Weeknight Cooking: Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad

I’ve noticed something interesting about my latest favorite meals that have been added to my “Go-To” list of meals: They were all created by the same person.

Marcia Kiesel of Food and Wine Magazine, I don’t know who you are, but I love your food.

Since she’s given us three great dishes so far, I decided to wander through her list of recipes and articles listed alphabetically on F&W in the hopes of finding more. As it turned out, I did find quite a few that I want to try out over the next couple of weeks. But, for a start, I went with something simple.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad
Before you ask, yes, that is my totally fancy plating technique.

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad
Courtesy Food & Wine Magazine, June 2003

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 medium cucumbers (1 1/4 pounds) peeled, seeded, quartered
lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 cup roasted cashews, halved lengthwise or coarsely chopped (4 1/2 ounces)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)

I don’t have a lot of prep pictures for this because it was so simple and so quick. As soon as you see the directions, you’ll understand why.

To start, I made the cucumber salad. The recipe calls for cumin seeds, but I only had cumin powder. I cut the cumin in half and toasted it for a couple of minutes in a frying pan — I used low heat and kept it in there until it was fragrant. If you’re working with seeds, toast them for a minute, then remove them from the heat and allow to cool. Coarsely chop (or give them a quick whirl around a clean, electric coffee grinder).

Meanwhile, I prepared the rest of the cucumber salad. In a bowl, mix together the cucumbers, cashews, scallions, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the parsley. When the cumin is cool, add that and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

Cucumber Salad

What you’re seeing in the photo above is the recipe halved, because I serve two. After our web admin took a bite of the salad, he said I should have tripled the recipe. We had a race to finish the salad — him, because he liked it so much, and me because I knew if I didn’t eat it fast enough, he was going to do the honors for me.

I liked the smoky cumin in this. Mixed with the hint of lemon and a flavored olive oil, this was really light and delicious. The crispy crunch of the cucumber and the soft, mild cashew taste was really delicious together. The flavors were not overt — everything complimented the mildness of the cucumber. On the back end of the taste, there was just a hint of pep with the lemon and cumin, brought out even more by the pinches of salt and pepper. This was a really nice, light side, and quite refreshing. I would serve this as a side at a BBQ on a hot day.

After popping the cucumber salad in the refrigerator, I wiped the frying pan down with a damp paper towel, and started the chicken.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Turn and cook the chicken until browned on the other side and just cooked through, about 6 minutes longer.

I found that with this method, my chicken stayed incredibly moist. My breasts were a little too thick and I had turned the burner down a little too much, so after the cooking time elapsed, I cut these horizontally, and cooked them for another minute and a half in the frying pan. The downside to this is that some of the juices ran out and into the frying pan. The upside is that no one had problems with salmonella after dinner. Despite having to cut it, I didn’t think that it lost all of its flavor. My chicken was still incredibly juicy. Because there isn’t a lot being added to the chicken, the deal breaker is going to be the seasoning and making sure you can keep this juicy. Be sure you season this well enough, or it’s going to fall flat.

Thickly slice each chicken breast crosswise, mound the cucumber salad on top and serve.

This was a great dish. As a weeknight meal, it was healthy, amazingly fast to prepare, relatively inexpensive, and tasty. This gets full marks for weeknight cooking.

As an overall dish, compared to other great dishes… it was just nice. It was simple and tasty. I would serve this to guests with some good wine if we were eating outside on a warm, summer night, but it isn’t something I’d order at a restaurant — not that there’s anything wrong with that. My personal quest is to find weeknight dishes, so my selections naturally fall down a little bit on the overall scale.

Weeknight Cooking: A
Overall Dish: B+

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