Spring chicken: Put some poultry in your pot

If you're yearning for lighter, fresh flavors, make poultry your palette with these new recipes

Chicken is what we most often reach for when faced with the "What's for dinner?" quandary. It's our most popular choice at the meat counter. Chicken is the first white meat. So who can't use a few new recipes and ideas for the bird?

Estimates from the National Chicken Council show that most of us will consume 80 pounds of chicken this year. We love chicken. It's versatile, cooks quickly, takes well to different flavors and pairs beautifully with many vegetables and fruits.

Ban the dry, boring breast of chicken. Break away from the ordinary. Launch into the new season with fresh ideas from today's just-hatched crop of cookbooks. Toss in a few spring ingredients such as leafy greens, savory herbs, juicy lemons, earthy leeks and carrots and just-plucked red radishes. That'll give the family something to cluck about. Now for a few words on those new cookbooks.

If you're a household of two, or recently downsized, you'll want to get "One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals For Two" by Carla Snyder. It's packed with appetizing dinner menus from frittatas to sandwiches to chicken dishes including Herbed Chicken Paillards with Zucchini Pancakes and Cherry Tomato Pan Sauce and Fontina and Prosciutto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Radicchio-Fennel Saute. She also offers additional side-dish ideas in case diners are "extra-hungry." As easy as a bag of microwave rice or a simple salad.

Pati Jinich's bright new book "Pati's Mexican Table" makes me want to grab a stack of tortillas and start folding. Ms. Jinich, chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., offers colorful dishes and inspiring salsas. I went with her Crispy Chicken Milanesa, which was crunchy-good. I plan on making the Aztec Chicken Casserole for the next community potluck supper. Throughout her book, she offers usage tips and explanations for ingredients that may be unfamiliar.

A well-known face on the Food Network, Alex Guarnaschelli has a new book, "Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook." With her soothing tone and her thoughtful, intensely-flavorful, nostalgic book, I knew I'd find some good chickeny ideas. My fellow food writer Gretchen McKay prepared a version of Ms. Guarnaschelli's Braised Chicken Thighs and Legs with Ginger and Tomato as a special meal for her visiting son. On my short list to make are Breaded Chicken with Mustard and Dry Sherry and Flattened Chicken Breast with Pickled Red Onions and Bay Leaves. All in the chapter entitled "Poultry A Love Affair" (the book, $30, was published by Clarkson Potter on April 9).

Another new book is co-authored by my gardening guru, Barbara Damrosch. Written with her husband, master-gardener Elliot Coleman, "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook" is about gardening and cooking from their farm in Maine. My colleague Bob Batz Jr. tested the Chicken Stew with Horseradish Cream and is planning on making it again soon. Other appealing recipes in this book include Bright Red Chicken Paprikash; non-chicken ones include a Springtime Fish Chowder with Fresh Herbs.

Lastly, there's an intriguing new cookbook, "The New Persian Kitchen" by Louisa Shafia. The author, whose father is Iranian, uses exotic Persian ingredients such as cardamom, saffron, quinces, dried limes, rose petals, pomegranates, sumac and tamarind to make dishes with a fresh, healthy focus.

I prepared her Seared Chicken with Peaches (but used pears) and it perfumed the house with saffron and lemon. Other chicken offerings are Chicken Kebabs in Yogurt Marinade and Turmeric Chicken with Sumac and Lime. Ms. Shafia presents a comprehensive guide to Persian ingredients, calling it "A Garden of Earthly Delights." As she writes: "Discovering Persian ingredients is a bit like lifting the lid off a treasure box." I can't wait to explore further.

Chicken Stew with Horseradish Cream

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Food editor Bob Batz Jr. tested this recipe for his family's dinner the other week, pronouncing it "a keeper." In place of the whole chicken, you could substitute about 4 pounds of chicken thighs and drumsticks, or mixed parts, with the skin removed. The authors write: "This rustic dish of chicken and vegetables, perfect for a family supper, is light but rich in flavor."

  • 1 whole chicken (4 pounds)

  • 2 large carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, sliced diagonally into 1-inch-thick pieces

  • 2 medium ribs celery, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered

  • 3 medium leeks (white and light green), split lengthwise, well rinsed, cut into 2-inch sections

  • 4 to 6 small white turnips, about golf ball size, unpeeled and left whole

  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock or water (we used organic chicken broth)

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 4 whole cloves

  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

  • 1 teaspoon salt (less if broth is salty)

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt

  • 1/4 cup prepared white horseradish (not creamy)

Cut chicken into pieces, separating drumsticks from thighs, severing wings, splitting breast down middle with knife or poultry shears. Cut breast in half crosswise to make 4 pieces. Cut back in half. Remove skin from all pieces except wings.

