Paleo Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken — My FAVORITE Chicken Marinade

There is this middle-eastern restaurant near me that makes a fabulous chicken shwarma dish with whole grilled chicken breasts.  The chicken is always super juicy and has such a great flavor with a hint of lemon and garlic.  I halfheartedly tried to copy it once or twice, but didn’t have much success.  A few weeks ago I stumbled across a yogurt based lemon and garlic marinade that sounded promising.  I omitted the yogurt to make it paleo friendly, and changed some of the seasonings around to suit my tastes a bit more.  The result was something pretty fabulous (if I do say so myself).  It was actually pretty close to the restaurant chicken, but even better!

I let my chicken sit in the marinade for 24 hours.  You could possibly do less, but the salt in the marinade brines the chicken, making it super moist and helping draw the flavors into the chicken.   If you are going to try for a shorter time, I’d give it at least several hours.  If you have the time, do yourself a favor and let it sit all night.  There is nothing remotely subtle about the resulting flavors here.  The lemon takes center stage and the resulting flavor is bright and bold and the fresh ground black pepper gives it a little kick.  Perfect for summertime!   A teaspoon of salt sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t come out overly salty and the salt brines the chicken to perfection.

Ingredients:

1.5 to 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (feel free to use bone-in pieces or other parts as you desire)

Marinade:

1 Tbsp Lemon Zest (about 1 medium lemon)

1/2 Lemon, juiced

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

4-6 Cloves Garlic, Crushed

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Pepper

Sprig of Fresh Rosemary

Few Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Directions:

Add dry marinade ingredients to a gallon size zip lock bag (or lidded Tupperware container) and then add the wet ones.  Squish them around to mix up a bit and add chicken.  Seal bag and squish bag (or shake container) to thoroughly cover chicken.   Chuck it in the refrigerator and forget about it for 24 hours — Unless you are the overly attentive type, then you can go shake, flip, or squish your chicken a couple of times while waiting.  I just let mine sit and it came out fine.

Pre-heat grill on high for about 10 minutes (or until hot).  Reduce heat to medium.  Using tongs, place chicken on grill (using a fork will poke holes in the meat and let some of the juices out, making drier chicken).  Let sit 5 minutes.  Flip chicken breasts with tongs and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Smaller thinner breasts should be done at this point.  The larger breasts stayed on the grill and cooked for an additional 3 minutes per side.  Check chicken with a meat thermometer or slice into the thickest part of the breast and see if its done.

I served it with steamed broccoli and sweet potato hash browns.  I’ll be posting the sweet potato recipe next.

Paleo Stuffed Chicken Breast with Dates, Capers, Bacon & a Walnut Crust

Some days you just feel like a culinary genius.  Today was one of those days!   Nothing super fancy — just chicken, but have you ever tried to come up with a chicken recipe that you have never tried before.  Not the easiest thing to do. Chicken is so ubiquitous  that it’s pretty much all been done.  I’m not claiming that I’m the first person in the thousands of years that man has been eating chicken to try this combination of flavors, but I’ve never seen it, and as far as my taste buds are concerned, that’s all that matters.   What is my masterpiece, you ask.  It is a boneless skinless chicken breast stuffed with dates, capers, and bacon.  To top it off I added a chopped walnut crust.   In theory it sounded good, but I was a little nervous about how the flavors would blend in the finished product.  No worries, it was as good as I had hoped!  I like the combination of walnuts and dates, but you could also use pecans or maybe pistachios too.

This dish will be a little sweet, but is balanced by the salty capers and bacon.  I recommend simple sides with this like steamed broccoli or mashed cauliflower.

Before getting to the recipe, a quick word about dates…

One of my Christmas cookie specialties (and the family favorite) is a date and nut pinwheel cookie.  My grandma’s recipe called for finely chopped dates.  If you have never worked with dates I will warn you — dates are sticky.  Chopping them by hand the way grandma did was a nightmare.  I did it exactly once, and then I bought a food processor.   A food processor works much better, but you still have a sticky bowl and blade to scrape and clean.  My world changed when I found pre-chopped dates —- more of a date paste really —- at a middle eastern market.  If you can find these in a store or market near you, DEFINITELY go this route.  At my market, I get a pack for $1.99.  It contains a cup of paste —- enough for 4 to 6 chicken breasts.   I’m not even sure I can buy whole dates that cheaply.  Cheap and easy.  Win win.

For my non-paleo or dairy eating friends — I really like Manchego cheese with dates and think it would be fabulous sliced thin and added to the stuffing in these.  It is a harder cheese and doesn’t melt well, so avoid using big chunks.

Ingredients:

     1.)  4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

     2.)  1 cup +/- date paste or finely chopped dates (amount will vary depending on how big your breasts are.  Actually, the size of your breasts is irrelevant, it’s the chicken’s that count.)

     3.)  4 tsp capers (could probably go a little heavier if you’d like)

     4.)  6 to 8 strips of bacon

     5.)  salt and pepper to taste

      6.) 1 egg –  lightly beaten

     7.)  1-1/3 c walnuts – Coarsely chopped  (the measurement is before chopping the nuts)

Directions:

Pound the chicken breasts to a relatively uniform thickness.  Put each breast, one at a time, between a couple of sheets of waxed paper to keep chicken juices and pieces from flying everywhere.  Then whack the crap out of it using a meat hammer, rolling-pin, or other weapon of choice (I personally have a heavy ice cream scoop I prefer) until the breast thickness is relatively uniform.  Feel free to take this time to work out some stress.  If you reduce the chicken to pulp, you may want to look into Prozac.

Salt and pepper both sides of each breast.

Spread with a thin layer of the date paste or chopped dates.  There is nothing magic about the amount, just avoid big globs.  Spread with the back of a spoon and work with fingers as needed.   Top with a teaspoon or so of capers.  (I used a tsp but may go a bit heavier next time).

 

 Add bacon to pretty much cover the chicken.  I used about a strip and a half for each medium-sized breast.  For larger chicken breast you could probably easily use two strip.

 

I probably should have mentioned this before but, have a supply of toothpicks out on the counter so you don’t have to reach into the box with chicken-y hands.  I’ll just leave this comment here and see how many of you read the recipe through before you start cooking.

Start at one end and roll chicken breast keeping things tucked in.   Secure with toothpicks  to hold its shape.  I like to tuck the sides as well to keep all the good bits inside and cover with chicken.

Brush the outside of your chicken roll with egg and roll in the  nuts to cover (don’t forget the sides!).  If you have any nuts left over at the end, feel free to touch up spots you missed.

Bake uncovered at 325 degrees until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before serving.  Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Yourself Some — Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast

Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring against you.  That is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately — at least as pertains to leftover turkey.  Thanksgiving went by and no leftovers got sent home with me.  I got a second chance at Christmas, but proceeded to forget my take-home bag in my hosts’ fridge.  Bah!  So, I buy my own freaking turkey breast and stashed it in my dad’s freezer until I came back to town and could make it for us.  He gets hungry and decides to cook it — without me.  Apparently it was good.  Sigh.

Do I give up? Never!  I picked up a fresh turkey breast yesterday and scurried it into the house under cover of night.  Mine.  All mine.  Ha ha ha ha!

I was going to just chuck it in the oven when I realized that I now have the knowledge to do better — or at least give it the old college try.  I dug out my new cookbook “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art” by Molly Stevens, and flipped to “Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast”.  This recipe needs some pre-planning because the breast is rubbed with a herb paste and allowed to sit for 6 to 24 hours to allow it to be properly dry salted.

 Dry salted?  What the heck is that? Before I get into that, let’s talk for a minute about wet salting — a.k.a. brining.  I never really understood what it was.  It seemed to be a thing guys did before grilling.  I hate to admit it, but I assumed it was just a trendy guy thing to do that didn’t really do a lot.  My bad.  It actually is a useful technique.  Brining involves soaking meat in a salt solution, often flavored with herbs as well.  By the principles of osmosis (do not fret, there won’t be a quiz at the end) the solution on the outside of the meat has a higher concentration of sodium than the inside of the meat and so the salted water migrates into the meat, both flavoring it and adding extra water resulting in a flavorful moist hunk o’ meat after cooking.

