moisture. Make sure to use an instant-read thermometer several times during the last few minutes of cooking to ensure your chicken is safe to eat, but not dried out.

  • 3 tablespoons Canola oil, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of any excess fat or rib meat
  • 1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
  • the zest of one lemon
  • the juice of half a lemon (i.e. the one you just zested)
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup green pepper, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small granny smith apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly salt them on both sides. Heat 2 tablespoons of the Canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until it just starts to smoke. Lay the chicken breasts in the pan, spread out as much as possible. Sear without moving or stirring in any way for 3-5 minutes, or until the breasts have fully released from the pan on their own and have a deep golden crust (if you do this with sufficient oil and a hot enough pan, it will not burn, however you may want to use a splatter guard). Flip, searing for another 2-3 minutes, Remove from the pan, put on a plate covered with foil and set aside. Immediately reduce heat to medium to prevent the fond from burning.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Saute the onions and green pepper for 3-5 minutes, until the peppers are crisp-tender and the onion is softened. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds to a minute, until it becomes fragrant and has lost its raw bite (do not overcook it). Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes, scraping any brown fond off the bottom of the pan. Add the apples, lemon zest, brown sugar, cinnamon, red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Nestle the chickens into the chutney as deeply as possible (pouring any collected juices back into the pan), bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the chickens have reached an internal temperature of 155-160 degrees. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or couscous.

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