Cook's Country (December 2013/January 2014)
If we were building a holiday season survival bunker, we'd fill it with a bunch of chicken breasts.
Sure, we're going to parties, and happy hours, and tree trimmings. We even went to an early Christmas dinner (beef tenderloin! horseradish sauce!) earlier this week with friends.
But when we're not on the holiday circuit, we're eating lean. So there's chicken. Lots and lots of chicken. And brocolli. And sweet potatoes. Boring, but true.
And we are the No. 1 offenders of cooking a boring chicken breast, with a little seasoning, tossed in the oven, and simply baked. It's easy, and tasty enough, but those dishes aren't going to win any awards.
Cook's Country had our number with their "Chicken Baked in Foil" feature, with three takes on chicken that gives you the lightness of chicken breasts, but with amped-up flavor.
We selected Chicken Baked in Foil with Sweet Potato and Radish and got to work.
We bet you've tried baking in foil or parchment at some point in the past. We ourselves did a Cod Baked in Foil with Leeks and Carrots way back in 2009. As with that recipe, the idea here is to cook all your ingredients in a sealed container (foil), so that the vegetables steam and the flavors intensify, as everything is cooking in the dish's juices.
In this variation, the chicken cooks alongside sweet potatoes, radishes and celery, which makes a nice mix of tastes.
Our favorite technique in this recipe? An infused olive oil -- packed with flavor -- that you heat in the microwave. Here's what you do: Combine garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and salt, microwave until the garlic just begins to brown, up to 1 1/2 minutes, then toss your vegetables with the oil. We're totally stealing this infused oil for other dishes to create a quick infusion.
The infused oil, combined with the vegetables and chicken, creates a flavorful little packet of food that we really enjoyed. It's a nice diversion from our staid, usual chicken breasts. The sweet potatoes, cooked in juices, are especially flavorful. The radish and celery lose their crispness, but not their flavor. And finishing the dish with rice vinegar gives it a nice acidic finish.
So there you have it: chicken that will help you weather the caloric holidays.
What's in your holiday survival bunker?
Note from America's Test Kitchen: To ensure even cooking, buy chicken breasts of the same size. If using table salt, use only 1/8 teaspoon for each entire breast. Refrigerate the pouches for at least an hour before cooking.
Note from Zach and Clay: We didn't purchase cilantro for this, and instead garnished the dish with celery leaves.
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 ounces peeled sweet potato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 celery ribs, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch lengths
1/2 large red onion, sliced 1/2 inch thick, layers separated
Kosher salt and pepper
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 radishes, trimmed and quartered
1. Spray centers of four 20 by 12-inch sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray. Microwave oil, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in small bowl until garlic begins to brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Combine potato slices, celery, onion, radish, 1 teaspoon salt and garlic in a large bowl.
2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon salt evenly over each side of each chicken breast, then season with pepper. Position 1 piece of prepared foil with long side parallel to counter edge. In center of foil, arrange one-quarter of potato slices in 2 rows perpendicular to counter edge. Lay 1 chicken breast on top of potato slices. Place one-quarter of vegetables around chicken. Repeat with remaining foil, potato slices, chicken, and vegetables. Drizzle any remaining oil mixture from bowl over chicken.
3. Bring short sides of foil together and crimp to seal tightly. Crimp remaining open ends of packets, leaving as much headroom as possible inside packets. Place packets on large plate and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
4. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Arrange packets on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 18 to 23 minutes. (To check temperature, poke thermometer through foil of 1 packet and into chicken.) Let chicken rest in packets for 3 minutes.
5. Transfer chicken packets to individual dinner plates, open carefully (steam will escape), and slide contents onto plates. Drizzle rice vinegar over chicken and vegetables and sprinkle evenly with cilantro. Serve.