I’ve decided that this summer, since we have a house with a spacious kitchen and no social life, I’m going to try at least two new recipes per week. Last week it was chicken souvlaki. This is not something I’d order in a restaurant, I just liked the idea of grilled meat and yogurt sauce. (And it was the most accessible recipe in the current issue of Cooks Illustrated.)
JC is not a big fan of chicken breast but this was a smash hit! This would make an unexpected yet totally spot-on dish for a BBQ. So much better than your standard herb marinade or teriyaki which is too sweet for me. And let’s just be honest, BBQ chicken is f’in hard to get right! This chicken souvlaki is simple, and the yogurt sauce makes it nearly foolproof.
You don’t have to have skewers or even a grill to make this dish turn out delish. I’ve included instructions below. Also, this recipe says it serves 4, but I think we would have been stretching it. 3 sounds more like it. If you’re trying to serve more than 3 adults, just double everything. Our leftovers were amazing!
– Take the time to brine the breast. This will make all the difference in the world, especially for your eaters who prefer the juiciness of dark meat. If you must use dark meat, you can, but we really loved the brined breast as a nice change of pace.
– If you want to make fresh pita bread, which sounds delicious, here’s an easy recipe (and no, they don’t need to have perfect pockets!)
– If you are using wooden skewers, pre-soak them in water for at least 20 minutes to keep them from burning on the grill.
– Do ahead: The tzatziki and the marinade will be fine in the fridge for several days. Brine the chicken the night before you are going to cook it.
(This recipe has been adapted from the always delicious and endlessly informative Cooks Illustrated.)
For the Chicken:
Salt and pepper
1½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, fat trimmed away
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. freshly minced fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (if you like things lemony, you can double this)
¼ c. lemon juice (about 1 large lemon or 2 small ones)
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 bell pepper, cored seeded and cut in half
1 red onion, ends trimmed cut in half
4 regular sized pita breads + 2 extras
1 lemon quartered for garnish
For the Tzatziki:
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. lemon juice
1 garlic clove (more if you like things garlicky), minced to a paste
1 c. plain Greek yoghurt
½ c. cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and diced fine
3 tbsp. fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp. fresh dill (or 1 tsp. dried) (optional)
1. Brine the chicken. Dissolve 1 tbsp sea salt in 2 cups cold water. Submerge chicken breasts, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
2. Make the marinade. Combine oil, parsley, lemon zest and juice, honey, oregano and 1/2 tsp pepper in medium bowl. Reserve ¼ of the marinade in another medium bowl. You will toss the cooked chicken in this bowl just before serving.
3. Cook the chicken. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Skewer/ grill method. Cut the chicken into 1-1.25 inch cubes. Toss in marinade. Cut each bell pepper and onion half into 4 chunks. Divide the chicken into 4 portions. Do the same with the veggies. Each skewer will have chicken, pepper and onion on it. Cooks Illustrated recommends putting the veggies on the end and all the chicken in the center to prevent the chicken cubes from drying out. Place skewers on the hotter part of the grill and cook, turning every once in a while until all sides are well browned and chicken temp reaches 160. Should be about 15-20 minutes.
- Grill / non-skewer method. If you have a grill but no skewers, pound the thick side of the chicken breast a bit to bring it closer in thickness to the center and then toss the whole breasts, pepper and onion in the marinade. Cook the chicken breasts along with the pepper and onion halves, whole on the grill, turning often. They may take a bit more time to cook fully through. If the breast begin to get too charred, wrap in tin foil and return to the grill. When the veggies are charred, remove from the heat. Before serving, slice the breast into strips. Quarter the pepper and onion halves.
- Broiler / no-grill method. Turn on the broiler and adjust the rack to the middle rung. (You want the chicken to be at least 8-10 inches from the flame.) Cut the breasts into 1 ½ inch thick strips and toss in marinade along with the pepper and onion halves. Place the chicken and vegetables on a foil lined cookie sheet or broiler safe roasting pan and then into the broiler. Turn the chicken periodically until the interior temp reaches 160 degrees. Time will depend upon the thickness. If they begin to get too charred, cover the tray / pan in tin foil and return to the broiler. Quarter the cooked pepper and onion halves.
4. Heat the pita. While the chicken is cooking, stack the pita and drizzle a bit of water on the top and bottom pitas. Wrap the stack in aluminum foil and place on the cool side of the grill or broiler. Heat pita for 5 minutes and then turn over. After another 5 minutes, remove from the heat.
5. Toss cooked chicken and veggies in marinade. Once the chicken is cooked, toss it in the reserved marinade along with the peppers and onion. (DO NOT use the marinade that the raw chicken was in! That should be discarded as soon as the chicken starts cooking.) Lay a single pita on 4 plates, spoon 2 tbsp of tzatziki onto each pita. Divide the chicken, peppers and onions amongst the 4 pitas. The sandwich can then be eaten like a taco. Slice the other 2 pitas in half and serve on the side.
- For a neater eating experience, before assembling the sandwiches, lay each f the 4 pitas on a piece of aluminum foil 12 in square. Then wrap the pita around the filling and wrap the foil around that. Not as nice looking as without the foil, but certainly a lot neater.
6. Serve. With a lemon wedge, a fresh green salad heavy on tomatoes and feta cheese, and perhaps a small scoop of seasoned rice.