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Make grilled chicken with a vinaigrette marinade your new summer go-to

3 days ago 20

I’ve always been a fan of multiuse things. A cheek-lip-and-eye stick to consolidate my morning makeup prep? Please, and thank you. Mayonnaise to slather on my tomato sandwiches and repair water rings on furniture? I’m listening.

I look for the same utility in my cooking: recipes I can use a few different ways with just one batch.

My latest such strategy involves making vinaigrette, then using some of it to marinate chicken and the rest to dress a salad. The idea came from a happy, lazy accident during my last “hot grill” summer.

I had invited extended family over for dinner on our deck and was looking to grill some chicken to serve with a salad and other sides. That morning, I was rummaging around my fridge and spied a large container of balsamic vinaigrette I had made earlier in the week for our nightly salads.

A small lightbulb went off in my head: Instead of making a separate marinade, I added the chicken parts to a zip-top bag and dumped in a bunch of the vinaigrette. I massaged it into the chicken, squeezed out extra air, sealed the bag and returned the chicken to the fridge.

When it was time for dinner, I pulled the chicken out — of course, I discarded the marinade after use — then grilled it and served it to oohs and aahs. There were no leftovers, and my guests wanted to know the recipe.

I hesitated: The entire experience, delicious as the result was, made me feel like I had cheated. Marinating in vinaigrette is hardly a new concept. Bottles of Italian dressing have given up their lives for that very purpose (no shame in the game). It takes just a few minutes to make your own, and you can control exactly what’s in there — and keep it on hand for much more than salads.

In case it’s not obvious, you can use just about any dressing as a marinade: lemony vinaigrette, ranch, blue cheese, Thousand Island, Russian and so on. The most common one in my own refrigerator is a Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette that often has flecks of oregano (from my giant shrubbery, fresh in the summer and dried in the winter) as well as bits of shallot. If I’m feeling punchy, I add grated garlic to the portion I pour over the chicken for a more intense flavor.

The entire endeavor is flexible: Mix and match ingredients to suit your taste with what you have on hand. Red, white or sherry vinegar, or lemon juice, can replace balsamic. Swap out maple syrup for honey or agave, if you prefer. Try another herb, such as rosemary or thyme, or even parsley or tarragon. Think of this recipe as a framework.

Another bonus to this approach is that you match the flavors of the protein to the flavors of the salad — like a color-coordinated outfit but on a plate. That’s rich coming from a person who often wears multiple, conflicting stripes in the same outfit, but where I lack fashion sense, I try to make up for it with kitchen sensibility.

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