While brining has its uses, Ms. Stevens usually prefers dry salting meat.  Her opinion is that brining draws water into the meat thus diluting the natural juices of the meat and reducing the intensity of the natural meat flavors.  Dry salting involves rubbing the meat with salt (and often other herbs and spices).  The salt will initially draw moisture out of the meat.  On the surface this seems to be a bad thing (less moisture equals dry meat, right?), however, the salt on the surface begins to dissolve in the liquid drawn from the meat.  The meat is then coated in a salt solution.  Just like brining, the liquid is drawn back into the meat (there’s that darn osmosis thing again), taking the salt and other flavorings with it.  Unlike brining, the moisture is all natural juice from the meat, resulting in a more flavorful undiluted meaty juice.   In addition, during the process, the protein structure unravels a bit making the meat more tender.  The salt also helps keep the juices in the meat making it juicier — If I remember my chemistry right there is an ion-dipole attraction there, forming a weak attraction between the Sodium ions and the water molecules.   Are your eyes glazing over yet?  That’s the last of the science, I promise.  However, being a science geek, I am now totally a fan of brining (either wet or dry).

The turkey in this recipe gets rubbed with a paste composed of garlic, salt, sage, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and celery seed (which I didn’t use because I didn’t have any) and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours to let the salt (and osmosis) do its magic.  The result was a flavorful juicy roast.  It may have been a smidge salty for my taste (I traditionally don’t salt much, so I’m fairly sensitive to the flavor), but not bad and the overall flavor was quite nice. My roast was also smaller, so I could have used a little less salt and still had good results.  Definitely give it a try.  The same rub would work well on chicken too.  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic

1-1/4 tsp kosher salt

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme  (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary  (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp celery seed (I omitted because I don’t have any)

1 boneless turkey breast with skin (about 2.5 lb)  (I used a bone-in half breast that weighed about 2.5 pounds).

Directions:

1.)  Herb Paste – Combine garlic and salt into a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a smooth (more or less) paste.  Transfer to a small bowl.  Add 2 Tbsp oil, herbs, pepper, and celery seed.  Stir to blend.

2.) Smear paste on turkey breast.  Be sure to get some under the skin.  If using a boneless breast, you may want to tie the roast in two or three places with kitchen string to hold it in a cylindrical roast shape.  Place roast on a tray and refrigerate, preferably uncovered, for 6 to 24 hours.

Herb Rub on Turkey Breast All Tucked in for a 24 Hr Rest

3.) Allow roast to sit for an hour at room temperature before roasting.  (I was cooking this during the week and didn’t have the time, so I omitted this step.  Plus, in December, my kitchen is cool and my roast doesn’t warm that fast.)

4.) Heat oven to 300 degrees.  While oven heats, add 1 Tbsp oil to skillet and heat on Med-high heat.  When oil is hot, sear the turkey breast skin side down, maneuvering and turning it with tongs so that the skin side sears evenly, about 6 minutes.  Turn turkey skin side up and brown lightly on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer turkey skin side up to a shallow roasting pan or baking dish not much larger than it is. (I used a rack, but I apparently didn’t need to — I should read the recipe closer.  Although, it turned out fine with the rack.)

Seared Turkey Breast Before Roasting

5.) Roast turkey inside the oven until the internal temperature at the thickest part is 165 degrees, about 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hours.  (My new leave-in thermometer came in handy!)  Let turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Finished! Crispy Skin. Juicy meat. Yum Yum Yum!

I served this with a simple medley of roasted root veggies (sweet potato, turnips, and beets).  Cut up veggies, toss with olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Roast uncovered at 400 degrees till lightly browned and centers are tender (about 30 minutes).  Turn once with tongs midway through cooking for even browning. (Beets cook slower than turnips and sweet potatoes.  They are cut smaller so everything gets done at the same time).

Roasted sweet potatoes, beets, and turnips.

