The first step is to make sure you have all of the ingredients that you will require. Since everyone has different tastes and the actually flavor of fresh food vary considerably I do not use exact measurements in the kitchen. It is far better to develop your palate and sense of proportion and texture as this will allow you to modify recipes on the fly and adjust your vision to fit the available ingredients. That being said here are the basic items you will need to prepare this dish:
- Chicken breasts
- Fresh mozzarella
- Fresh basil
- Roma tomatoes
- Jalapeno pepper
- Olive Oil
- Black Pepper
As will all cooking, the fresher your ingredients the better the outcome will be. Buying local will inevitably result in a better product because the food spent less time in transit so it gets from farm to kitchen faster. Even better is to grow your own vegetables. It is astounding how much more flavor you can get from a fresh vegetable that has been grown in in good soil, fresh air, and natural sunlight. Do not settle for greenhouse and grow light garbage! Things like basil you can easily grow even in your apartment and doing so will save you big bucks over what they will charge you at a grocery store.
I suggest performing steps 1 through 4, preparing the stuffed breasts, at least a few hours before you intend to grill them so the flavors have time to marry some. Even better would be to do so the night before or the morning of the day you intend to grill. This is, however, not essential and it will all work out just fine if you prep the breast while you grill is heating up.
This will require the use of a sharp knife and a grill. These items can be hazardous if not respected and used correctly and I take no responsibility for any injury you may incur by using these instructions. Be careful! Also, always be very careful to avoid cross contamination when dealing with raw proteins like chicken. So, now that the legal disclaimer is out of the way, on to the good stuff!
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Step 1: Preping the Stuffing
Clean all of your vegetables and get out a sharp knife and cutting board. Slice your tomato in half, remove the seeds, and juliane. Yes, the seeds are fully edible but they contain a lot of liquid which will make our stuffing contain too much excess water so they should not be used. Do the same with your pepper. You can leave the seeds in the pepper if you like things spicy like I do.
Crush and half your garlic. Remove the roots and any browned or wilted stalk from the scallions and then cut them in half. Slice your fresh mozzarella into about 1/4" thick slices. Half a lime and set it aside for now. Leave your basil whole since you will be wrapping the mozzarella in it to help keep the melted cheese from running our of our chicken breasts as the grill.
Step 2: Cut a Pocket Into the Chicken Breasts
CAREFULLY create a pocket in the chicken breast using a sharp knife. Insert the knife at the thicker edge of the breast and slowly work it into the meat. Do this slowly and try not to pierce through the meat. Once you have a gone a couple of inches into the breast removed the knife and insert your fingers in the hole to expand it. Don't go crazy since you do not what to tear any extra holes in the cavity where the cheese could potentially drip out.
On a side note, you should always use a plastic or glass cutting board when working with raw meat. This is because wood and bamboo boards are inherently porous and if you place meat on them, any bacteria on the surface has the potential of getting into the pores where it will very difficult, if not impossible, to clean off.
Step 3: Stuff the Chicken Breasts
Place a slice of mozzarella on a large basil leaf and put garlic on top of it. layer on top of this another basil leaf, mozzarella, and garlic. Make a total of 3 layers and top it off with another basil leaf. This will help trap the cheese in the chicken as it melts. Stuff this assembly into the cavity you created in the chicken breast.
Next, insert a few strips of tomato, scallion, and pepper into the pocket around the basil and mozzarella. The trick is not to over stuff the breast so get as much as you can without having a bunch of stuff hanging out.
Drizzle the breasts with olive oil. Squeeze half of the lime you cut onto each breast to add some acidity. Sprinkle on salt and grind on some black pepper. Fresh ground black pepper is much, much better than pre-ground because a lot of the aromatic qualities of the seasoning are released upon grinding. By the time the pre-ground stuff makes it to your dish it has lost a lot of its potency.
Step 4: Let the Flavor Develop and Keep It Clean
With clean hands, roll back the lip of a ziploc bag. Place the stuffed breasts in a ziploc bag, squeeze out all of the air, and close it up. Rolling back the lip keep the chicken from touching the outside of the bag and prevents any cross contamination issues. Place the bag a bowl or dish to catch anything that may potentially leak and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours so the flavors can mingle. Immediately clean up your work area with disinfectant. Cleanliness is essential when working with raw chicken to prevent the spread of salmonella and other dangerous bacteria.
Step 5: Fire Up the Grill
If you are serious about grilling you will be using charcoal. A gas grill is a convenient option but it can not give results comparable to it's charcoal counterpart. I will assume you are using charcoal in the next couple of steps but either way the first thing you will need to do is clean your cooking grate.
I like to use steel wool since it is cheap and does a great job. The grill brushes you can buy will get the job done but will wear out rather quickly so if you go this route I would suggest going with a cheaper version that you won't feel bad about tossing. However, when it does wear out, you can simply put some steel wool on the bristles and they will hold it in place nicely as you scrub down your grate.
