Tue Aug 23, 2011
If you're a Meatwave veteran, you may have noticed that after a single skinless, boneless chicken breast recipe in the early days, this piece of meat has become long absent from the blog. This is no coincidence, as I quickly learned this chicken part does not make good grilling—it's too easy to end up with a dry, flavorless piece of meat. So does that discredit the skinless, boneless breast from grilling altogether? I say no, and this blackened chicken sandwich is solid proof of that.
One big problem with chicken breasts are their uneven thickness. Without modification, it's nearly impossible to cook a breast properly throughout—as the thinner parts will be overdone by the time the thicker portions get to temperature. Luckily, this is an very easy problem to fix, either by pounding the chicken to an even thickness, or, as I've done here, splitting the breast horizontally into two pieces of uniform height.
Even at an uniform thickness, I don't trust chicken breasts to retain their juiciness over the high heat of the grill. It's because of this that I will always brine them prior to grilling. The salt and sugar brine draws extra moisture into the meat, acting like an insurance policy to overcooking.
Solving the cooking inconsistencies and dryness problems, now it's time to tackle flavor, and a blackening seasoning couldn't do that better. Essentially just a dry rub, the defining characteristics of a blackening seasoning—which was originated by Chef Paul Prudhomme—is a spicy mixture of salt, cayenne, paprika, black pepper, then additional dried herbs such as thyme and oregano. When applied to meat and seared in a pan or on the grill, this rubs creates a black crust, hence the name.
Butchered, brined, and rubbed, and now on the grill, we're on track for a delicious piece of chicken. The thin breasts blacken and cook quickly over the fire, making this a good method for a crowd, as it keeps food moving on and off the grill at a nice pace.
The chicken by itself is pretty good, but still a bit underwhelming in the grand scheme of things in my opinion, which is why I chose to put it together in a sandwich form.
The chicken gets an added layer of heat with slices of pepper jack, while the grill is utilized heavily for roasting peppers and charring onions for additional toppings. Add to that lettuce and a smear of Sriracha mayo on toasted rolls, and the sandwich is complete.
Sound like a good sandwich? Well it is! The spicy, blackened crust with creamy cheese, sweet onions, and fresh lettuce created a combination that worked incredibly well together. Flavor and juiciness abound, proving that the skinless, boneless chicken breast can be a grilled delight when prepared and used in the right way.
Blackened Chicken Sandwiches
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 8 ounces each
For the brine
1 quart ice cold water
1/8 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup sugar
For the rub
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 cup olive oil
1 large red bell pepper
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch disks and skewered horizontally
4 slices pepper jack cheese
Green leaf lettuce
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha
4 club rolls
1. Mix together mayonnaise and Sriracha in a small bowl, set aside.
2. To make the brine, in a small, shallow bowl whisk together the the water, salt, and sugar until the solids are dissolved. Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally. Place the chicken breast slices in the brine and refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2. While the chicken is brining, assemble the rub by mixing together paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.
4. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Brush the chicken slices lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle evenly with the spice mixture. Flip the chicken over and repeat. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to grill.
5. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grate. Brush onion slices lightly with olive oil on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Grill onions and pepper, turning occasionally, until peppers are completely charred all over and onions until charred on both side and slightly softened, 5-8 minutes total. Remove from grill and place pepper in a paper or Ziploc bag and seal. When the pepper is cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes, remove skin and slice into 1/8-inch strips. Remove skewer from onion and separate into individual rings.
6. Place chicken slices on grill and cook over high heat until first side is blackened, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and place slice of cheese over chicken and grill until second side is blackened and chicken is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. While the chicken is resting, place rolls on the grill, cut side down, and grill until lightly browned. Remove from grill, spread top side of bread with Sriracha mayonnaise and assemble sandwich with the chicken, onion rings, pepper slices, and lettuce. Serve immediately.