Crunchy, tasty chicken without the guilt

Associated PressMay 22, 2013 

Barbecue chicken is one of my favorite summertime dishes that’s relatively healthful. It wears that lean protein halo.

Unfortunately, when it’s prepared with its skin and bones, and slathered with a sugary sauce, barbecue chicken isn’t so healthful. So I set myself the task of coming up with a recipe for a leaner version of barbecue chicken that somehow still boasted the most lovable aspects of the classic version — a mouth-watering sauce and an element of crunch.

I enlisted the boneless, skinless chicken breast. The one problem with this virtuous ingredient is that it’s tough to cook just right. Undercook it and you risk getting sick. Overcook it and you’re faced with a slab of protein as dry and tough as cardboard. The breasts are covered for two-thirds of the cooking time, which helps keep them moist. The internal temperature of the cooked breasts should be 165 F. Don’t forget to let the chicken rest for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven to maximize juiciness.

For the sauce, I wanted to conjure up something with big flavor that wasn’t too sweet and somehow didn’t require hours of simmering on top of the stove. I started with the usual ketchup base, balanced off the sugar with acid and Dijon mustard, then spiked it with a secret weapon — adobo sauce from canned chipotles in adobo. Chipotles are smoked jalapeños; they are hot and smoky, as is the adobo sauce they swim in.

Finally, I needed to add some crunch to the recipe to replicate the missing skin and bones. Panko bread crumbs did the trick. One of my favorite ingredients these days, these fantastically crispy Japanese bread crumbs are available at most grocers. I sauteed them in a little olive oil with fresh thyme until they were nicely toasted, then topped the chicken with the crumbs for the last 10 minutes of baking, which guaranteed the crumbs would stick to the chicken, but not get soggy.

The end result is a juicy, spicy, slightly crunchy, easy-to-make chicken barbecue that happens to be tasty hot, cold or at room temperature.

EASY BAKED BARBECUE CHICKEN BREASTS 1/2 cup ketchup

1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)

2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar, or to taste

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts without the filet (a total of 2 to 3 breasts, each about 3/4- to 1-inch thick)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine the ketchup, adobo sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Line a shallow baking dish with foil, leaving enough excess to generously overhang the sides. Spread half of the sauce on the foil in an area just the size of the chicken breasts. Arrange the breasts on top of the sauce and spoon the remaining sauce over them. Bring the edges of the foil up and over the chicken and fold it to enclose them. Bake the breasts on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, thyme, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Saute until light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

After the chicken has baked for 20 minutes, open up the foil and spoon any sauce that has fallen off the chicken back on top of it. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the chicken. Continue baking, uncovered, until the chicken is just cooked through, another 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Carefully slice the chicken, then divide between 4 serving plates, spooning any sauce and crumbs that have fallen off over the chicken slices.

Per serving: 240 calories; 45 calories from fat (19 percent of total calories); 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 28 g protein; 750 mg sodium.

Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active) Servings: 4

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