Place carrots, celery, onion, leeks and turnips in large soup pot. Add all chicken pieces, including giblets (minus liver). Pour in broth and wine. Bring just to boil over high heat, skimming off any thick foam that floats to surface.

Reduce heat to simmer. Add bay leaves, cloves, tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables tender, 1 hour or a bit more.

Meanwhile, whisk sour cream, yogurt and horseradish in small bowl. Spoon horseradish cream into small serving bowl. Set aside at room temperature.

When stew is done, taste for salt and add more if needed. Using slotted spoon and/or tongs, lift out chicken. Remove meat from bones (discarding bones). Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to large warmed platter (if a few bits of vegetable remain in broth, that's OK). Discard bay leaves. Add chicken to platter.

Pour broth into warmed soup tureen or Dutch oven and serve alongside meat and vegetables. Give each person a generous soup bowl and have them help themselves to stew and broth. Pass horseradish cream.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook: From the Garden to the Table with 120 Recipes" by Barbara Damrosch and Elliot Coleman (Workman, 2012, $22.95)

Seared Chicken With Pears (or peaches)

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The original recipe called for peaches, which of course, aren't in season. An alternative given was pears or plums. Three firm-ripe Bartlett pears sat on my counter. Has anyone else noticed how delicious pears are right now? These were from Argentina. Hardly in season here or local, but they worked beautifully. Serve with plenty of fluffy rice because there's lots of juice. I cut down the cooking time for boneless breasts.

  • 2 pounds skinned chicken legs or breasts (I used boneless breasts), patted dry

  • Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 5 tablespoons (I used less) grapeseed, peanut or light olive oil, divided

  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1 pound ripe pears, (about 2 medium-large) peel left on, quartered, cored and sliced into 1-inch wedges

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (recipe called for 1/2 cup, which was too tart for me)

  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron, ground in mortar and pestle, steeped in 1 tablespoon hot water

  • 2 cups water, simmering

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat large, heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat; add 3 tablespoons oil. Add chicken (in batches if necessary) and sear about 6 to 7 minutes per side, until well browned; transfer to plate.

In same skillet, cook onion in remaining 2 tablespoons oil (I didn't need more) 8 to 10 minutes, until starting to brown. Add pears, turmeric, cinnamon, lemon zest and juice, saffron and water. Bring to boil. Lower heat and return chicken and any juices to pan. Simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes (for boneless breasts) 30 minutes for legs. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more to reduce. Season with salt and pepper.

Pull out chicken with tongs; cut breasts in halves or thirds. Put chicken on plates and serve along with several pear slices and plenty of sauce.

Makes 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "The New Persian Kitchen" by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, 2013, $24.99)

Crispy Chicken Milanesa

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As Pati Jinich writes, "This Italian-sounding recipe is among Mexico's most popular dishes." Once you taste these chicken cutlets, you'll know why. Her first choice for coating is cornflake crumbs. Jinich prefers them "because they are extra-crunchy and in a way, dryer." You can buy cornflake crumbs in a box, but I ground whole cornflakes in the food processor.

If your chicken breasts are very large, increase the breading by a half (1/2 cup more crumbs, 1/4 cup more cheese, 1/4 teaspoon chile). Take your time when frying them, if they're large, only 1 will fit in the skillet at a time but they'll stay crunchy and warm in the oven.

Both Penzys and Reyna in the Strip carry whole piquin peppers. To grind them, use a clean coffee mill or spice grinder and let the dust settle before opening the lid. Or use a mortar and pestle; it won't create as much chile dust.

The Crunchy Radish Pico adds a zesty spring touch to the dish.

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 1 cup cornflake crumbs or dried bread crumbs (don't use flavored crumbs)

  • 1/2 cup finely crumbled queso fresco, Cotija, ricotta salata or mild feta

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chile, such as piquin, ancho or a Mexican mix, such as Tajin or to taste

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves, pounded between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap with meat mallet or heavy pan to 1/2- to 1/4-inch thickness

  • Vegetable oil

  • Crunchy Radish Pico (recipe follows, optional)

In large shallow bowl, whisk eggs and milk. In pie plate, mix cornflake crumbs, cheese, chile and salt; spread out.

Dip each chicken breast in egg mixture then coat on both sides with crumb mixture so whole breast is covered. Set aside on baking sheet.

