I don’t know if I should start here with the grilled chicken, or with the Romesco Pesto. I’m in love with both. And while they’re both delicious on their own, they’re also amazing together.
Ok, chicken first. This isn’t just any grilled chicken. I dunk a whole, cut up bird into a brine for a spell before grilling, ensuring juicy meat that’s flavorful right down to the bone. Don’t be intimidated by the word “brine.” Here, it’s no more than salt whisked into cold water until dissolved—it literally takes seconds to pull together and makes a remarkable difference in flavor and texture. To amp up the flavor even more, I rub the meat with a simple spice rub before grilling.
Now about that pesto. This recipe is a cross between a traditional romesco sauce and a pesto. Romesco sauce—often made with chiles, peppers, tomatoes, almonds and hazelnuts—is usually thickened with bread, but in this version I left out the bread, kept the hazelnuts and swapped in pine nuts for the almonds, like a pesto. In that vain, I also added grated Parmesan cheese for an umami kick. An ancho chile lends a smoky flavor, while a roasted red pepper gives sweetness. The result is a smoky, sweet, nutty and slightly spicy sauce that is amazing on just about anything, from chicken, to grilled skirt steak, to halibut, to summer vegetables (think eggplant, green beans and squash). It’s also great in sandwiches, burgers and paninis.
In fact, I always make extra chicken for sandwiches the next day. I smear good-quality bread with the pesto and layer on shredded or sliced chicken, fresh mozzarella and spinach for brown bag lunches the whole family looks forward to—whether at work, at the computer or at school.
Brined Grilled Chicken with Romesco Pesto
- 2 quarts cold water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 1 whole chicken (preferably organic), cut into 8 pieces (or you can use just bone-in thighs or breasts, as you wish)*
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground fennel
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Romesco Pesto for serving , optional
- In a large bowl, whisk together the water and salt until the salt dissolves. Add the chicken and let sit at room temperature 30-60 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the garlic powder, ground fennel, oregano, smoked paprika and black pepper.
- Prepare a grill for medium heat. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken and pat to adhere. Cook chicken on oiled grill, turning as needed, until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes total. Grill some vegetables alongside, if desired.
- Serve the grilled chicken on its own or with Romesco Pesto.
*A whole chicken cut into 8 pieces refers to 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 4 breast pieces.
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 dried ancho chile*
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil , divided
- 1 plum tomato , seeded and diced
- 2 garlic cloves , peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons hazelnuts , toasted and rubbed in kitchen towel while warm to remove skins
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional—if you want a little kick)
- Pinch sugar
- Sea salt
- ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
- Preheat the broiler with a rack 4-5 inches from the heating element. Line a small sheetpan with foil. Cut the bell pepper in half through the stem end and place the pepper cut side down on the pan. Broil until blackened all over. (Alternatively, the pepper can be blackened directly on the flame of a gas stove; turn the pepper often with tongs for even cooking.) Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 5-10 minutes. Discard stem and seeds and peel off and discard skin. Coarsely chop flesh and transfer to a food processor.
- Slit open the ancho chile and discard seeds and stem. Cut or tear chile in half. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the chile, skin side down and cook until fragrant and pliable, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool (reserve oil in the pan). Tear into pieces and add to the food processor with the pepper.
- In the same skillet, add another tablespoon of oil, along with the tomatoes and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant and light golden, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the food processor (with the oil) and add the pine nuts, hazelnuts, Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes (if using), pinch sugar, pinch salt and vinegar. Process until you have a coarse puree. Add 2 tablespoons of water and process until smooth. With the motor running, pour in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Blend until creamy and emulsified. Taste and season with salt as needed. You can also add a drop or two more vinegar if the pesto tastes “flat.” Pulse again to combine. Do Ahead: The romesco pesto can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
*Ancho chiles have a deep smoky, sweet flavor. They’re usually found in the spice aisle or in the ethnic food aisle of the grocery store.