Chicken breasts, coffee, and serendipity…

This past week we’ve had high temps above 100F every single day. My Brazilian nature does not mind the heat, quite the contrary, but meals have to match the weather: give me something light, refreshing,  maybe with a hint of spice in the background.  Preferably something I can cook outside on the grill, so the kitchen stays nice and cool. I had some boneless chicken breasts in the fridge, but usually grilling  them would not be my first option: they are so lean, it is easy to end up with dry, chalky-tasting meat. But, where there is a will, there is a way; in this case the way is called “brining”. You can read about the  method here and  here.
For our dinner, I chose a recipe I had made before from Fine Cooking. I remembered that we both liked the way the chicken turned out, but thought that the flavor was just a little bland. Then, my friends,  serendipity hit: the TV was on,  and it so happens that Bobby Flay was showing Giada de Laurentiis how he liked to grill chicken breasts… No, he did not brine it, but before grilling he covered one side only with a mixture of dry spices, or as the lingo goes, a “dry rub”.  If you want to see his recipe, click here.
That pretty much sealed the deal for me. I made a “mix-and-match” version that pleased 100% of the critics (those would be me and hubby, the dogs did not have a chance to taste it, even though they did beg).
Grilled Coffee-brined Chicken Breasts
(adapted from Fine Cooking #59)

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 cups water
4 slices lemon (1/4 inch thick)
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
1 Tbs. mustard seeds
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves2 T olive oil
dry rub:
1 T smoked paprika
1  t  ground fennel

To make the brine, combine the salt, sugar, water, lemon, peppercorns, and mustard seeds in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium-large bowl, add the coffee, and refrigerate until cool, about 15 minutes. Put the chicken breasts in the brine and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Heat a gas grill to high or prepare a hot charcoal fire.

Make a dry rub mixing the spices. If you don’t have adobo seasoning, feel free to improvise mixing flavors you are fond of  ;-)  Drain the chicken and blot dry with paper towels. Lightly brush both sides with olive oil, and coat one side with the dry rub mix. No need to make a thick coating, just sprinkle the spices all over. Place the breasts on the grill, spice side down, grill for about 3 minutes, rotate them 45 degrees (do not flip them yet) to get a nice pattern of marks, continue grilling 4 additional minutes. Now flip the breasts and grill 4 minutes with the spice rub up.

Remove from the grill and tent with aluminum foil for a few minutes before slicing at an angle.

If you are wondering about the side dish, nothing could be simpler. When you have these beauties available (anticipation paid off!) plus some gorgeous yellow grape tomatoes from the farmer’s market, simple is best!


I cut them in half, placed in a serving bowl, cut a ripe avocado in small chunks, added to the tomatoes. A juicy lemon was squeezed on top to coat the avocado pieces. Salt and pepper. A drizzle of  extra virgin olive oil. The mixture sat  for maybe 10 minutes until the chicken was ready. We ate and moaned with pleasure. As hubby said, “the avocado almost turns into a dressing”.  Absolutely delicious…

General comments: the flavor of coffee is barely noticeable, it gives a certain smokiness that goes well with the smoked paprika (by the way, if you have never used it, please give it a try). Adding the dry rub made this dish shine, I highly recommend this extra step.

To make this dish weeknight-friendly, you could brine the chicken breasts the day before, remove them from the brine and store in the fridge, covered. When you get home from work, all you have to do is turn your grill on, get the dry rub going, cut the tomatoes and enjoy a very quick but very flavorful meal. Don’t forget a nice loaf of bread….

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