Servings: 6 servings
3 chicken breast halves, boneless and skin-on
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon onion powder
⅓ cup white balsamic vinegar
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
2 teaspoons papaya paste (see tips)
2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 sprig fresh sage
3 small apples, peeled, cored and finely diced
¾ cup olive oil
⅓ cup chicken stock, warm
1 red onion, sliced horizontally into 4 slices
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (see tips), thinly sliced
4 sheets pizza lavash bread (or any flat bread), cut into thirds
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened to room temperature
For the apple sauce:
Place the apples in a small saucepan. Add ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool. Pulse into a coarse mixture into a blender. Set aside.
Marinating the chicken:
Pour the balsamic vinegar into the small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and let it reduce until you have a bit more than 3 tablespoons of the balsamic syrup. Remove from the heat. Dissolve the honey, then add 1 tablespoon mustard and ½ cup olive oil. Whisk the marinade so that the mixture emulsifies.
Remove the fat around the bottom of the breasts if there is any. Wash the chicken and pat dry using paper towels. To help the marinade flavors penetrate the chicken, prick the raw meat all over with a fork before marinating.
Rub the chicken with cayenne pepper, onion powder, papaya paste and black pepper. Rub evenly. Place the chicken in a large bowl or a sealable zip-top bag. Add the marinade. Make sure the mixture penetrates and coats the chicken. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Roasting the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Remove the chicken 15 minutes before cooking to bring it back to room temperature.
Pat the chicken dry one more time. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper.
Place the red onion slices in an oven-safe baking dish and top with sage leaves and the chicken pieces, skin side up. Cover the chicken with more sage leaves. Pour the chicken stock around the chicken.
Loosely cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
Open the oven, lower the temperature to 350°F and remove the aluminum foil; continue baking for another 5-10 minutes.
Allow the chicken to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing the meat.
The chicken should have a dry outer layer and be very moist on the inside. To check the "doneness", gently press the meat with your finger; it should feel springy in texture. You could also check the internal temperature of the meat; a thermometer should register 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.
Cut the chicken into thick strips, discarding the skin, sage leaves and onions.
Preheat your panini press.
Spread mustard on one side of the inside of the sandwiches. Spread the outside of the sandwiches with a thin layer of butter.
Place one piece of bread (the one without mustard), butter side down onto the hot grill. Layer the sandwich with chicken, spread apple sauce and finish with thin slices of cheese. Close the sandwich with a second piece of bread (buttered side up). Close the panini press and cook until you get grill marks (about 3-4 minutes). Remove from the machine. Let the panini cool a bit and cut the sandwiches in half on the bias. Transfer to a serving platter.
Serve warm or at room temperature with potato chips on the side.
I use a Cuisinart panini press. This is my favorite brand of panini maker; 2 kinds of plates (flat and griddle) are provided and they are removable and easy to wash. This is very convenient when you're making sandwiches for a large crowd. You could also use a griddle pan and press the sandwich using a cast iron press or any other weight such as a brick wrapped in aluminum foil.
I used pizza lavash bread; it's also known as lahvash or cracker bread.
You can use any kind of cheese that is stringy when melted, such as provolone, Gruyère, Comté or Beaufort.
I use green papaya and vinegar as meat tenderizers to ensure moist and juicy meat. The papaya paste was Baji, my husband Lulu's late grandma's secret for tender and moist meat. Peel a green papaya. Grind the cubed papaya with seeds in a mini food processor; place about 2 teaspoons of papaya paste per slot in an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Transfer the ice-cubes into sealable plastic bags and place back in the freezer.
I place the chicken breasts on a bed of sliced red onions and pour chicken stock in the bottom of the baking dish, so the meat remains moist and doesn't dry out. You could also use a rack instead if you're cooking a larger quantity.
For a vegetarian version, I replaced the chicken with marinated sliced button mushrooms (using the same balsamic marinade).