This image taken on April 29, 2013, shows easy baked barbecue chicken breasts served on a plate in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) / AP
Barbecue chicken is one of my favorite summertime dishes. I like every part of it — the tomato-based sauce (the spicier the better), the crispy skin, even the bones.
So I set myself the task of coming up with a recipe for a leaner version of barbecue chicken that somehow still boasted the most lovable aspects of the classic version — a mouth-watering sauce and an element of crunch.
For the sauce, I wanted to conjure up something with big flavor that wasn’t too sweet and somehow didn’t require hours of simmering on top of the stove. I started with the usual ketchup base, balanced off the sugar with acid and Dijon mustard, then spiked it with a secret weapon — adobo sauce from canned chipotles in adobo. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos; they are hot and smoky, as is the adobo sauce they swim in. You also could use an actual chipotle, finely minced, but I found that a tad too fiery for this small amount of sauce.
If you open a whole can of chilies to make this sauce, you can freeze what you don’t use by putting a chili with a little sauce into each cube of an ice cube tray. Caution: after this baptism by fire, this particular tray will be usable only for freezing other spicy or tomato-based preparations.
Easy baked barbecue chicken breasts
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts without the filet (a total of 2 to 3 breasts, each about 3/4- to 1-inch thick)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl combine the ketchup, adobo sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Line a shallow baking dish with foil, leaving enough excess to generously overhang the sides. Spread half of the sauce on the foil in an area just the size of the chicken breasts. Arrange the breasts on top of the sauce and spoon the remaining sauce over them. Bring the edges of the foil up and over the chicken and fold it to enclose them. Bake the breasts on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, thyme, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Saute until light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
After the chicken has baked for 20 minutes, open up the foil and spoon any sauce that has fallen off the chicken back on top of it. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the chicken. Continue baking, uncovered, until the chicken is just cooked through, another 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Carefully slice the chicken, then divide between 4 serving plates, spooning any sauce and crumbs that have fallen off over the chicken slices.
Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active)
Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories; 45 calories from fat (19 percent of total calories); 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 28 g protein; 750 mg sodium.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks.