Southwest Cilantro Chicken

I am fascinated to discover (thanks to Wikipedia.org) that cilantro is actually a name used in North American countries to describe the leaves of the coriander plant. In all the time I’ve been cooking with both dried coriander and fresh cilantro, I never had any idea that the two are related.

One thing I love about this plant, especially now that I am a mom of two little boys who put everything in their mouths, is that all parts of it are edible… and delicious! It is a very popular and versatile herb, used in a wide variety of world cuisines ranging from Mediterranean to Asian to Latin American.

We tried to grow cilantro in our garden last summer and were disappointed when all of our plants bolted in a short period of time. Tonight I read that if their roots consistently stay at a temperature above 75 degrees F, cilantro plants will tend to bolt more quickly – becoming bitter in taste. That explains a lot, considering how warm the summer months were inland last year.

Interestingly, cilantro has been used in the past as a folk medicine to treat insomnia and anxiety. Perhaps this is why now that I have thoroughly enjoyed the spicy Southwest cilantro chicken we ate for dinner tonight I feel so contented and ready to sleep.

We hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as ours does…

Southwest Cilantro Chicken

What you need:

4 chicken thighs (or 1.5 lb chicken pieces) with skin
Crushed black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste
3/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves (may be minced in Cuisinart)

1 large shallot
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp Trader Joes lemon pepper (or to taste)
2 medium sized red peppers (minced)
1/2 of a small fresh lemon (= approx 2 tbsp lemon juice)

How it works:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large, deep frying pan (preferably all cast iron or stainless steel) at medium-hot temperature. Salt and pepper raw chicken liberally and then place each piece in pan without butter or oil. Fry each side in pan for approx 5 minutes, until outer layer of meat turns white. Center may still be a bit pink.

Use Cuisinart to mince or finely chop cilantro leaves. Once they are prepared, place the minced leaves on a plate or wooden board. When chicken pieces have been fried on both sides, use tongs or a fork to dredge each chicken part through the plate of cilantro (on both sides). When the chicken is extremely covered in cilantro, place it back in the frying pan.

Next, set the entire pan (still uncovered) in your oven which should now be fully preheated. Bake the cilantro chicken in the oven for approximately 20 minutes (begin to check it around 15 min) until it is fully cooked. Turn each piece of chicken over in the pan about halfway through that time so that the sides are cooked evenly.

While the chicken is baking, either finely mince by hand or use your Cuisinart to grind up the 4 garlic cloves, shallot and red peppers. They should end up a very fine consistency. Set them aside in a bowl.

When chicken is fully cooked, remove it from pan (but do not drain juices from pan) and place it in a sealed container so heat and moisture will not be lost. Set aside. Then, placing pan back on top of stove, turn burner on to medium heat and add the garlic-shallot-red pepper mixture to the chicken oils. Add chili powder, fresh lemon juice and (if desired) lemon pepper to taste. Sauté at medium heat 3-4 minutes or until the small bits of red pepper are soft.

Serve chicken on plates partially covered with the spicy southwest pepper sauce. This meal will be excellent with short grained brown rice, although we enjoyed it with spiral rice pasta as well. Garnish with cilantro leaves as desired. Grilled corn on the cob would be a lovely side.

Serves 4.

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