I recently was invited to a potluck lunch. I love cooking for friends, and I especially love cooking for foodie and food blogger friends. I’ll share more in a later post about the event, which was a cookbook launch party for the Food52 cookbook, a crowd-sourced cookbook created by the community at Food52.com. Suffice it to say, it was a discerning crowd.
I had another commitment the morning of the event, so was a bit concerned about creating a recipe that would re-heat well and travel well, especially since I had committed to making a main dish. We also had been told that most of the eating at the party would happen in a casual way, mingling and standing, instead of sitting down. So I also wanted to create a main dish that would be portable and easy to eat.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had just cleared out my garden of basil and made pesto. So I decided to use the pesto to marinate chicken and veggies and thread them onto skewers. It would be easy and portable! I began by buying whole chicken thighs, and took the opportunity to use the leftover bones and trimmings to make a quick stock, combined with the carcass from a rotisserie chicken I had purchased earlier in the week. I always like having stock around, and ended up making a quick onion soup with that stock, which I’ll post about soon.
I chose thighs because I knew that I’d be re-heating the chicken, and was concerned that chicken breast pieces would dry out. I also took the time to brine the thigh pieces, just to be sure that they stayed moist. I cut each of the thighs into about 3-4 longish pieces, putting them into a ziploc bag. I then tossed in about a tablespoon of kosher salt and filled it with water, then stored in the fridge overnight. If you have time for the step of brining, it will help the chicken to stay moist and tender, but it’s definitely not necessary.
When you’re ready to cook the skewers, drain the chicken and place it in a bowl. Add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl and mix, adding more as needed to lightly coat the chicken. Leave it to marinate at room temperature as you cut up the vegetables. I used mushrooms, red bell peppers, red onions, and asparagus. You just need to cut the vegetables into appropriate sizes for threading onto the skewers. To marinate the veggies, add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl, and add enough olive oil to loosen it so that it will cling to them. Then toss the cut vegetables with the pesto to coat.
You can see in the photo above that I had three bowls, and found that effective for sorting and threading the skewers. I typically added a mushroom quarter at the bottom, then the first piece of chicken, and then a couple of other pieces of veggies. It seems to work best to only put one of each item on the skewer at a time, to allow for more even cooking (due to different shapes and sizes). I then add another piece of chicken, then another vegetable or two.
Since I was making a lot of skewers–about 4 lbs of chicken, and an equal amount of vegetables–I decided to start them on the grill pan, cooking as I was assembling the skewers. I cooked until there was some browning on each side (but not cooked through), and then transferred to a large pyrex dish. I then kept all of the skewers in pans until they were done with the initial browning, before finishing all at once in the oven. This kept the early skewers from being over-cooked in the oven if I had placed them in the oven as I went along. I finished them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
If you’re transporting them to a party and will have oven access, they can be chilled before the final oven time, then finished at the event for about 30 minutes (due to the chill of the fridge, they will need more time). They are also delicious cold, so don’t worry if you can’t warm them right before serving. I like to serve with a bowl of pesto on the side, to add a little bit more on the plate, as you can see below.
I should know better than to bring 8 lbs of food to a potluck where 20 people are cooking…It’s a good thing they make great leftovers! I used the leftover (de-skewered) pieces to make a quinoa salad and a lovely Sunday brunch frittata.