Spiced chicken sandwich is hot item for summertime picnics

June 12, 1996|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Let's prepare food for a quiet, relaxing picnic. What's on the menu? Let's start with a fabulous sandwich of nitro chicken with bread and butter pickles as hot or as mild as you like, and a little potato salad to round out the meal.

Nitro chicken is hot! Hot means rich with flavor to match your taste. The flavor comes from the mustard, paprika, cumin and coriander, so it's controllable.

There is something about being outdoors that makes good food taste even better. But sometimes boring, bland food just will not do. In these recipes, we have created different textures in the crusty sandwich, crispy pickles and silky potato salad.

The true, rich flavor comes from the caramelization of the natural sugars in the ingredients during cooking and proper cooling before they find their way into the finished dishes.

The trick to this sandwich begins with the ingredients. Select the best fresh chicken breast (the Amish varieties are pretty darn good). Choose a great red pepper with deep color, a firm sweet onion and a crusty loaf of French bread.

Grill the sweet red pepper until it is black on the outside and very tender to the touch, then let it finish cooking in a plastic or paper bag until cool. This process produces a fuller flavor.

Grill the onion until slightly brown, not burned. It will remain somewhat crisp, which is perfect.

Flatten the marinated chicken to an even thickness of about 1/4 inch. To do that, wrap the chicken in plastic wrap, then pound it with a meat bat or side of a heavy cleaver or even the bottom of a small skillet.

Grill it quickly over very high heat to sear the exterior of the bird and seal in the flavor. Remove it from the grill when just done and spread it on a plate or pan to allow to cool at room temperature. Don't pile the cooked chicken breasts atop each other. This allows them to continue to cook and become quite dry.

Cut the loaf of bread in half lengthwise, like a giant sub. Scoop out the excess soft bread from the center to leave the crust with about 1/2 -inch of soft center. Flatten the bread with your hands.

Spread your secret sauce over both halves of the bread. On the bottom half, start with the chicken breast on the first level, trimming as necessary to allow about 1/2 -inch overlapping the edge of the bread. Then come the pepper, onions, cheese, optional greens and the top crust.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Trim the length of the sandwich to fit into the skillet. Place the sandwich in and top with a brick wrapped in plastic wrap or another large, heavy skillet. Cook the sandwich until browned on the bottom and somewhat flattened. Remove the weight, turn the sandwich over and return the weight atop the sandwich, cooking until golden.

The trick to keeping the sandwich crisp is to cool it on a cake rack to allow the moisture caused by heating to escape. This will prevent the bread from becoming soggy. Once the sandwich is cool, it may be wrapped in parchment paper -- not plastic -- to ensure it maintains this texture.

If you plan to eat in the next couple of hours, you need only to keep the sandwich cool since all the ingredients are cooked.

If it will be longer before serving, then refrigerate the sandwich wrapped in the parchment. It is better to make the sandwich at the last minute than to suffer through a soggy meal.

Healthy? All in all, this sandwich is pretty good on the fat levels especially when compared to the mayonnaise-laden, fatty cold-cut sandwich. But I like it for the taste and texture, not because it's healthy.

Nitro chicken sandwich

Makes 2 large sandwiches

2 tablespoons ground toasted cumin

1 tablespoon ground toasted coriander

mild or hot paprika to taste

4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, washed, patted dry

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup lime juice, divided

2 sweet red bell peppers, washed

2 medium Vidalia or other sweet onions, peeled, ends removed, sliced into 1/3 -inch wide rings

olive oil

1 large loaf of crusty French or Italian bread

1/4 cup extra-strong Dijon-style mustard

4 large slices of Fontinella, Asiago or young Parmesan cheese (enough to cover sandwich)

baby mustard greens such as mizuni, arugula or red mustard

bread and butter pickles (recipe follows)

Heat the grill to high.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the cumin, coriander and mild or hot paprika. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow dish or pie plate. Sprinkle spice mixture over the chicken breasts to evenly coat. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the lime juice over the chicken breasts. Cover and marinate at least one hour.

When grill is heated, place the red peppers on the grill, cooking until the skin is blackened on all sides. Remove from grill and place in a plastic or paper bag. Seal bag and allow to cool.

When cool, remove and discard blackened skin. Remove stem, core and seed the pepper. Tear the pepper into four large pieces lengthwise; set aside.

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