[Photographs: Aaron Hutcherson]
Pollo a la plancha is a classic dish in many Latin American countries. Sometimes also called pechuga a la plancha, thereby denoting the chicken part used (the breast), the dish name translates to chicken cooked on a flat top grill or griddle. The exact preparation seems to vary based on who you ask and which country they’re from, but the Cuban version of this dish requires marinating the chicken in Cuban-style adobo or mojo.
Cuba’s version of this sauce includes garlic, sour orange juice, cumin, and oregano, and, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, ground allspice. Fresh sour oranges can be hard to come by in the US—though fresh and frozen options are often available at Latin American grocers—but you can use an equal mix of orange and lime juices as a substitute to approximate their flavor. Serve with Cuban black beans and rice for a complete island meal.
Why It Works
- 30 minutes is all that’s needed for the marinade to flavor the chicken, and that short amount of time also prevents the meat from becoming mushy due to the acidic ingredients.
- Using the same skillet to brown the onions as the chicken adds flavor to the onions, since the browned bits left in the pan can be deglazed using the water released by the onions as they begin cooking.
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 orange)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
- Kosher salt
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 10 ounces; 285g each) or 8 chicken cutlets
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) neutral oil such as canola or vegetable, plus more as needed
- 1 large white or yellow onion (about 3/4 pound; 340g); sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch thick rings
- Cooked long-grain rice and black beans, for serving
- Picked cilantro leaves, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
Using a blender or food processor, purée garlic, orange juice, lime juice, cumin, oregano, black pepper, allspice (if using), and 2 teaspoons kosher salt until smooth. (Alternatively, to make with a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with the salt to form a paste and then mix in the rest of the ingredients. Alternatively, finely grate or mince the garlic and stir together with the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.)
If using chicken breast halves, cut into cutlets following our instructions here, pounding to an even thickness of about 1/4 inch (if desired, you can butterfly the breast halves by not fully cutting all the way through, so that they open like a book; butterflied breasts also need to be pounded to an even thickness).
Place chicken cutlets in a large zipper-lock bag or shallow baking or glass storage dish. Add marinade, making sure it coats chicken evenly all over. Press out excess air and seal zipper-lock bag, or cover dish with plastic or a lid. Refrigerate for 30 minutes; if chicken is in a dish, turn it once halfway through.
Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and wipe off any excess. In a stainless steel skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches if necessary to prevent crowding the pan, add the chicken cutlets and cook until golden brown on each side, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer cooked cutlets to a platter and cover with foil or place in a low oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding more oil if the pan gets too dry.
In the same skillet that you cooked the chicken, add more oil if the pan is dry and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion rings, season with salt, and sauté until the onions have softened a bit and started to brown, 7 to 10 minutes; lower heat and/or add a small splash of water if the contents of the pan threaten to burn.
Arrange cutlets on serving plates and top with browned onions. Serve with black beans and rice and garnish with cilantro leaves and lime wedges.
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