Poultry's the pick for Labor Day feast Marinades: Ingredients and flavors from Vietnam, India and France add delicious new taste to a familiar favorites.

September 02, 1998|By Janet Hazen | Janet Hazen,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

There's something irresistible about cooking food outdoors for Labor Day.

Everyone seems to like chicken - and some are even ready to try duck - whether it's roasted, fried, smoked, baked, poached, sauteed or grilled. But let's face it - meals get pretty boring when it's the same dish, day after day and year after year.

For this reason, I've borrowed ingredients and flavors from Vietnam, India and France to create some new marinades for grilling poultry. A balanced marinade contains tenderizing acids in the form of tomatoes, vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt. Flavoring agents like spices, herbs and liquor can be used, or condiments such as mustard, Worcestershire sauce or pureed chilies.

An appropriate oil is helpful for transporting flavoring agents, providing moisture and coating the food while cooking. Granulated or brown sugar, molasses, jams, jellies and corn or maple syrup may be added judiciously to balance the acid, heighten flavor and encourage even browning. I abide by the theory that salting food during cooking draws juices from the meat, thus rendering it dry and tough. That's why I always salt poultry (as well as meat and fish) after it is cooked.

Southeast Asian ingredients can be purchased at any Asian grocery store. Although I always recommend grinding your own spices from whole seeds or pods using an electric coffee grinder, you can use the already-ground version, if necessary.

Pair the tasty, low-fat Indian Spiced Chicken Breasts with a salad of mixed vegetables and basmati rice. Coarsely chop leftovers and combine with chopped green onions, fresh tomatoes and a little cheese, and use flour tortillas to make Indian-style quesadillas.

The zesty Vietnamese-style marinade makes for super-juicy, tender Southeast Asian chicken thighs. Serve with steamed jasmine rice or a cold noodle salad, plus stir-fried sugar peas mixed with baby corn and water chestnuts.

With the Easy Barbecue Duckling recipe, you begin by roasting the duckling in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours. Then, move on to the grill to finish the bird to a golden, delicious brown. The sauce is easy.

Ask your butcher to cut a whole chicken into breast/wing and thigh/drumstick portions for the Provencal Mustard and Garlic Chicken dish. If you can't find herbs de Provence, use dried thyme instead. Accompany with grilled or roasted new potatoes and a green salad.

Provencal Mustard and Garlic Chicken

Makes 4 servings

3/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

7 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons herbs de Provence or dried thyme

2 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into breast/wing and thigh/drumstick portions

In large bowl, whisk together olive oil and mustard until blended. Whisk in vinegar. Add garlic and herbs and mix well. Place chickens in bowl and coat on all sides with marinade. Cover tightly with plastic or foil and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 2 days before grilling.

Prepare outdoor grill. When coals are medium-hot (covered by medium layer of gray ash with areas of glowing red visible), place chicken skin-side down on grill. Depending on intensity of fire, cook chicken breast portions total of about 25 minutes, and thigh portions 30 to 35 minutes until center of chicken is just opaque. Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Southeast Asian Chicken Thighs

Makes 6 servings

6 stalks lemon grass

1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

6 tablespoons peanut oil

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

1 bunch cilantro

6 garlic cloves

6 jalapeno or serrano chili peppers, stemmed

12 chicken thighs

To prepare lemon grass, cut off top dry portion of each stalk, leaving about 3 inches. Remove very bottom end and peel away tough outer layers of each stalk. Coarsely chop. (Bottom end is also rather tough and fibrous, but considerably more succulent and pliable than midsection and top portion.)

In bowl of food processor, place prepared lemon grass, vinegar, oil, fish sauce, sugar, cilantro, garlic and chili peppers. Using on/off switch to pulse, process until ingredients are minced and mixture is homogenized.

Transfer to stainless steel, glass or plastic bowl and add thighs. Mix well with hands to coat each thigh with marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 1 day before grilling.

Prepare outdoor grill. When coals are medium-hot (covered by medium layer of gray ash with areas of glowing red visible), place thighs skin-side down on grill. Depending on intensity of fire, cook chicken total of 25 to 30 minutes, flipping, turning and rotating to encourage even cooking and to prevent skin from burning. Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Indian Spiced Chicken Breasts

Makes 6 servings

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon ground anise

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 1/2 cups plain nonfat yogurt

6 boneless (skin left on) chicken breasts

kosher or sea salt

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