Monday, December 15, 2014

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

A popular way to make "oven fried chicken" includes using a mayonnaise slather on the chicken.  The mayonnaise does a few things, such as; 
  1. acts as a binder to hold other ingredients on the meat,
  2. provides a tangy flavor similar to buttermilk marinated chicken, and
  3. it helps keep the chicken moist.
Typically those recipes go for an Italian seasoned chicken but I thought it would be good to take it in a Southwestern direction by adding Mexican crema, Cotija cheese, oregano, cilantro, and red chile flake instead.  As it turns out, this is the closest thing I have come to crispy "fried chicken" on my kamado style grills.  I was just using the Big Green Egg as a brick oven, so you could just as easily make this in your oven.

fried chicken breast, Southwestern chicken, Tex-Mex chicken

The cotija cheese and Mexican Crema used to be a little difficult to find but now most grocery stores stock these in their refrigerated Latin food section or dairy department.  Cotija is salty and nutty, similar to Parmesan and you could substitute that in a pinch.  The crema could be substituted with either sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt.  If you are a cilantro-phobe, you can simply replace it with dried parsley.

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema
  • 1/4 cup grated Cotija cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs, non-seasoned
  • 1 teaspoon Southwestern seasoning
  1. Set up your grill for indirect heat and preheat grill to 400°F.  Alternatively, you can use your oven at the same time and temps.
  2. Mix together the mayo, crema, Cotija, cilantro (or parsley), oregano, and pepper flakes to form a paste.  Slather mixture all over the four chicken breasts and place on a raised rack over a quarter sheet pan.
  3. Mix together the breadcrumbs and Southwestern seasoning.  Sprinkle this over the chicken breasts and lightly press into the chicken so it will stick.
  4. Place the chicken, rack, and sheet pan in the grill (lid closed) or oven and cook until the chicken breasts turn golden brown reach an internal temperature of 160°F, about 30 minutes.
Kamado notes:  I used my Big Green Egg (Egg #1) with the plate setter in "legs up" and the Craycort grill gate on top of that.  Once it was preheated well at 400°F, I dropped my bottom vent to about 1" open and the top DFMT vent was slid shut with the petals open to hold 400° for the duration of the cook.

Typically, I flatten and pound out chicken breast for even, fast cooking but for this recipe, I keep them bunched up in the "roast" shape as they come out of the package like shown below.

Trim off any of the excess fatty pieces.

There is no way to do this without getting a little messy, so the gloves come in handy.

We used a Southwest Seasoning from McCormick but you can use whatever brand or recipe you like.

chicken on resting rack
The rack/pan combination goes right into the grill or oven.  It lets the air circulate around the chicken so you don't have to flip it.  Spray the rack with cooking spray to make the chicken easy to remove after cooking.

The rack is a tight fit on a large BGE but it does fit if you are careful with the placement of the corners.  It fits with no problem in the Vision Classic B kamado.

As always, go by internal temperature, not time.  I took these all of the way to 165°F for the crispy crust and they were still juicy inside.

oven fried chicken, chicken Big Green Egg, kamado fried chicken
Served with corn & green chiles and Chipotle scalloped potatoes.

This chicken was moist with a flavor loaded crisp crust, just about perfect - a definite winner.  We also made the Homesick Texan's Chipotle Scalloped Potatoes on Alexis' Big Green Egg (Egg #2) and I'll do a post on that later this week.