A Chicken Recipe with Spirit

“Chicken, chicken, chicken,” my husband Jeff teases me. He’s not harassing me about my irrational fear of crossing train tracks, thinking a locomotive will suddenly appear from out of sight and fly by at top speed, crushing me à la the coyote in those old Road Runner cartoons. He’s mocking my answer to the question of what to eat for dinner. So I like chicken. Hey, there’s a reason it’s the second most popular meat in the U.S. after beef (and that probably gets top billing because of all those billions of burgers served)—it’s a tasty and versatile lean meat. According to the USDA, chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds. Wow. Well I know I’m doing my part.

But, the issue is how to prepare this well-loved bird in a different way when it’s so frequently part of the menu. Here’s a flavorful favorite by grilling guru Steven Raichlen (host of PBS’s Primal Grill and author of The Barbecue Bible, Beer-Can Chicken, and more) that both Jeff and I loved. It appeared in Drinks magazine in a feature on saucy barbecue so it’s a “spirited” recipe containing tequila. It’s still tasty without the garlic-cilantro butter, but that certainly adds a layer. What’s not to like?

Tequila-Grilled Chicken Breasts

Serves 4

This recipe is bursting with southwestern flavors—lime, cilantro, and jalapeño chilies. So it’s only appropriate that the spirit should be tequila.

1 1⁄2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For the marinade:
4 jalapeño chilies, seeded and chopped
4 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1⁄2 bunch cilantro, washed and stemmed, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1⁄4 c. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. tequila

For the tequila-garlic-cilantro butter:
3 Tbsp. salted butter
2  cloves garlic, minced
3  Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1  Tbsp. tequila
Lime wedges for serving

Trim any fat or sinews off the chicken breast. Arrange them in a nonreactive baking dish.

To make the marinade, combine the jalapeños, scallions, 1⁄2 cup cilantro, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin in a food processor and finely chop. With the machine running, add the olive oil, lime juice, and tequila. Purée to a bright green paste. Pour this mixture over the chicken, turning the breasts several times to coat evenly. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

To prepare the tequila-garlic-cilantro butter, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic and chopped cilantro and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the tequila and bring to a boil.

Drain the chicken breasts well. Grill over high heat until cooked, 4 to 6 minutes per side, lightly basting with the butter sauce.

Transfer the chicken breasts to a platter or plates. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve with lime wedges.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.