Grilled chicken mango & salsa “Floribbean” salad
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Cuban Spices, Citrus Butter and Mango Salsa
While some of my culinary touch-points are New England, Italy and France, I have been influenced by other cuisines as well. My father relocated our family to Florida when I was 10 years old, and there was much protest from all of us. We were leaving our close, extended family, our friends, and all that was comfortable. But, it was a bold move on my father’s part, as he worked to establish a branch of the company that employed him.
While my parents preserved our Italian and French food traditions, we eventually sampled and loved Florida cuisine: fresh Gulf fish and seafood, citrus, and the influences of Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Florida is a melting pot culturally and in terms of cuisine. So, when summertime arrives here, I begin to play with sunny, citrusy “Floribbean” flavors. My trip to the market Saturday yielded ripe mangoes sweet nectarines that I could smell from two aisles over, and beautiful fresh pineapples.
I also had in my spice pantry a new jar of Cuban Island Spice from my favorite purveyor of herbs and spices, Savory Spice Shop. This is a blend of garlic, salt, black pepper, bell peppers, onion, cumin, annatto, tomato, oregano, cilantro, parsley, kefir lime, basil, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. My menu began to take shape.
Cook’s tips: This is a quick and easy dinner to prepare, even for a large number of people, if you prepare the salsa, compound butter, and the vinaigrette early in the day. Grilling the chicken breast cutlets take just 3 minutes per side, and composing a salad takes just 10 minutes. Marinate the chicken breast cutlets in a good white wine. I had some Orvieto open, and so that was my choice. Refrigerate until grilling time.
1 large ripe mango, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1/3 of a cored pineapple, diced
2-3 seeded, finely chopped fresh jalapenos or red chile peppers (I assume that you know to wear gloves, to keep your hands away from your eyes, and to wash your hands thoroughly after handling these peppers)
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 a roasted red pepper, diced
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 1 large lime
Your favorite hot sauce if you want to add additional heat–I used Tabasco-brand Jalapeno, Just add a shot at a time and taste. Be mindful that the longer the salsa sits, the more intense the flavors.
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl, adjust your seasonings, cover and place in the refrigerator until plating time. I make many variations of fruit salsa throughout the summer months. Use fruits that appeal to your palate and that are available at your market.
Compound butters are simple, flavorful butters that can be sweet or savory, can be smeared on breads, biscuits, or scones, or can to melted on a grilled piece of meat, poultry or fish for added flavor. The basic recipe for a savory butter is 4 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh herbs to 8 tablespoons of butter. The technique is simple: soften 8 tablespoons of butter, and then use your stand or hand mixer to beat the herbs into the butter. Add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and then pack in a porcelain ramekin and cover to refrigerate, or you can place the soft herbed butter onto a rectangle of clear wrap and shape it into a log. Twist the ends and refrigerate, and then you can cut off slices as needed.
For the Citrus Butter, I used 2 heaping tablespoons of combined lime, orange and lemon zest from 1/2 large navel orange, 1 large lime and 1 large lemon (organic, washed and dried) and 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper. Compound butters are an easy way to layer flavors, combined with a marinated protein and a salsa o a reduction sauce. It is an easy method to build flavors without adding a complicated sauce. Visit Pantry Essentials, under the Feature tab on the navigation menu for a future post on compound butters.
Citrus Basil Vinaigrette
Juice if 1/2 large lemon
Juice of 1/2 large orange
Juice of 1 large lime
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon of honey
8 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients except the oil in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the olive oil gradually to combine well. Adjust seasonings to your taste. Set aside.
Mixed Green Salad
12 ounces of mixed lettuces (I used baby romaine)
6 radishes, sliced
5 or so snap peas per person
6 ounces feta cheese
3 ripe nectarines, stones removed (difficult to do with ripe, juicy fruit, but don’t worry if the halves or quarters are not perfectly neat–better to have sweet, ripe nectarines!)
Slivered almonds, a tablespoon per salad, total 6 tablespoons
Simply compose the salads on each plate. Wait to dress them until the chicken and nectarines are grilled and plated.
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Cuban Island Spice
I allowed 1 breast cutlet per person, a 4-5 ounce cutlet. I utilized cutlets, because they grill very quickly. If you have boneless, skinless chicken breasts on hand, you can place each between two sheets of wax paper and pound into a thin cutlet for quick, even grilling.
Remove the cutlets from the marinade and pat dry. Sprinkle each side of the cutlets with a teaspoon of the Cuban spice blend. If you cannot source a Cuban spice blend like the one that I utilized, you can build your own using garlic and onion powders, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, oregano, and some lime zest.
When the temperature is in the 90s, I often grill in my kitchen with a well-seasoned Le Creuset grill pan. Good ventilation is the key. Preheat your favorite grill pan, and then grill the seasoned cutlets for 3 minutes on each side. You should have lovely grill marks but juicy, moist chicken. Remove the chicken to a plate to rest for a few minutes while you grill the nectarine halves. Grill cut side down in the same grill plan that you use to grill the chicken. The nectarines will pick up some of the spices and chicken juices. Grill for just 2 minutes, and you are ready to plate.
Place a nectarine half on each salad. Place a chicken breast cutlet on each plate, and top with the Citrus Butter. Spoon some Mango Salsa to the side of the cutlet. Drizzle a tablespoon of the Citrus Vinaigrette over each salad.
Serve dinner with a chilled white wine–a Chardonnay is good!
The grilled chicken has layers of spicy, sweet, citrusy, sunny flavors. The Mango Salsa has the colors of a sunset and has some heat from the peppers. The salad has a variety of textures and flavors–creamy and salty feta, crunchy and slightly spicy radishes, crisp snap peas, and the sweet warm nectarine.
I encourage you take this recipe and give it your signature or twist that appeals to your palate!