The Broiler: Your Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Appliance

by Michelle Rossi

Ahh, spring is in the air and grilling season is almost upon us. For those lucky enough to own or have access to a grill, grilling makes a homemade dinner seem so quick and easy! But what about those of us who don’t own a grill? And what about those chilly fall, winter, or spring months in Boston where all you want to do is stay inside and forget the crazy weather outside?

Enter: your broiler.

If you’re like most home cooks, you might only think of your broiler as a garlic bread-toaster, cheese-melter, or pizza-crisper. While you may have come across recipes that utilize the broiler as a cooking element, using this high-heat cooking style may seem intimidating. It’s okay, you’re not alone!

I consider myself an avid cook and baker, and I rarely use my broiler until recently. About a year ago, I stumbled upon a chicken recipe that required me to cook the chicken under the broiler and promised me grill-like results. Much to my surprise, my chicken cooked in less time than I thought possible. I was skeptical. I wanted to hate it so that I could prove that broiling was nothing like grilling. But I’ve fallen in love with my broiler, and now I just can’t stop.

For those of you without access to a grill, all you need for an almost-grill-worthy meal is a broiler pan.  You probably already have one, but its hiding in the forgotten drawer under your stove. Every oven comes one, yet no one seems to use it! If you don’t have a broiler pan, you can also use a rimmed baking sheet with oven-safe cookie racks, or purchase a new broiler pan here. Trust me, it is worth the investment.

Before we start, there are some things you should know about broiling:

  • Broiling uses the top heating element of your oven, cooking by radiation instead of convection (taking it back to high school physics here!). Broiling happens quickly—for any of you who have made garlic bread under the broiler, you know that it can go from delicately golden to incinerated in ten seconds. When broiling, it is a good idea to set your kitchen timer and stay in the kitchen!
  • Many oven broilers have a high and low setting—I almost always go with high. Don’t panic if yours only has one setting, just set it to broil and proceed.
  • There are debates on whether you should leave your oven cracked open when you broil. I usually do so that I can watch the broiling process (it happens fast). One source claims that electric ovens may need to be open slightly when broiling to avoid overheating; on the other hand, some gas models won’t operate with the door open. To further confuse things, The Kitchn recommends keeping the door open cracked to vent steam and to ensure cooking by radiation, not convection. Reading the comments on Food52 won’t help you much either, as it also offers varying answers. My opinion: consult your oven’s user manual if you have it. If you aren’t sure, leave the door open. If your broiler doesn’t turn on with the door open, try closing it. Whatever works!
  • Test to see how far your pan will be from the heating element before you turn on your oven. Put your cold (empty!) pan on your top rack and adjust the rack up or down until the cooking surface is 4-5 inches from the heating element (this is usually the top rack).
  • DO NOT use glass dishes under the broiler. Trust me on this one. Glass and rapid temperature changes do not mix.

Over the past few months, I have perfected a few recipes using my broiler pan.  Remember how I said the boiler cooks quickly? Well, I can have these recipes on the table in under 20 minutes. Happy broiling!

Grilled chicken broiler recipe

Photo: Author 

Almost-Grilled Chicken Thighs

This is one of my go-to recipes for a quick dinner with a vegetable, or as part of a fancy spread when friends come over. It can easily be scaled up, as the measurements do not have to be precise. Try experimenting with your own seasonings—I like adding smoked paprika, and a dash of cayenne for crispy chicken that is perfect for chopping up and putting on a pita with hummus and veggies.