Moroccan Chicken with Cinnamon Spiked Dried Plums – Crock Pot & Stove Top Versions

Moroccan Chicken with Cinnamon Spiked Prunes

Here’s a modified version of a recipe that hasn’t graced my table for a couple of years.  I don’t know why; I really liked it.  The original recipe comes from “The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook”, however, by simply omitting the couscous, this is paleo.  This time around I decided to use a whole chicken rather than chicken breasts.  I was also curious to see how it would work in a crock pot, so I gave it a whirl.  I am happy with the results.

The cinnamon spiked dried plums really give this dish its flavor.   Dried Plums by any other name are just prunes, but dried plums sounds so much more appetizing! The cinnamon spiked fruit makes for a sweet and flavorful sauce — and if it helps keep you regular, extra bonus!   This recipe is for the crock pot variation I made tonight.  I’ll also include the stove-top directions below the crock pot recipe if you prefer to try that.

Ingredients:

1 cup pitted prunes

1 tsp cinnamon (I recommend fresh ground if you have a spice grinder)

1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds) – rinsed and patted dry

3 onions – halved and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic – minced

2 Tbsp fresh ginger root – minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp black pepper (fresh ground recomended)

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 tsp saffron threads disolved in 2 Tbsp boiling water

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp allspice for rubbing on chicken (optional)

Toasted sliced almonds (optional)

Directions:

The cinnamon spiked prunes are made separately.  You can make them the night before or while reducing  the broth from the crock pot.

In a saucepan, combine the prunes and cinnamon and cover with cold water (Only add enough water to cover the prunes).   Bring to boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until prunes are soft and water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.  Set prunes aside (can be made the night before and stored in the fridge). ( FYI:  When I made this, I increased amount of prunes to 1.5 cups, but found it to be too much.  Stick with the 1 cup recommended in the recipe)

Prunes & Cinnamon

Place onions in the bottom of the crock pot.  Add garlic, ginger, cumin, salt, papper, cayenne, lemon zest, lemon juice, and saffron liquid.

Ingredients in the crock pot & ready for the chicken.

Place chicken on top of onions and spices.  Rub the allspice (optional) on the top of the chicken to give it a little color and a little extra flavor.  Crock pot contents can be assembled in the pot the night before and stored in the fridge until morning.  No need to add any liquid.  The chicken will make plenty of broth.

Allspice rubbed on top of chicken adds color and a little extra flavor.

Cook in the crock pot on low for 8 hours.  Remove cooked chicken from crock pot.  It’ll probably fall apart.  Be sure to remove all of the bones and chicken. Cover plate of chicken with foil to keep warm.

For the sauce:  Transfer contents of the crockpot (broth and onions) into a skillet or saucepan.  Cook on medium-high heat to reduce the liquid by about one-third to one-half depending on how thick you like your sauce.  Add the reserved cinnamon prunes and heat through. Spoon sauce over the chicken, garnish with almonds (optional), and serve.

—————————————————————————————————-

Stove-top Version

If you prefer to use chicken breasts (either bone-in or boneless) you can use the following stove-top directions.  Cooking time will be much less for boneless skinless chicken.

In addition to the ingredients above, you will also need 1 Tbsp of cocnut or olive oil and 1-1/2 cups of reduced sodium chicken stock.  In place of the whole chicken, use 2 pounds of skin-on bone-in chicken breasts or about 1.25 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts.

Directions:

Prepare the prunes as for the crock pot version above.

In skillet, heat oil in pan over medium heat.  Add chicken, in batches if necessary, and cook, turning once, until browned.  Transfer to a plate.

Add onions to skillet and cook until they begin to brown.  Add garlic, ginger, cumin, salt, lemon zest, cayenne, and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add lemon juice, chicken stock, and saffron liquid.  Bring to boil.  Return chicken to pan, skin side up.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through (25 to 40 minutes).  Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frquently, until mixture is reduced by 1/3.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add honey and stir well.  Add reserved prunes and cook until heated through.  Return chicken to pan, cover, and heat through.

Plate and garnish with almonds if desired.