Throughout most of high school, college, graduate school and the years in-between, I worked in a restaurant that serves gourmet burgers. I spent days roasting peppers, months breading onion rings, years frying bacon and a lifetime flipping burgers, to use the ubiquitous phrase. I loved every moment of it. When I would work the morning shift it would be just me, a co-worker or two, the Stones blaring on the stereo and a kitchen full of prep cooking to be done. It was hard work but it was also a peaceful: nothing mattered but the pressing of the lemons, the trimming of the chicken and the whisking of the batter.
For some people, running or yoga gives them clarity. My clearest thinking, on the other hand, happens at the grill. It’s the only culinary endeavor in which I don’t have to think about what I’m doing: the years I spent turning chicken and salting patties have made it second nature. As I result, while I’m grilling I think of…nothing. My mind goes blank. My hands do all the work and my head goes zen. I know, I know—I’m weird.
I can make the perfect burger with my eyes closed, but I also like to mix it up and experiment with ingredients and flavors. I could write a novel about cooking beef patties, and I’m sure I will before the grilling season is out. But today let’s talk about chicken.
Grilled chicken breasts can go one of two ways: they can be the most amazing piece of poultry you’ve ever eaten in your life, or they can be dry as paper and hard as a rock. To prevent this catastrophe and maintain moisture, I like to take a few precautions:
- Pound your chicken breasts thin or slice in half (as I did with the ones pictured above). This will reduce the total cooking time needed and lessen the chance that you’ll overcook while trying to get rid of that pesky pink middle.
- Marinate. Use your favorite recipe, or simply toss ‘em in a Ziploc with a little vinaigrette. Any mixture containing an acid (citrus, vinegar, etc.) will work to tenderize the meat. An overnight marinade with generally produce the most tender, flavorful chicken, but if you’ve run out of time, just rinse your chicken breasts, pat dry, and let them sit refrigerated in the marinade for as long as you can (even 30 minutes will help).
- Prep the grill. Turn the heat to medium-high, close the lid, and let it warm up for 10 minutes. Then give it a good scrub with your grill brush, wipe down (carefully and quickly) with a damp towel you don’t mind ruining, and brush with oil or spray with cooking spray (VERY carefully: oil usually creates flames). Turn down heat to medium and give it a few minutes to cool before laying on the chicken.
- Lay the chicken breasts on the grill and don’t close the lid. Closing the lid will add indirect heat that can dry out the chicken.
- Flip not by timing but by appearance. Once all of the edges are evenly white and the pink is beginning to disappear from the tops, it’s time to flip (in the photo above, the breast pieces are ready to be turned).
- Check by actually cutting into the chicken. Thermometers are not always reliable. Cut into the thickest part of the breast to make sure all of the pink has turned white. The moment that happens, pull that sucker off the grill.
Whew. Turns out I needed to write a novel on grilling chicken as well.
Stepping off my soapbox now. Let’s move onto the good stuff.
For my first chicken burgers of the season, I decided to go with some fresh summer flavors. Remember that decadent rhubarb shortcake I made the other day? It was the inspiration for this dish. I used the same basic recipe for the rhubarb compote, but this time adding a little rosemary to give it more balance of flavor for this savory dish.
Once you’ve grilled your marinated chicken breasts (or breast halves, if you’ve cut them for grilling), top with a few slices of brie while they’re still on the grill. If you’ve cooking halved breasts, you can overlap them so that they fit nicely on the bun.
While you’re at it, toast your buns on the grill. One minute per side should be plenty.
Once the brie is slightly melted (not too melted—brie can get really runny), pull those babies off and dress your buns. Spread on a little mayo (an herbed aioli would work nicely, too), some lettuce or spinach, and a dollop of the rhubarb compote on top.
I always love the pairing of brie with sweet spreads, and I loved it even more on this burger. It was unexpected and yet the flavors blended together really well. Sweet and savory combos always win me over.
They also make me perform interpretive dances. But I won’t show you those.
Fresh, easy, summery meal, pretty enough to serve for company.
My zen is gone and the long weekend is over. But grilling season is upon us, and I can’t wait to stand over the propane flames, the smell of summer seeping into my apron, and think of…nothing.
Grilled Chicken Burgers with Brie and Rosemary Rhubarb
- 4 marinated chicken breasts, halved or pounded thin (see suggestions above)
- 8 slices brie cheese
- Rhubarb compote with rosemary (see recipe below)
- 4 potato rolls or your favorite hamburger buns
- Aioli or mayo, for dressing buns
- Lettuce or spinach, for dressing buns
Place chicken breasts on clean, greased pre-heated gas grill on set to medium-high. Flip once edges of breasts turn white and continue grilling until no longer pink in the center. Top each breast (if halved, overlap the two halves) with two slices brie and let melt slightly. Toast buns if desired.
Spread buns with aioli or mayo and top with lettuce. Place each chicken breast on top of lettuce and finish with a dollop of the rhubarb compote. Serves 4.
Rosemary Rhubarb Compote
- 4 stalks rhubarb, trimmed of leaves and chopped into 1/4? pieces
- 1/2 plus 1/8 cups water, divided
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 packet gelatin
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
Bring 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the rhubarb, stir and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until rhubarb has softened and mixture has thickened. Remove from heat. Pour the remaining 1/8 cup water into a shallow dish and sprinkle in gelatin. Let sit for 5 minutes. Once rhubarb mixture has cooled slightly, stir in activated gelatin and rosemary. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or until set.