JESSICA KARLEY: Cooking caprese
When I’m dining out, there’s no doubt my attention immediately goes to anything on a menu with the word “caprese” in it. There’s something about the flavor combination of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil that make me feel like I could eat it morning, noon and night. Naturally, I often try to work those flavors into my dinners at home.
This past weekend, we brought out our grill, and I decided to make Grilled Chicken Caprese Sandwiches, which are a combination of the classic tomato salad and an ultimate grilled cheese. Let me tell you, they turned out to be everything my taste buds hoped for.
To make the tasty sandwiches, the process begins the day before, by marinating chicken in balsamic vinaigrette overnight. Don’t worry, I didn’t do much. Some nights, I have enough to worry about getting one dinner on the table, let alone planning ahead for the next day.
I just placed the raw chicken breasts in a resealable plastic bag with 2 cups of store-bought light balsamic vinaigrette, sealed it, gave it a quick shake and placed it on the bottom shelf of my fridge. (Never place thawing meats on the top shelf in case they drip.) The next day, the flavorful chicken hit the grill, and the tangy balsamic marinade caramelized on the outside of the juicy chicken breasts.
The chicken wasn’t the only part of this sandwich that made an appearance outside. The French bread also got a toasty crust by rubbing it with chili oil and grilling it cut-side down for 3 to 4 minutes. Because the charcoal flavor was now in the bread and the chicken, it made the sandwich even more mouth-watering.
Once the grilling was done, the work moved back inside. I placed the chicken breast on the bottom slice of the French bread that had been cut in half length-wise and topped with fresh, sliced, juicy tomatoes and a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese. Then, they went onto a baking sheet under the broiler of the oven until the cheese started to melt and turn golden brown. Then, the bottom halves of the sandwiches were topped with fresh chopped basil and balsamic glaze.
Karley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her food blog at EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com.
Caprese Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
4 4- to 6-ounce chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 cups light balsamic vinaigrette dressing
1 12- to 16-inch loaf of French bread, halved lengthwise.
¼ cup chili oil or plain olive oil with crushed pepper flakes added
4 slices fresh tomato
8 small slices fresh mozzarella cheese (about ¼-inch thick)
¼ cup balsamic glaze
½ cup fresh chopped basil
THE DAY BEFORE: Place chicken breast and balsamic vinaigrette dressing in resealable plastic bag. Seal and shake gently to coat. Place bag on bottom shelf of refrigerator overnight or for a minimum of 8 hours.
THE DAY OF: Preheat grill to medium high heat. Remove chicken breast from marinade and place on grill. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through and internal temperature is 165 degrees. Remove from grill and cover with foil. Set aside. Discard any leftover marinade. Brush bread with chili oil. Place on grill, cut-side down for about 4 minutes or until marked from grill and toasted to a golden brown. Turn off grill. Preheat oven broiler to high. Cut bread into 3- to 4-inch sections. Place 1 chicken breast on each bottom half of bread. Top each breast with 1 tomato slice and 2 pieces of mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted a light shade of golden brown and bubbly. Remove from oven. Drizzle each sandwich with 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze. (Add more if you like.) Top with fresh chopped basil and top half of bun.
On Balsamic Glaze:
A balsamic glaze can be picked up at the store if you’re looking to save a few minutes of your day, or if you use it a lot, like I do, it might be worth it to make your own. To make your own balsamic glaze, you’ll need 2 cups of a high quality, well-aged balsamic vinegar. In a small pan over medium heat, cook until it reduces by two-thirds. You should have about 2/3 cup of liquid. The length of time for the vinegar to reduce down will vary as will the amount of the finished product.
The key to knowing when you have reached the “glaze” stage is paying close attention to the bubbles as they boil. When they start to look “thick,” dip a teaspoon in and place a small amount of the reduction onto a plate. As the mixture hits the plate, it should cool enough for you to see if the thickness is more sauce-like or still the consistency of vinegar.
At this stage, you should also be careful to avoid over-reducing it, as that can sometimes cause your glaze to have a slightly burnt taste.
Once you’ve found your perfect consistency, remove it from the heat and store it in a sealed container in the fridge for as long as one week. If you’re looking for something to bring that party host who has everything or can be tricky to buy for, try packaging your delicious glaze in a mason jar with a cute label or bow. Who doesn’t love tasty homemade gifts?
2 cups balsamic vinegar, high quality, aged
In a small pan over medium heat, bring vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, so vinegar is simmering. Let simmer until reduced by half and start watching closer. When amount it almost 2/3 cup and bubbles begin to look “thick,” test with a spoon and a slightly chilled plate to see if it is the same consistency as a thin gravy. Remove from heat and place in a sealable container, preferably glass. Keeps for 1 week.