L.A. may be pretty close to seasonless, but, it being summer, I still find myself gravitating toward lighter proteins suitable for grilling or pan frying rather than crock pot and roasting fare. Thus, when it came time to replenish our Costco supply of chicken for the freezer, we opted for boneless chicken breasts rather than bone-in chicken thighs. Now, chicken breast may be one of the most stereotypical health food proteins on the face of the planet. Everyone claims to prefer white meat, and I have to say that I am skeptical. White meat chicken doesn’t have that much flavor on its own, and it is very easy to overcook, rendering it tough and tasteless. Dark meat is much more forgiving in that regard. However, white meat can delicious if you cook it properly and give it a bit of help in the flavor department. This is a variant on one of my favorite ways to cook chicken breast. It’s healthy and light, but still hearty, it uses ingredients that are generally available all year round, and the flavors just burst in your mouth.
For the chicken: put one chicken breast in a heavy ziploc bag along with some strong mustard (Dijon is good), fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Give it a good squish in the bag so that it is well coated. Let it sit for as long as you can, but it’ll be fine if you have to proceed directly to the next step, which is to pound the chicken (still in the bag) with a mallet, a pan, or your fists. This means more surface area for the yummy mustard sauce and means that the chicken will take less time to cook through and will be unlikely to dry out.
Next, heat a pan (not non-stick) until it is very hot, add a touch of canola oil to the pan and add the chicken. Resist the urge to move the chicken once you’ve put it in the pan. When the white cooked part of the chicken has crept all the way up the sides of the meat and is just starting in on the top, flip it over.
For the veggies: Sauté the carrots in a little canola oil until slightly softened, then add shredded cabbage and continue to cook until the veggies are done to your liking. Season with salt pepper. I like to flavor the veggies with sherry vinegar and a touch of honey, which gives a great sweet and sour flavor profile that really compliments the mustard and thyme. If you’re making this dish in winter when fresh herbs are not available, you can omit the honey, vinegar and thyme, and use a dash of nutmeg for flavor instead.
Serve the chicken hot on top of a pile of the sauteed cabbage. I garnished with a bit of fresh parsley because I have lots on hand and it adds color to the plate, but it’ll taste just fine without it. Enjoy!
A local food note on my poultry: the chicken that we purchased at Costco is from a regional brand that uses locally raised birds. So my chicken is consistent with our local eating challenge.
One thing that is fascinating about poultry is that it is one of the only types of meat that generally comes labeled with a brand name. Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Foster Farms, Zacky, Perdue, Jennie-O…the big names all stamp their names across their packages. They advertise. You can go to their websites and learn at least a little bit about their products. Red meat and fish, on the other hand, generally come in generic packages, except for deli meat and canned tuna and a handful of specialty organic brands.
On the one hand, you can lament the fact that people are pouring advertising dollars into a food as basic as chicken. I however, love that poultry is a branded product. Why? It means that I, as a consumer, have some choice about where I get my poultry from. People like to lump all big producers into one big pile, but there are some real differences between them. I may not like everything about my preferred poultry brand, but I do like that it is a brand that emphasizes quality rather than bottom dollar. I do like that it’s local, not injected with salt water, and is consistently fresher than other poultry brands I’ve tried. It takes some homework to learn about the business practices of a poultry company, but its a lot easier than trying to trace that piece of generic shrink-wrapped steak at the grocery store.
If you are a meat eater, are you loyal to particular brands of poultry, or do you go with what is available or on sale? If you are vegetarian, do you tend to trust particular brands when it comes to food in general?