Heat 1/4 inch oil in heavy, 12-inch skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking, 3 to 4 minutes. Add single layer of chicken. If edges of chicken aren't bubbling in oil, raise heat to medium-high. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on first side, until golden brown and crisp, gently flip and repeat on other side, until cooked through and puffed. Drain on paper towel covered-plate; transfer to baking sheet. Keep warm in 250 degree oven.

Repeat with remaining chicken, adding more oil as needed and removing built-up crumbs in skillet.

Makes 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, March 2013, $30)

Crunchy Radish Pico

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Serve this refreshing relish with Crispy Chicken Milanesa. It can be made up to 12 hours in advance and kept covered in the fridge.

  • 2 cups halved and thinly sliced red radishes (about 1 pound, 1 large bunch)

  • 1 cup peeled, halved, seeded and thinly sliced cucumber

  • 1 jalapeno or Serrano chile, halved, seeded if desired and finely chopped (to taste)

  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

  • 3 scallions, white and light green only, thinly sliced

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt, or to taste

Toss all ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand for at least 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

-- Adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, March 2013, $30)

Braised Chicken Thighs and Legs with Tomato

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This classic one-pot Indian dish combines three of my absolute favorite flavors: cumin, a pungent spice with a nutty, peppery flavor, red-hot dried chili and fresh ginger. But be forewarned: This FoodNetwork.com version of the recipe that I tested is extremely spicy. You might want to cut back on the pepper flakes (the book version is less spicy and contains wine).

I always have trouble grating fresh ginger, so instead I very finely chopped it. Don't worry about what seems like a lot of garlic; the flavor mellows as the chicken simmers on the stove.

-- Gretchen McKay

  • 4 tablespoons canola oil

  • 6 chicken thighs

  • 6 chicken legs

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

  • 2 teaspoons chili flakes (or less, depending on taste)

  • 1 large white onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

  • 1 large ginger knob, peeled and grated

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise

  • 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 4 fresh or dried bay leaves

  • Water, as needed

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Arrange the chicken thighs and legs on a tray in a single layer and season them with salt, to taste. Turn the pieces on their other side and season again. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, carefully add the chicken to the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Resist the temptation to move or turn the pieces. Allow them to brown on their first side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use metal tongs to turn the chicken pieces to sear their second side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a tray and set it aside.

In the same skillet, add the cumin seeds and chili flakes, stirring rapidly to give them a quick toast, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and stir to combine. Season the ingredients with salt, to taste, then add the tomatoes, cinnamon, and bay leaves. Allow the mixture to cook and all the flavors to come together, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pan, keep the heat low and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes. (If the sauce becomes overly thick or begins to stick to the bottom of the skillet, feel free to add some water, about 1/2 cup at a time.)

When the chicken is cooked through, remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Taste for seasoning and transfer to a serving bowl.

Serves 6.

-- Alex Guarnaschelli via FoodNetwork.com

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Greens

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Carla Snyder prefers to use Rainbow Chard with its multi-colored stems for this dish. Since nothing's yet growing in my garden, I bought a small bunch of red chard and added half a small head of escarole. Other greens Ms. Snyder mentioned using include dandelion greens, frisee and spinach. Altogether, I had 12 cups loosely packed greens.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves, pounded between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap with meat mallet or heavy pan to 1/2-inch thickness, patted dry

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 shallot, minced

  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, leaves cut into thin ribbons, stems chopped (or other tender greens, see above)

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up

  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat heavy, 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon oil. When oil shimmers, add chicken "skin-side" down. Cook without disturbing until lightly browned on first side, about 2 minutes. Don't try to turn chicken if stuck; it will release once sufficiently browned. Turn and cook 2 more minutes. Transfer to plate; cover loosely with foil. It won't be fully cooked.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan with shallot and chard ribs. Cook and stir until ribs begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a handful of greens; toss until beginning to wilt. When there's room, add more greens. Continue until all greens are added, tossing, tasting and seasoning as you go. If pan gets dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water. Stir in garlic. Cook until greens are completely wilted, about 2 minutes after last addition.

Add wine or broth; bring to boil. Nestle chicken and any juices in greens. Cover pan; reduce heat to low. Simmer until chicken is cooked and greens tender, about 3 minutes.

With slotted spoon, transfer greens and chicken to 2 warmed plates. Cover to keep warm. There should be some liquid in pan.

Return skillet to medium-high heat; add lemon zest and juice. Bring to boil and cook until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 2 minutes. Add butter and swirl and stir off heat to melt it. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed (I added a touch more water as my sauce was thick). Pour over chicken; sprinkle with parsley and serve. Makes 2 servings

-- Adapted from "One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals For Two" by Carla Snyder (Chronicle, 2013, $24.95)

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published April 11, 2013 4:00 AM


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