Serves two for dinner, with lunch leftovers

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
  • 1 small (7oz) container full-fat plain Greek yogurt, about 1 cup (I like Fage)
  • 1 lemon, zest & juice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (more or less to taste)
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine yogurt, lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, and cumin. Season with salt, taste.
  2. Place your chicken in a large bowl or a ziplock bag and add the yogurt mix. Make sure the chicken is well coated. You can prepare the chicken up to 1 hour in advance (any longer will start to turn it mushy)
  3. Turn on your broiler to high (if there is a high/low option)
  4. Line the bottom drip-tray of your broiler pan with tinfoil for easy cleanup. Spray the slotted tray of your broiler pan with Pam or lightly coat with a high-heat oil of your choice
  5. Remove the chicken thighs from the yogurt mixture, letting excess drip off, while also keeping a good amount on the chicken (it acts as chicken “sunscreen”). Place them on your broiler pan in one layer, leaving some space in between pieces.
  6. Broil for 5-6 minutes, or until pieces of the yogurt start to char. Flip the chicken and continue broiling for another 6-7 minutes. Pay attention to which pieces are crisping quickest—you might need to rotate your pan or move the chicken pieces around a bit during the cooking process (just like grilling!)
  7. The chicken is done when it reaches 165­o on an instant-read thermometer, or you cut open the chicken and the juices run clear. Remember that chicken thigh is dark meat, and even when cooked may look slightly pinker than chicken breasts.

Serve over rice, or in a pita!

Not-Really-Fried Shrimp

This is a favorite meal from my childhood, that I recently re-discovered. Better yet—you don’t even need a broiler pan! Butterflying the shrimp can take a little bit of time, but this recipe can be made ahead up to 8 hours and kept in the refrigerator until it is cooked. I love making it for dinner guests because I can prepare it ahead of time and spend the majority of my party interacting with my guests!

Michele Evans Easy Seafood Recipes

Photo: Author

Adapted from “Michele Evans’ Easy Seafood Recipes”

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 ½ pound jumbo shell-off shrimp
  • 2/3 cup flour (plus a bit more, if needed)
  • 2 eggs, beaten (plus one more on hand, just in case)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (plus a bit more, if needed)
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Juice from 1 lemon

DIRECTIONS

  1. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan and add the garlic and lemon. Set aside.
  2. Butterfly the shrimp by carefully by cutting each shrimp down the back (outer curve) without going all the way through. (For a quick tutorial, check out this article)
  3. Set up a dipping station, with flour on your left, egg in the middle, breadcrumbs on your right.
  4. Dip each shrimp in the flour, the egg, then breadcrumbs, lightly shaking off the excess of each. Place each shrimp on a rimmed baking sheet. (The shrimp can be stored in the refrigerator at this point for up to 8 hours)
  5. Turn your broiler on high. Spoon the butter garlic mixture over the shrimp. Broil for 6-8 minutes, until the shrimp are brown and no longer transparent on the inside when cut open.
  6. Serve with cocktail sauce

 

Simple Broiled Fish

This is the simplest way I know how to prepare fish without giving my apartment a “stinky fish smell” because it cooks so quickly! Choose filets that are less than 1/2inch thick, and keep an eye on them as they cook. As with all broiling, it will go quickly!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 fillets of your favorite fish (I like Atlantic Char, Bluefish, or NY/PA Perch for their sustainability)
  • 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Your favorite spices

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare your broiler pan by lining the bottom tray with tinfoil, and lightly greasing the grated tray. Preheat your broiler
  2. Mix olive oil, garlic, lemon and spices together, and lightly coat each fillet in the oil mixture.
  3. Broil 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness until fish is flaky and cooked through.

 

Michelle Rossi is a second-year dual-degree NICBC-MPH student who spends most of her precious free time cooking elaborate meals for herself and friends. She is a collector of cookbooks, and especially enjoys reading and re-reading “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”, “The Smitten Kitchen”, the 1975 edition of “The Joy of Cooking”, and her 15-year collection of Cooks Illustrated Magazines. When Michelle’s not in the kitchen, you can find her teaching about the natural world at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, where she strives to find the connections between nature, nutrition and public health.

