I think that one of the keys to summer dinner (or really any dinner) is just 10 minutes in the morning. When I’m on the ball, I take those 10 minutes to toss whatever might be in the fridge—chicken thighs, chicken breasts—in a chili and lime concoction for tacos, or a mustard and thyme concoction for over brown rice, then throw them back in the fridge for the day. About an hour before dinner I put the chicken back on the counter and by the time the grill or grill pan is warmed up, they are ready to cook. I realize this is not a revolutionary tip I’m sharing with you (Gore discovered the internet, I discovered marinating!). But sometimes I think we all forget how a simple step can bring more flavor to our meals, whether it’s adding herb stems to a soup broth instead of discarding them, or half of a cut onion to a simmering pot of tomato sauce. For those hectic mornings when you’re lucky to get out the door with clean underwear on and two matching shoes ( and rubbing raw chicken with spices is not a priority), a quick marinade toss just an hour before cooking or grilling will also make a big difference.
I also mention summer cooking in particular because these are the months for quick cooking, when we want to spend less time at the stove and more time outside or on the porch enjoying our meal, sipping our dark and stormy, watching the kids stalk fireflies, admiring the dog’s fierce chase of the ground hog (while secretly hoping he doesn’t actually catch him), and questioning the neighbor’s choice in outdoor music (the soundtrack to Wicked while grilling, really?). Here is a recipe that I’ve been working on for the cooking book that’s one of my favorite morning chicken treatments, perfect for grilling up and using in tacos. The salsa is a also pretty fast and delicious enough to drink, but if you want to make your life even easier, some chopped tomatoes dressed with sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper is just as nice.
Place 1.5 lb of chicken breast, cut into long fingers; or 1.5 boneless chicken thighs in a bowl and toss with the following:
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
zest of 1 lime, juice reserved for later
generous amount of salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup of grapeseed or sunflower oil
With your hands rub the spice mixture into the chicken well and then place in the fridge to marinate all day (or if you’re doing this before cooking, leave the chicken on the counter for an hour or so, the bowl covered in plastic wrap). If you’ve been marinating the chicken in the fridge then let it come to room temperature before cooking.
Make the Salsa Sauce:
-Put a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and char 2 ripe tomatoes, turning them so each side gets a little blackened, followed by 1 jalapeno, and if you’d like, 1 tomatillo. Put tomato, jalapeno, tomatillo aside, lower the heat to medium-low, and then toast a handful of walnuts in the same skillet, make sure they do not burn, it only needs a couple of minutes.
-Roughly chop the tomato (removing the core), cut the jalapeno in half and scrape out seeds (if you don’t want it too spicy), chop the tomatillo into rough chunks, and roughly chop the walnuts. Add all of this to a food processor.
-Also add the following to the food processor: 2 tbl apple cider or sherry vinegar; 2 smashed garlic cloves; juice of ½ a lime (use the one you zested above); 1 bunch of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped; 1 tbs honey or agave syrup. Pulse all the ingredients until just combined.
-Pour in ¼ cup of grapeseed oil and pulse a few more times until the mixture resembles a smoother salsa.
-Taste for salt and pepper then season.
Prepare a grill over medium-hot heat, or a grill pan over medium heat. Peel 1 sweet or red onion and cut into thick rings without letting them separate. Brush both sides with grapeseed or sunflower oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, flipping ocassionaly, on a grill/grill pan until both sides are lightly charred. Remove from grill/pan and separate the rings. Set aside.
Add the chicken to the grill/pan (it’s fine if the marinade is sticking to it, you want it to form a little bit of a crust). Boneless meat should grill quickly, about 4 minutes per side. Turn several times for even cooking, remove one and cut in half if you want to make sure it’s done.
Serve chicken on flour or corn tortillas with sliced avocado, Greek yogurt mixed with the juice of the remaining half of lime, the charred onions, and salsa.