Friday, June 19, 2009

Grilled Oregano Lemon Chicken with Feta and Roasted Tomatillos

This is the kind of recipe that makes me want to yell, in a thick southern accent that can only be brought out with copious amounts of tequila or Bud Light, "Well - hush my mouth!"

Much to talk about tonight, loves. For one thing - this was my first foray into cooking with tomatillos - something I feared for some reason (their papery 'husks' do look kind of sci fi-ish...) but am now going to be addicted to, no doubt. Bright and bursting with a tart/almost citrusy flavor, I'd be tempted to call them 'lemotillos'.

Let me step back for a moment and ponder the inspiration for this recipe. Years ago when we lived in San Francisco in the picturesque neighborhood of Russian Hill (we actually lived at the top of Lombard - the famous windy street), we ordered takeout at least twice a week from Polker's, an incredible low key burger joint.

My favorite burger of theirs wasn't technically a burger at all - but rather a grilled chicken sandwich topped with a roasted green chili and slab of melted feta. The true gilding of the lilly was their signature Ranch dressing that I would dip it in (thankfully over time, I weaned myself off of that part.)

I tucked that little flavor combo away for years, always intending to re-create it, and lo and behold - a good 6 years later - I finally did so tonight. It was our first time to use our grill and eat on our new roof deck overlooking the Hitchcock-esque view of the city. We had one of those sundowns that colored the jagged buildings before us hot pink, to the point where we felt like we were sitting in a Hollywood back lot.

But enough about the city and back to the recipe.

The marinade is quick to put together and pretty intense but you need it to be that way as the chicken is only going to be sitting in it for half an hour or so, so all is well with the world. And tomatillos, if you've never cooked with them, are fascinating little creatures. The first time I actually picked them up, I thought they were some sort of fake Pottery Barn display version - they feel like they're made of rubber. But please don't be as judgmental as I was - they're delicious. Just remember to pick the smaller ones (avoid the golf ball sized ones if possible, just like when picking out Brussels Sprouts) and to remove their papery husks which can actually make you sick if ingested.

As far as the feta - I think the everyday kind you find in the grocery store is best here. A fancy, $11 a pound feta will just go to waste in light of all that's going on, and to be honest the fancy ones don't always measure up to the sharp brininess of the low rent ones, at least in my book.

Now go fire up your grill and make the neighbors jealous.

Chicken in Quick and Zippy Marinade with Feta and Roasted Tomatillos:

Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 small to medium shallot, minced
1 fat or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch red pepper flakes, or more if you like a lot of spice

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

8 small tomatillos
tablespoon olive oil
pinch salt and pepper

2 thick slices of feta cheese

Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl or pie plate, add the chicken turning to coat, and let marinate for 45 minutes at room temperature in a cool place.

Meanwhile, remove the papery husks from your tomatillos, rinse with tap water, and dry. Season with olive oil and a hefty pinch each salt and pepper. Set aside.

Turn your grill onto medium heat. Once it's ready add the tomatillos - right onto the grates, letting them get nice and charred on the one side - about 6 minutes. Turn them carefully, using tongs, to roast the other side. Meanwhile, remove your chicken from the marinade, gently patting dry with a paper towel. Season well with salt and a little pepper on both side, then add to the free area of your grill, getting a nice sear.

Grill the chicken about for 5-6 minutes, about which point the tomatillos should be ready. They will be ready when they look a little 'sunken' and have lost their firm roundness. Remove them and set aside while you finish cooking the chicken.

Flip the chicken and cook another 5 minutes per second side, just until cooked through. Remember that really big breasts might take a little longer.

Plate the chicken by covering each breast with a thick slab of feta. Top with the still warm tomatillos and serve.

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