Looking to give your grilled chicken a major flavor boost?
Michael Mina’s simple, spicy and sweet chili-agave chicken marinade balances the tart acidity of fresh lime juice with sweet agave nectar and the heat of dried chiles – and it’s just as delicious when used as a fish or steak marinade. To stand up to the marinade’s bold flavors, Chef Mina grills rich, flavorful chicken thighs, juicy, quick-cooking skirt steak and firm-textured, mild-flavored tilapia. Each meat is grilled on skewers, making them easy to cook for a big crowd or to grill, serving-by-serving, for guests as they arrive.
- Plan Ahead. Submerge your skewers in water and soak for 24 hours before you begin grilling. Since they’re made of wood or bamboo, dry skewers can easily catch fire while you’re cooking.
- Save the salt. We’re not looking to brine and tenderize the meat, chicken and fish, so we don’t add salt to the marinade. Instead, we season the fish and meat with salt just before we’re ready to grill.
- Marinade musts. Pulse the marinade until it is fully puréed to completely blend the flavors, and set aside half a cup to season the crema. Be generous with the marinade as you coat your proteins – you’ll brush off the excess later.
- Go against the grain. If skirt steak isn’t sliced properly, it can be very tough. For tender, juicy meat, cut it against the grain. That is, see which way the fibers of the meat run and make your cuts perpendicular to those lines. This way, you’ll shorten the fibers, making the meat easier to chew.
This tool is one we find especially helpful when making this dish.
- Pastry brush. This pliable brush is perfect for brushing off any excess marinade. If too much marinade is left on the fish, chicken or steak, the sugar in the mixture can burn the meat as you grill.
The list below includes all the equipment you’ll want to make this dish.
- Glass bowl
- Small food processor
- Tabletop grill pan
- 6-inch skewers
- 3 shallows pans
- Tray with rack
- Squeeze bottle of water
- Small bowl
- Chef’s knife
- Paring knife
- Rubber spatula
- Fish spatula
- Mini off-set spatula
- Pastry brush
- Cake tester
- Dish towel
- 4 dried poblano chilies
- 4 New Mexican chilies
- 2 dried chipotle chilies
- 2 cups cold water
- ¼ cup raw agave syrup
- ½ cup lime juice
- Zest of 2 limes
- 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 green onions, white and light green parts only, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander, toasted
- 1 teaspoons cumin
- 1 ½ lbs. total combination of tilapia filets, chicken breast or chicken thighs and/or flank steak or skirt steak
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 16-20 skewers (about least 6 inches long)
- Grapeseed oil, for greasing grill pan
- Lime wedges, for garnish
Yield: 2 ½ cups
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Active Time: 55 minutes
- Use scissors to cut the tops off the dried chilies. Discard the stems and seeds. Cut the larger chilies into quarters. Place all chilies in a large glass bowl and cover with the 2 cups of cold water. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 2 minutes or until chilies have softened. (If you don’t have a microwave, place chilies in a medium pot and add the 2 cups of water. Place over medium-high heat until the chilies have softened, 5 to 6 minutes, lowering the heat to a low simmer if it comes to a boil.)
- Remove the softened chilies from the water and transfer to a food processor; reserve the chili soaking liquid. Strain the soaking liquid and add ¾ cup of it along with the agave syrup, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, green onion, coriander and fennel seed. Pulse the food processor until mixture is broken down and incorporated, but not all the way to a purée. There should still be some body to it. Cool completely in the refrigerator. Set aside ¾ cup for coating in the proteins.
- Cut the fish, chicken or steak into pieces about 4-inches long by ¾ to 1-inch wide. Drain the skewers from the water. Pierce each piece of protein lengthwise with the skewer. Place the proteins in a baking dish big enough to hold the fish, chicken or steak in a single layer. Rub or brush them all over with a good coating of the marinade. Avoid brushing any marinade onto the exposed skewer. Reserve excess marinade Black Valentine Beans and Lime-Crema. Cover the proteins and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 1-2 hours. It is ideal to soak the skewers for at least 24 hours before using so that they do not burn during the cooking process, but soaking them for a few hours should do the trick.
- Meanwhile, soak the skewers in cold water.
- Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Transfer the protein from the marinade to a rack and use a pastry brush to brush off excess marinade, season with salt.
- Grill the chicken and beef (with no oil on the grill) and cook for 4-5 minutes. Then flip the proteins and cook for another 4-5 minutes. The chicken may take a few minutes longer than the steak.
- If cooking fish, clean the grill pan off and brush the grill (or grill pan) with a light coating of grapeseed oil by applying with an oil-dipped towel. Add fish to the grill and cook for 3 ½ minutes. Flip over and grill the other side for 1-2 minutes more, or until the fish is cooked through. Use a cake tester to tell when it is done. Insert a cake tester into the middle of the fillet, when it comes out warm to the touch, the fish is done. Carefully remove the fish from the pan using a fish spatula.
- Garnish protein skewers with lime.
- Marinade will keep for two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Grilled tilapia & white rice
Skip the chicken thighs and skirt steak, which take a longer time to marinate, and just use tilapia, which begins to soak up the flavors of the marinade in as little as 30 minutes. Grill the marinated fish and serve with white rice, buttery avocado, chopped scallions and sweet charred tomatoes.