Southwest Chicken with Cilantro Pesto Orzo

As much as I love to cook, when my husband isn't home, I basically don't make big dinners. My boys prefer simple meals like eggs & bacon, basic pasta dishes and things of that nature, so if my man isn't around I will take a pass and make things easy on myself.

Well, it had been about a week or so and due to conflicting schedules, weekend trips and basic summer craziness, I hadn't been cooking much and this particular evening I decided to make something new since my honey was back in town. I had some Emeril's Southwest rub that I had mixed up for a chili recipe and decided to rub that on some bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts that I had brined for a few hours earlier in the day. When looking for a side dish, I decided to use some yummy cilantro I had purchased earlier in the week for a cilantro pesto and I have to say, this is now one of my favorite meals. It blew my husband away and had him happy to back for some of my home cookin'. :)

Southwest Chicken with Cilantro Pesto Orzo
Southwest Chicken
2 lbs. bone-in, skin on chicken breasts (you could use chicken thighs here if you like also)
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. kosher salt
1/4 c. Emeril's Southwest Seasoning (recipe below)
1/4 c. olive oil
1/3 c. white wine
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
3 T. corn starch
salt & pepper, to taste

Begin by brining chicken. Put chicken in a very large bowl with the the 1/4 c. salt & sugar and fill to the top with water. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let it brine for anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. The longer the chicken brines, the juicier the chicken will be once cooked.

After your chicken has brined, remove from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with Emeril's spice rub on both sides and set aside. Turn the oven onto 375 degrees and spray a large pan (I use an 8.5 x 11 inch Pyrex) with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Pour oil into a large skillet on medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side until a nice crust has developed. The inside of the chicken will not be cooked at this point, so place them in the greased pan and put them in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they have reached an internal temperature of 170 degrees. This may take longer than 30 minutes as it depends on the size of your chicken breasts.

After you have transferred the chicken to the oven, deglaze the pan with the white wine and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Once that has reduced, add the chicken stock and cook until reduced by about half. Mix the corn starch with 1 1/2 T. water and add to the sauce. Let thicken.

Once the chicken has come out of the oven, serve it with the sauce over the Cilantro Orzo. So, so GOOD!

Emeril's Southwest Seasoning
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yields 1/2 cup

Cilantro Pesto with Orzo
1 (8 ounce) package Orzo pasta
1 bunch fresh cilantro
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 lime, juiced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and return water to a boil. Cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain well.

In an electric food processor or blender, blend cilantro, garlic, vinegar, Parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, pistachios, salt and lime juice.

Add the olive oil, and blend the pesto. Add the chicken stock in 1 T. increments until the pesto has reached your desired consistency.

Pour pesto in a small saucepan and warm over low heat, stirring constantly, until pesto begins to simmer. Pour over cooked pasta and toss.