Feature

Flexitarian chicken: A dinner that bends for vegetarians

Chef Peter Berley has devised meals in which meat or vegetable proteins can be used interchangeably.

“What’s a flexitarian?” asks Peter Berley in The Flexitarian Table (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The word combines “flexible” and “vegetarian” and describes someone, like me, whose diet is mostly plant-based but who at times enjoys meat and fish. “Flexitarian” can also describe a family like mine, in which three of us are omnivores, one is a strict vegetarian, and satisfying everyone can be a challenge.

At home, and during my long career as a caterer and personal chef, I’ve developed a repertoire of meals in which meat is optional. I’ll offer quick-seared tuna alongside a big salad, or crumbled bacon to sprinkle on top. But I’ve also devised meals in which meat or vegetable proteins can be used interchangeably: One guest cuts into a grilled portobello where another finds steak, or one daughter gets sautéed tofu strips where another gets sautéed chicken. In the recipe below, the tofu and chicken both soak in a marinade before they’re pressed—to increase crispness—and sautéed in separate skillets. The lemony, minty pan juices are delicious drizzled over the top and served with steamed rice or a simple risotto.

Recipe of the week

Crispy pressed chicken and tofu with garlic and mint

  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • ½ cup packed chopped mint
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes or ½ tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 skin-on boneless chicken thighs
  • 12 to 14 oz extra-firm tofu, sliced crosswise into four ½-inch-thick slabs

Mash garlic to a paste with 1½ tsp salt. In a bowl, whisk garlic paste with mint, lemon zest and juice, and pepper flakes. Whisking constantly, drizzle in olive oil. Divide marinade between two bowls or resealable plastic bags.

Season chicken with salt and toss with half of the marinade. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours. To rid tofu of excess water, lay the tofu slabs on half of a clean kitchen towel, fold the towel over, and press gently several times. Toss tofu slabs with remaining marinade; let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lift chicken from marinade, reserving marinade; gently pat dry with paper towels. Lay chicken in skillet skin side down. Press with a weight, such as a full kettle, a heavy can of tomatoes, or a brick. Cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until richly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Flip, return weight, and cook until chicken is browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer to platter. Pour oil out of skillet. Add reserved marinade and simmer for a few minutes, scraping up any brown bits from bottom. Pour sauce over platter and serve.

Using a clean skillet and weight, cook the tofu the way you cooked the chicken, repeating all steps. Serves 4.

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