Bistro-Style Chicken on the Grill

Sometimes the seemingly simplest things to grill can be the most difficult. Take the boneless, skinless chicken breast, for example. 

Julia Child popularized this cut during the late 1960s and early 1970s on her groundbreaking PBS cooking program The French Chef. In those days, you had to bone and skin the chicken breast yourself. Now you can pick up a package of boneless, skinless breasts in any grocery store.

When you look at a chicken breast, you’ll see that it’s very thin at the ends and thick in the middle. 

How do you grill it so that every part stays tender and juicy? 
By turning it into a paillard, a French term for a boneless piece of meat that has been flattened to an equal thickness. 

The easiest way I’ve found to do this with chicken is to first turn the chicken breast on its side 

and cut it in half lengthwise.

Then, place each piece between plastic wrap or sheets of parchment paper. Use the flat side of a metal meat tenderizer or a meat mallet. Simply pound the chicken breast, starting in the middle and working your way out to the sides, until the chicken is of an even 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness. This technique—and this recipe--also works for veal or pork loin paillards (also known as scallops, or scaloppine in Italian).

On a hot grill outside or in a grill pan over high heat (allow at least 20 minutes for the grill pan to heat up), a chicken or veal paillard will take a total cooking time of 10 minutes per inch of thickness. 
Grill a 1/2-inch-thick paillard for 2 1/2 minutes per side, or 5 minutes total. A one-quarter-inch paillard will take only about 1 1/4 minutes per side, so it makes sense to serve it with equally fast side dishes. 

It only takes a minute or so to make a sauce/side/salad made of chopped fresh tomato, rough chopped basil, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice--to your taste.  And this garden-fresh blend tastes fabulous on the chicken.

You can also find lots of other garden-fresh sauce ideas--from Chimichurri to Romesco and more--in The Gardener and the Grill.

If you like, grill more paillards than you need for a meal. In other words, grill for leftovers. Let the extra paillard cool, then cover and refrigerate them for up to 2 days. Then, just eat the paillard cold from the refrigerator or reheat it in the microwave.

Bistro-Style Chicken on the Grill
Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to a 1/2-inch thickness
Olive oil
Fine kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Using a chef's knife, cut each boneless, skinless chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place each piece between plastic wrap or parchment paper. Using the flat end of a meat mallet or tenderizer, bang the chicken until it's 1/2-inch thick or less all over. Repeat with the remaining chicken until you have 8 thin paillards.
2. Brush each chicken paillard with olive oil and place on a double baking sheet (one sheet for the raw chicken, the clean one underneath for the grilled chicken). 
3. Start the charcoal in your charcoal chimney. When the charcoal has almost ashed over, dump the hot coals on one side your grill. Add a few sticks of hardwood from your yard, such as oak, maple, apple, peach, or hickory. 
4. Grill the paillards for 2 1/2 minutes per side, turning once. You can tell when to turn them when the perimeter of each paillard turns opaque and white. Season with salt and pepper and serve.