Grilled chicken with strawberry balsamic vinegar sauce

Grilled chicken breasts get a flavor boost with a simple, jam-based sauce.

Blue Kitchen
Grilled chicken smothered with homemade strawberry jalapeño jam and balsamic vinegar for a nice, tart tang topped off with fresh sage.

I read somewhere recently that chicken growers are having trouble marketing chicken parts that aren’t skinless, boneless breasts. And it’s not because chicken breasts are more convenient to cook, or that chicken thighs and legs are more fatty than breast meat. It’s that skinless, boneless chicken breasts don’t have bones and therefore seem less like they came from an animal and are therefore somehow less icky.

Seriously? If you’re going to eat meat, own up to it. You can pretend all you want, but that boneless, skinless bit of animal protein was just as much a part of a living chicken as a bone-in thigh or drumstick.

If you’re not ready to give up eating meat (I know I’m not), but you want to feel better about doing so, there are a number of things you can do. You can shop the farmers markets, where the farmers can – and cheerfully will, often at great length – tell you about the healthy, humane, pasture-fed, free-range lives their animals lead. You can shop the new breed of butcher shops such as The Butcher & Larder, where the butchers only deal with small, local farmers, often the ones you see at the farmers markets. And increasingly, you can shop certain supermarket chains. Whole Foods is perhaps the most notable chain, but not the only one, where you can find meats labeled free-range, organic or grass-fed (or all of the above).

Of course, for chains to be able to carry sustainably, humanely raised meats, they need suppliers who can produce at chain volume. A couple of years ago, I wrote about Just BARE Chicken, all natural, minimally processed chicken raised cage-free by independent, local family farmers in the upper Midwest. And while their products are still primarily available in that region, they continue to expand – and to prove that best practices farming can be done on a large scale.

Now Just BARE Chicken is broadening its definition of sustainability and taking a close look at the environmental effects of its operation. They worked with the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank, on a product life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas inventory, measuring greenhouse gas emissions of everything from production of raw material inputs like feed and bedding to packaging and leftovers. They became the first US poultry brand to be Carbon Trust certified, signifying their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. And they’re working with Renewable Choice Energy to purchase renewable energy certificates; their purchases are used to support further development of clean energy facilities.

But we were talking about chicken breasts. Sustainably raised or not, they present a challenge in the kitchen. By giving up their skin and bones, they also give up a certain amount of flavor. So tricks like grilling them to give them some smokiness or adding a lively sauce can really help. For this dish, I did both. For the sauce, I started with some of the homemade strawberry jalapeño jam from last week’s grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then added some balsamic vinegar for a nice, tart tang and some fresh sage. You can use any jam that suits your fancy (apricot would be delicious, I’m sure), but if it doesn’t pack some heat on its own, add a little cayenne pepper. The spicy kick is a nice touch.

(see recipe next page)

Grilled Chicken with Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar Sauce
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, divided
1/4 cup strawberry jam (I used my homemade jam)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Remove the chicken from the fridge about 1/2 hour before you’re ready to grill, to let it come to room temperature. I usually do this just before firing up the charcoal in the chimney starter. Meanwhile, make the strawberry balsamic vinegar sauce. Combine jam, balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the fresh sage in a medium bowl and stir with a fork until completely mixed.

Just before you’re ready to grill, pat the chicken breasts dry with paper toweling and brush with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides and sprinkle with remaining sage, gently pressing it into the chicken to help it stick.

Lightly oil the hot grill and the cook the chicken breasts, starting with what would have been the skin side down, for about 5 minutes, with the grill closed. Turn the breasts and cook for an additional three minutes or so with the grill closed, until a quick read thermometer registers 165 degrees F. Transfer chicken to a platter, tent loosely with foil and let it rest about 5 minutes before serving. Plate individual breast halves and spoon the strawberry sauce over them. Serve.

Related post: Five cool grilling recipes for the long, hot summer

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