Excerpted with permission from The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2020) by Nik Sharma. Text and photographs copyright © 2020 by Nik Sharma
This is my weekday afternoon salad. The salad itself is very simple—a splash of lime juice and a bit of amchur for a dose of acidity—but it’s the chicken that carries the strongest punch of flavor. You can also use this chicken in sandwiches for a brunch or picnic menu, served with a little mayonnaise. Depending on what I have at home, I sometimes add 2 Tbsp of fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, or tarragon. Both breast and thigh meat from the chicken work here. You will need to plan a few hours in advance to marinate the chicken. Here’s a kitchen trick that I use at home to plan ahead for the week: I marinate the chicken for 1 hour in the refrigerator, then freeze it with the marinade in small batches in resealable bags. Whenever you’re ready to cook the chicken, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or leave it out on the kitchen counter and then cook it.
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (total weight about 1 lb [455 g])1⁄4 cup [60 ml] plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing1⁄4 cup [60 ml] red wine vinegar1 teaspoon ground coriander1 teaspoon ground cumin1 teaspoon red chilli powder1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed2 heads butter lettuce (total weight 14 oz [400 g]), leaves separated and torn3 shallots (total weight 61/2 oz [180 g]), thinly sliced12 oz [340 g] cherry tomatoes, sliced in half2 tablespoons fresh lime juiceFine sea saltFreshly ground black pepper1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons amchur
THE FLAVOR APPROACH:
The marinade for the chicken acts as a flavor booster and also as a brining solution. The salt and acid present in the vinegar in the brine create favorable conditions for the salt to diffuse and other ingredients to flavor the meat. Together salt and acid affect protein structure and increase the water retention capacity of the chicken breast. The result is a chicken breast that’s juicier and more tender.
Pat the chicken thighs dry with clean paper towels and place them in a resealable bag. In a medium bowl, combine the 1/4 cup [60 ml] of olive oil, the vinegar, coriander, cumin, red chili powder, salt, and black pepper. Pour over the chicken in the bag, shake to coat evenly, and seal. Refrigerate the bag to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. When ready to cook, bring the bag out and leave on the kitchen counter for at least 15 minutes to warm to room temperature.Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the grates with a little oil. Take the chicken thighs out of the bag with a pair of kitchen tongs, tapping them on the side of the bag to get rid of any excess liquid. Place the chicken on the hot grates and grill until they are completely cooked (165°F [74°C] on an instant- read thermometer) and develop grill marks on each side, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut the chicken into strips.
Place the lettuce leaves, shallots, and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Whisk the lime juice and remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a small bowl and pour it over the vegetables in the bowl. Season with salt and black pepper and toss to coat evenly. To serve, place the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle the amchur on top.
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