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Don’t be chicken to try this lighter take on a barbecued favorite

  • Associated Press
  • Published Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at 6:27 a.m.

EASY BAKED BARBECUED CHICKEN BREASTS

This barbecue sauce can be as flavorful as you like. For the adobo sauce and garlic, start with the lower amounts, then taste and adjust to your preference.

Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active)

Makes 4 servings.

1/2 cup ketchup

1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)

2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar, or to taste

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts without the filet (a total of 2 to 3 breasts, each about 3/4 to 1 inch thick)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, adobo sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Line a shallow baking dish with foil, leaving enough excess to generously overhang the sides. Spread half of the sauce on the foil in an area just the size of the chicken breasts. Arrange the breasts on top of the sauce and spoon the remaining sauce over them. Bring the edges of the foil up and over the chicken and fold it to enclose them. Bake the breasts on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, thyme, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Saute until light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

After the chicken has baked for 20 minutes, open the foil and spoon any sauce that has fallen off the chicken back on top of it. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the chicken. Continue baking, uncovered, until the chicken is just cooked through, another 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Carefully slice the chicken, then divide between 4 serving plates, spooning any sauce and crumbs that have fallen off over the chicken slices.

Per serving: 240 calories; 45 calories from fat (19 percent of total calories); 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 28 g protein; 750 mg sodium.

THE WICHITA EAGLE — May 14, 2013

Barbecued chicken is one of my favorite summertime dishes. I like every part of it: the tomato-based sauce (the spicier, the better), the crispy skin, even the bones.

And taste aside, it’s also relatively healthy, at least as compared to grilled or smoked ribs, brisket or pulled pork. It’s chicken, after all, and it wears that lean protein halo. Unfortunately, when it’s prepared with its skin and bones and slathered with a sugary sauce, barbecued chicken is very nearly as caloric as its brethren. Know why chicken skin is so delicious? It’s high in fat.

So I set myself the task of coming up with a recipe for a leaner version of barbecued chicken that somehow still boasted the most lovable aspects of the classic version: a mouth-watering sauce and an element of crunch.

I started with a boneless, skinless chicken breast. The one problem with this virtuous ingredient is that it’s tough to cook just right. Undercook it, and you risk getting sick. Overcook it, and you’re faced with a slab of dry, tough protein.

There’s also another problem: Chicken breasts come in all different sizes and thicknesses. Generally, if it’s labeled “cutlet,” it’s fairly thin. If it’s labeled “chicken breast,” it’s rather thick. But there’s a range of thickness within these categories, too. I tried both and opted for the latter because the thicker breasts were harder to overcook. The breasts also are covered for two-thirds of the cooking time, which helps keep them moist.

The internal temperature of the cooked breasts should be 165 degrees. And be sure when you take the temperature to insert the thermometer sideways into the center, not straight down from the top, to get a more accurate reading. Also, don’t forget to let the chicken rest for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven to maximize the juiciness.

For the sauce, I wanted to conjure something with big flavor that wasn’t too sweet and didn’t require hours of simmering on top of the stove. I started with the usual ketchup base, balanced the sugar with an acidic ingredient and Dijon mustard, then spiked it with a secret weapon: adobo sauce from canned chipotles in adobo. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos; they are hot and smoky, as is the adobo sauce they swim in. You also could use an actual chipotle, finely minced, but that could be too fiery for this small amount of sauce.

If you open a whole can of chilies to make this sauce, you can freeze what you don’t use by putting a chili with a little sauce into each cube of an ice cube tray. Caution: After this baptism by fire, this particular tray will be usable only for freezing other spicy or tomato-based preparations.

Finally, I needed to add some crunch to the recipe to replicate the missing skin and bones. Panko breadcrumbs did the trick. These fantastically crispy Japanese breadcrumbs are available at most grocers (check the international aisle if you don’t see them with the regular breadcrumbs). I sauteed them in a little olive oil with some fresh thyme until they were nicely toasted, then topped the chicken with the crumbs for the last 10 minutes of baking, which guaranteed the crumbs would stick to the chicken but not get soggy.

I was very pleased with the result: a juicy, spicy, slightly crunchy, easy-to-make barbecued chicken that happens to be tasty hot, cold or at room temperature.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

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