Scrape off remnants your last grilling session and then polish the cooking grate with your steel wool until it is nice and shiney. Actually, you should do this after you get done cooking and the grill has had time to cool down. However, I use my grill almost every day in the summer and since I'm using a plated steel clothes hanger type grate it is ok.
If you are lucky enough to have a cast iron grate (mine is being shipped to me right now) you will definitely want to scrap it down after you cook and wipe it with peanut oil to keep it from rusting. With the cast iron I would also suggest using a wire brush rather than the steel wool because you don't want to eat away the prized seasoning layer.
With this done, place the grate on your grill. Place on top of the grate your charcoal chimney. Fill the chimney with briquettes and stuff some newspaper into the bottom. Use a match or lighter to light the newspaper on fire and it will ignite the charcoal. I prefer the use of the chimney to lighter fluid for a few reasons. First of all it is cheaper in the long run. More importantly, using lighter fluid can add an unpleasant hydrocarbon flavor to your food. Not only does this not taste good, it's also not something you want to be putting in your body.
If you go with lighter fluid, you should stack the briquettes in a pyramid in the grill basin. Use lighter fluid sparingly and be sure that it is fully burned off before placing your cooking grate and food over the flames. If you haphazardly spray the lighter fluid all over the basin of the grill it will not all bury but rather evaporate which is the worst thing you can do for the flavor of your food.
Step 6: Distribute the Heat
After about 15-20 minutes, when the briquettes have turned gray on most of their surface, pour them in the grill basin. Try to place them mostly on one side of the basin. This will allow you to set up a temperature gradient on the grill so you can cook things are different levels of heat. Add a few more briquettes on top of the hot coals if you plan on grilling a good bit of food. These will be ignited by the hot coals and keep the heat going longer.
Place the grate over the coal and put the top on the grill. Be sure to have the smoke port on the lid and the air port on the basin both open so smoke can get out and oxygen can get in. You want to trap in the heat but if there is no oxygen then there is no combustion so the coals will go out. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes so that everything in the grill gets up to temperature.
Step 7: Slice Up the Veggies and Bread
While the grill is coming up to temperature, clean your zucchini and eggplant and cut them into 1/4" thick medallions. You don't want to do this way ahead of time because if they sit out they can oxidize which will make them turn brown and lose some of their freshness. Drizzle the medallions with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Be sure to hit both sides.
Now is also the time to prepare your baguette. Split it down the center and then lightly butter the open face of each half. I always prefer to use European style unsalted butter. I highly suggest going with unsalted because this allows you to control the amount of salt you add. If you like, you can also crush some garlic and rub it in the with the butter as I have done here. Now cut the baguette halves at an angle to make pieces about 3" long.
Step 8: Throw It on the Grill
Now that all of the prep work is complete it is time to get grilling. First you need to lube up the grate to keep the food from sticking which makes flipping and clean up a huge pain. One method is to use a clean cloth and some tongs to wipe on some olive oil or vegetable oil. I prefer to use vegetable oil cooking spray since it is less messy. However, if you do it this way, use your tongs to lift up the grate and move it away from the coals when you spray. Spraying it on the grate while it is still over the coals is dangerous since the atomized oil will ignite very rapidly. No es bueno.
Use tongs to place your stuffed breasts and vegetables on the grill at a location of medium heat. High heat is for searing which is what we would do with something like a steak but chicken needs to be cooked all the way through so high heat would just burn it and dry it out before the desired doneness was achieved. Put the cover on the grill and throw the tongs you used in the sink. Since these were used on the raw chicken we need to either wash them or get a clean pair before we touch our cooked food.
If you are worried about small items falling through the grate into the coals then you can place some aluminum foil under them. I do not use this method because for squash type or root type vegetables because I want to get a nice char on them. The foil reflects the direct heat from the coals and prevents the formation of a nicely caramelized surface. At least to me, the risk of losing a few medallions is worth the reward of the golden brown goodness.
Step 9: Flip, Adjust, and Toast the Bread
After a 7-9 minutes, open up the grill and check on the food. Once you have attained the desired level of grilling on each item, flip it over with your clean tongs. Use this opportunity to reposition items on the grill so that everything cooks more or less uniformly.
While you have the grill open, add your bread, buttered face down, in the low heat region. Close the grill back up and let everything grill for about another 5 minutes. With the chicken breasts, you are shooting a final temperature of about 165oF at their thickest part.
Step 10: Plate and Enjoy!
Once done, pull everything off the grill with your clean tongs. Do not use a fork or prong on your meat! This will puncture the surface and cause your delicious juices to spill out and leave your protein dry. Give the chicken about 3-5 minutes to rest before cutting so that the juices don't just pour out and so the cheese can set up just a little.
You can serve the food family style or plate it up for a nice presentation. Remember: The sensation of taste is a complex psychological process and we eat with our eyes first. As a result, an appealing plate will actually taste better. Now, all that is left to do is serve and enjoy!