Food & Drink

4 recipes show chicken’s versatility

Asian chicken salad II is a slightly updated version of the one in the ‘Cowgirl Chef’ cookbook.
Asian chicken salad II is a slightly updated version of the one in the ‘Cowgirl Chef’ cookbook. Special to the Star-Telegram

For most of my life, chicken was not something that I even had a passing interest in. Fried, barbecued, grilled — it didn’t matter. I couldn’t care less.

Then I moved to France. In the first neighborhood I lived in, there was great disagreement about which of the two butchers on Rue des Belles Feuilles (three doors down from one another) sold the best rotisserie chickens. Some say the first one; I liked the shop farther up the street, the place with photos of Gerard Depardieu on the wall, his meaty arm around one of the butchers.

All of which is to say I started loving chicken pretty quickly — a side of potatoes that were cooked in the drippings didn’t hurt either.

The truth is I found myself buying the rotisserie chickens more than making anything with chicken at home — I didn’t think I could do any better than they could, and at the time, I probably couldn’t. Now, 10 years later, I won’t say that I can replicate the flavor of a rotisserie chicken from Paris, but I’ve experimented enough to have come up with a few chicken recipes that I really love.

You’ll notice in my recipes that I do not use chicken breasts. I still don’t like chicken breasts (dry and tasteless things, usually). Thighs are a different story, and in the U.S., it’s easy to find boneless, skinless thighs, which I prefer. Even though the ones with skin and bones are going to impart more flavor into a recipe, I like those without because they’re simply easier to prepare and eat.

Each of these recipes is easy and quick as lightning, and calls for a different cooking technique. That’s one of the things about chicken that’s pretty great: It’s versatile.

The recipe for chicken shawarma, first baked in the oven then quickly fried in a skillet, is a total flavor bomb — plus it takes less than 20 minutes to cook. The work here, if you can even call it that, is in the marinade. Whisk everything together with yogurt, chicken’s best tenderizer, and let it marinate overnight.

I asked my butcher to grind thighs only to make my chicken meatballs, because I wanted to stack the deck against ending up with anything too dry, and it worked — a ton of Parmesan helped, too.

The chicken cacciatore is a braise — the chicken is seared first in a hot pan, then cooked slowly in a liquid — but here, slow means only about 30 minutes.

Finally, I’m circling back to one of my favorite ways to use leftover rotisserie chicken, a recipe for Asian chicken salad I loved so much that I included it in my book. I’ve updated it ever so slightly, amping up the cabbage and using fresh ingredients instead of dried in the vinaigrette, but it’s basically what I started out with so many years ago, when the only chicken I’d consider eating was one that I bought down the street.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

Chicken shawarma

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 cups plain Greek or full-fat yogurt
  •  1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander or crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for serving
  • Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • Pita bread, for serving

1. Chop chicken into 1  1/2-inch pieces and put into a medium bowl. Add 1 cup yogurt, olive oil, garlic, spices, red-pepper flakes and salt to the bowl and stir to coat all of the chicken. Pour the chicken-yogurt mixture into a heavy-duty plastic bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.

2. To cook the chicken, heat oven to 425 degrees. Place a rack over a large baking sheet and put chicken on top (any additional marinade will drip through). Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until done.

3. (Optional) The chicken is great as is, but if you like it crispy like I do, put as much canola or grapeseed oil as needed to coat the bottom of a skillet, turn the heat to medium-high and cook the chicken pieces until browned. Serve warm with 1 cup yogurt mixed with as much water as needed to thin it out, plus a little salt and chives on top, and pita bread.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 299 calories, 20 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 111 milligrams cholesterol, 597 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.

Chicken meatballs

Makes 4 servings/about 20 (2-inch) meatballs

  • 3 pieces bread
  • 1 pound ground chicken thighs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for serving
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Grapeseed or canola oil for frying
  • 6 large basil leaves
  • 1 (28-ounce can) whole tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  •  1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Make breadcrumbs: Toast bread, tear it into smallish pieces and chop in a food processor or blender. Put crumbs in a large bowl.

2. Add ground chicken, eggs, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, mix everything together well.

3. Put a piece of parchment paper on one baking sheet and line another with paper towels. Using a scoop, make meatballs and place on parchment-lined sheet, then go back and shape each one with your hands.

4. Cover the surface of a large skillet with grapeseed or canola oil. Heat to medium, add as many meatballs as will easily fit and cook them until lightly browned on all sides. It’ll take about 15 minutes per batch; they should be cooked all the way through. Set cooked meatballs on the paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Save time: Make the meatballs in advance and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

5. Make the sauce: Put basil, tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt in blender and purée. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan, heat to medium and add sauce. Let cook until it reduces and thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Save time: Make the sauce in advance and refrigerate.

6. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon enough sauce to lightly cover the bottom of a heatproof skillet — cast-iron or a ceramic baking dish will work. Add meatballs. Spoon a little sauce on top of each, then sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the meatballs are warmed through and the cheese is bubbly. Serve family-style, with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 617 calories, 34 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrates, 53 grams protein, 241 milligrams cholesterol, 1,105 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.

Chicken cacciatore

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 16 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced in half-moons
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus more for serving
  •  1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped

1. Put olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and add to the pot when the oil is hot. Sear on both sides and remove to a plate.

2. Add mushrooms and cook until soft — you may need to add a little more oil. Add onions and garlic and cook with the mushrooms until the onions are transparent, about 3 more minutes.

3. Tear the tomatoes with your hands and add them along with their juices to the pot. Add chicken, stock, thyme, fennel and red-pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low, loosely cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the thighs are cooked through. Add the spinach right before serving — it’ll wilt in 1 or 2 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 263 calories, 14 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, 22 grams protein, 42 milligrams cholesterol, 588 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 42 percent of calories from fat.

Asian chicken salad II

Serves 4 to 6

  •  1/4 head green cabbage
  • 1/4 head purple cabbage
  • 1 large handful cilantro
  • 1 mango
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 large handfuls arugula
  • 2 to 3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1/3 cup toasted almond slivers
  • Ginger-lime vinaigrette, recipe follows
  • Sesame seeds, white and black

1. Slice cabbages into very thin strips, then chop strips into pieces about 1  1/2 to 2 inches long. Toss into a large salad bowl.

2. Chop cilantro and add to bowl.

3. Slice mango and chop into 1-inch chunks. Slice open the avocado, remove the seed and slice into 1-inch pieces. Add to bowl.

4. Add arugula, chicken and almonds. Toss with ginger-lime vinaigrette. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4, without vinaigrette: 357 calories, 18 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 100 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.


Ginger-lime vinaigrette

Makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • Small handful of cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed, canola or another neutral oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped jalapeño

Put everything in a jam jar and shake until combined. Taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 54 calories, 5 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 90 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 84 percent of calories from fat.

Adapted from “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press)