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

I was sitting in the grass in my backyard on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on my shoulders, perusing the Boston Globe when I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of a skillet brimming with verdant green herbs. There were so many herbs that you could just barely see the beautifully browned chicken thighs on a bed of spiced rice underneath. The accompanying article was about Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, which had garnered a cult-like following. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, British chef and restaurant owner. He is well known for his cookbook, Plenty, in which he transforms vegetables into the most beautiful recipes. His recipe for “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice,” and the photograph I was drooling over, was described as particularly outstanding. I knew I had to make it. I ran to the bookstore to get my hands on Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Despite the recipe’s apparent simplicity, the result is an intensely fragrant and complex combination of sweet, from the currants and caramelized onions, and savory, from the crisp chicken thighs and tart yogurt sauce. It is a one-pot wonder to make on a cool, fall evening. It will solve your weeknight cooking woes because it makes a generous portion, easily satisfying a family of four with one or two rounds of leftovers. It could also feed one person for a whole week of dinners. It is a favorite among my family as well. I have received countless requests to make “that chicken and rice dish” for dinner.

The vessel in which you make this dish is paramount. If the skillet is too small, the chicken will simply steam rather than brown, the onions will not caramelize, and the rice will be unevenly cooked. Therefore, it is important to have a large skillet (at least 12 inches wide) with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have chosen your pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Next, add 2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions. Allow the onions to cook for 20 minutes, only stirring occasionally to allow the onions to caramelize. You will know when to reduce the heat when the onions are a dark brown. Every time I make this dish I always question if I cooked the onions too long. We are used to golden onions as the sign that you can move on to the next step of cooking. But in this case, you want a deep brown color. In my opinion, the caramelized onions transform this dish so give them the attention (or lack thereof) that they deserve. If you move them around too much, they will not achieve that deep golden brown. Once the onions are concentrated and nearly syrupy, which is essential for the flavor and sweetness of the dish, transfer them to a dish and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with 1 ½ teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cardamom pods, and 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half. Mix everything with your hands and wash your hands. Next, over medium heat, add the chicken and spice mixture to the skillet, searing the thighs for five minutes on each side. Try your best not to move the chicken as this will interfere with browning. Using tongs, remove the chicken and spices from the pan. While the pan is still hot, add 1 plus 2/3 cups uncooked basmati rice, 2 ½ tablespoons of dried currants, and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper to the pan. Return the chicken and spices to the pan as well, nestling the thighs in the dry rice. Now, add 3 ¼ cups boiling water, cover, and immediately set the heat to low. It is imperative to add enough water to ensure that your rice is perfectly cooked since nobody likes crunchy rice. There is a discrepancy between the prescribed amount of water between the cookbook and the Boston Globe article. The book calls for 2 ¼ cups of water while the article states that one more cup of water is necessary, recommending 3 ¼ cups total. The latter is the winner, based on personal experience. The couple times that I forgot to add that extra cup of water, the rice did not cook enough. Having crunchy rice bits mixed in with the soft ones is a nightmare. Trust me, two and a half cups is not enough water. It results in some uncooked rice in the pan and warrants adding more water as you go, so do yourself a favor and just start with the three and a half cups of boiling water.

Cook the chicken and rice covered for 30 minutes over very low heat. After 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean dish towel over the pan, and return the lid to the pan. The towel serves to absorb moisture to prevent the rice from becoming waterlogged. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes, remove the dish towel, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, and ½ cup dill leaves, all chopped.

The final step is to make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the chicken and rice. I remember the first time I made this dish I omitted the yogurt, under the assumption that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. When I finally decided to give the yogurt a try I realized that I had made a significant mistake the first time. The tangy yogurt cuts through the meaty, deep flavor of the dish. Combine 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil. Serve alongside the chicken and rice.

Sometimes the beauty of a recipe is not necessarily in the final product but in the path that led you to it. My path to this recipe seems rather serendipitous given that I merely stumbled upon on it the newspaper on that warm summer day. I, as well as my friends and family, have fallen for a dish that seems so simple upon first glance. While there are only a handful of components, it is important that the ingredients are of high quality and all the steps are executed well. The combination of flavors is so warm and comforting that this recipe certainly deserves a spot in your cool weather recipe repertoire. It has surely become an unbreakable part of mine.

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who works in a local hospital and also counsels private clients. You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats- Follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, like this chicken and rice dish.