Trader Joe’s Zhug is a shortcut to the ultimate chicken marinade

Deputy Editor Hana Asbrink has 24 hours a day and 379 things to do. In his monthly column, Shortcut to dinnershe lassos over-performing products to show off on weeknights who’s boss (it’s Hana).

Chicken thighs are a weeknight dinner mainstay and the reason is obvious. They are quick to prepare (especially when boneless), difficult to overcook, and suitable for a wide variety of applications. Today, we’re showcasing their versatility with a flavorful marinade that doubles as a dip.

Zhug (sometimes spelled zhoug) is a potent green sauce that originated in Yemen, although it is widely enjoyed throughout the Middle East. It often contains cilantro, chili peppers, oil, garlic and spices, and packs a big welcome punch. When I don’t have an abundance of herbs and chilies ready for homemade zhug — or the time to make it — I turn to my deli: Trader Joe’s Zhoug Sauce. Flavored with cardamom and cumin seeds, TJ’s version is just the help I need when it’s 5 p.m. and I still don’t know what to make for dinner.

Prepared zhug works like a condiment or spread, but it really flexes its muscles when combined with Greek yogurt for a flavorful marinade that also tenderizes meat. The yogurt tames some of the heat from the zhug, rounding out the fiery edges with its cool flavor. In this recipe, it’s useful twice, as a marinade and sauce, and it can shine in so many other ways throughout the week (make a double batch!): as a dressing tomorrow, sandwich spread the next day, and and so on.

Zhug aside, I can’t talk about weeknight dinners without mentioning the broiler. Especially during the summer, this humble oven setting delivers charred flavor in no time, without heating up the whole apartment. “Who needs a grill when you have a grill? I tell myself every summer. Not me.

For this chicken, start by lining a baking sheet with foil (you’ll be glad you came when it’s time to clean up) and place a wire rack inside. Place the marinated chicken thighs on top of the grill (any excess marinade creates an A+ crust). Grill on the highest setting until you start to see charring action along the edges. Remove the baking sheet, flip the chicken and continue grilling until perfectly crispy. While the meat is resting, reheat some store-bought flatbreads (I like Trader Joe’s Indian Flatbread here), using the same grill setting for a minute on each side.

A simple tomato and onion salad makes a great side dish. You can use wedges of any ripe tomato you have (we like Campari or Cherry); the juices are extracted with a little salt, like an integrated vinaigrette. And soaking onion slices in cold water helps remove their bite and enhance their crunch.

Wrap it all up in small packets with torn pieces of flatbread and plenty of zhug yogurt for dipping. And keep plenty of towels nearby.

Chicken thighs marinated in zhug

Store-bought zhug and your grill are the shortcuts to juicy, charred chicken without a grill.

See the recipe

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