A leaner take on barbecued chicken

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Food & Dining

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Barbecue chicken is one of my favorite summertime dishes. I like every part of it -- the tomato-based sauce (the spicier the better), the crispy skin, even the bones.

And taste aside, it's also relatively healthy, at least as compared to such sundry first cousins as grilled and/or smoked ribs, brisket or pulled pork. It's chicken, after all, and it wears that lean protein halo. Unfortunately, when it's prepared with its skin and bones, and slathered with a sugary sauce, barbecue chicken is very nearly as caloric as its brethren. Know why chicken skin is so delicious? It's high in fat.

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.

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.

Finally, I needed to add some crunch to the recipe to replicate the missing skin and bones. Panko breadcrumbs did the trick. One of my favorite ingredients these days, these fantastically crispy Japanese breadcrumbs are available at most grocers). I sautéed them in a little olive oil with some 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.

I was very pleased with the end result: 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

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

This barbecue sauce can be as flavorful as you like. For the adobo sauce and garlic, start with the lower amounts, then taste and adjust to your preference.

½ 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 ¾- to 1-inch thick)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup panko breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 350 F.

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.

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.