Never be afraid to consider those marked down meats and produce at your favorite store. Check the appearance of the food and how far from the "use by" or "good until" date, but then take advantage of the great bargains to be had.
That is advice I heeded last week when I found a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts marked half off. The pull date was still two days in the future, and the package looked to be without any damage or ontoward signs of neglect. So home I came with almost two pounds of well-trimmed boneless meat for just under $2.50, not a bad deal in today's market.
The problem, of course, is that boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be very dry if not prepared properly, so I set off to the internet to see what kinds of marinade suggestions I might find. I ended up trying a somewhat sweet and fruity mix that I plan to use as a pre-prepared addition to a couple of different stir-fries.
Note that one significant difference from many marinade recipes is that I did not discard the marinade mixture but instead added it to the meat after it was well-browned. The mixture was then allowed to simmer and cook down for about 8 to 12 minutes more (just enough to be sure the chicken was cooked through). This intensified the flavor of the marinade in the final product and should provide a lovely sauce for those vegetables.
...and here is the best part: I only used two thirds of that package, barely $1.70 worth of meat. This amount will provide enough for at least 6 servings of stir fry, perhaps even 8 if you have enough other ingredients in the mix (or if you include a salad topped with some nuts and/or cheese for a high protein side). Less than 30 cents a serving for meat? Not bad!
The end result of this marinating and quick cooking was moist, flavorful, and tender chicken, with really very little effort. Since this could easily be doubled, it would be a great make-ahead dish for freezing for up to a month or so if tightly wrapped.
Teriyaki Marinated Chicken Breasts
1 T honey
1 T soy sauce (use light if you have it)
1 to 2 T teriyaki sauce
2 T freshly squeezed orange juice (including pulp)
1 to 2 t grated fresh ginger
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 to 2 lb chicken breasts, cut into nuggets
1. Mix all ingredients except the chicken. Add the chicken pieces and stir to be sure all are well coated.
2. Allow the chicken to sit in the marinade 20 to 40 minutes. (The smaller the pieces, the shorter the time.)
3. Pour enough canola oil into a large heavy skillet (cast iron preferred) to just provide a thin even coat to the pan. Heat the oil on high heat until it is just shimmering. (NOTE: Avoid using non-stick pans for this recipe, as it is best not to allow them to pre-heat like this.)
4. While the pan is preheating, drain the chicken, reserving the marinade liquid.
5. Place the chicken pieces in the pan without crowding, reduce heat to medium high, and allow to brown on all sides. If necessary, you may need to put half the pieces in to brown, remove them to a plate and brown the rest, adding a bit of oil if necessary to keep the second batch from sticking.
6. When all the pieces are browned, return any that had been removed to the pan and pour on the reserved marinade. Turn heat to medium-medium low, cover, and continue simmering for a few minutes, until a test piece is fork-tender and no longer pink inside.
If not using immediately, cool the chicken in the marinade for about 15 minutes and then refrigerate with the liquid. You may also divide the meat and juices into meal-sized portions and freeze for later use.
Stir Fry Chicken
approximately 1 cup marinated and pre-cooked chicken nuggets, with liquid
1 large onion, chopped
1 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
Any or all of the following vegetables:
1 to 2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 to 1 c diced bell pepper, green, red, and/or yellow
1 to 2 c shredded cabbage
1 c broccoli or cauliflower, cut into bite-sized flowerets
1 c fresh or frozen corn
1 c frozen peas
1 c sliced carrots
1 c peeled and cubed butternut or other squash
2 to 3 c fresh greens--spinach, chard, etc. OR 8 to 10 oz frozen greens
Seasonings--choose your favorite mix:
1 T curry powder, or to taste
1/2 t grated fresh ginger
1/2 t cumin
(other seasonings like garam masala, etc., may also be added)
1 t oregano
1 t Italian seasoning
1/2 t basil, or to taste
1/2 t black pepper
1 t cumin--or more to taste
1/2 c chopped cilantro
1 to 2 t chili powder
1 t oregano
1. Prepare vegetables for cooking and have ready.
2. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium to high heat--I do not have a wok, but this would be the ideal time to use one if you have it.
3. Add the onions, garlic, (and celery if using) and saute briefly, just to soften.
4. Turn the heat to medium high. Stir in the vegetables, adding first those that will require the most cooking. Continue to add vegetables, stirring occasionally to be sure they are cooking evenly. About halfway through, add the chosen seasonings. Any greens should be added near the end, cooking them just enough to wilt and tenderize. If using any frozen vegetables, add them in the next step with the meat.
5. When the vegetables are almost done, stir in the chicken and its juices, along with any frozen vegetables that may be used. Stir well, turn the heat to medium-low, and cover. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.
6. Continue to cook only until the meat (and vegetables) are heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes at most. Though there should be enough moisture from the chicken marinade and vegetable juices, you may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to avoid scorching.
The approach just mentioned, with the last few minutes involving reduced heat and covering for a few minutes will not result in "authentic" stir fry and may produce more of what some purists will call "braised" vegetables. So be it. This approach should still give you only lightly cooked vegetables and a good overall blend of flavors.