Ground chuck and quinoa save the day. Credit: C|Louise PR and Marketing

Key Ingredient was a multimedia cooking series produced by then-Reader staffer Julia Thiel and food writer/filmmaker Michael Gebert from 2010-2018 in which Chicago’s baddest chefs challenged their colleagues to redeem unusual, underappreciated, or often abhorrent ingredients by showcasing them in beautiful plated dishes that might or might not have been edible.

At the prompting of Funkenhausen chef Mark Steuer, we’re rebooting the series, pandemic-cooking-style.

The chef: Brian Jupiter, Ina Mae Tavern, Frontier

The challenger: Erick Williams, Virtue Restaurant

The ingredient: dry-ass chicken breast

“We always have some leftover chicken,” says Brian Jupiter, who’s been frying plenty of it at Ina Mae Tavern throughout the pandemic.

So he was unfazed when Virtue’s Erick Williams challenged him with “dry-ass chicken breast.” “The first thing you’re trying to do is add some sauce to it,” Jupiter says. “That’s the easy way out.”

Jupiter has been hustling takeout and delivery at both Frontier and Ina Mae (the sno-ball window is open!), teaching virtual cooking classes, as well as cooking 1,000 meals a week for those in need via the Power of 10 Initiative—and somehow finds the time once or twice a day to take Muay Thai kickboxing classes via Zoom. 

“I’ve been eating a ton of protein,” he says. “Every way I can get it.” He needs more gas in the tank than mere dry-ass chicken breast can provide. That’s why he threw ground chuck at it, contributing fat and moisture, and the “ultimate protein ball” was born. 

Jupiter shredded the chicken, crust and all, but added ancient grains to the mix instead of breadcrumbs. “Quinoa is a new friend of mine,” he says. He tossed onion, garlic, grated parmesan, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, and an egg into the mix, and deep fried the balls until crispy and—well, what the hell—doused them in barbecue sauce. 

He gives the rest of us permission to panfry, but he doesn’t have time for that. On Friday he reopened the beer garden and patio at Frontier, with a limited menu of smoked and grilled meats, sides, and a full bar. Ina Mae opened its patio last Wednesday, serving up po’ boys, seafood towers, and beignets just days after opportunists popped off up and down Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.

“It got a little bit crazy,” he says. “But I definitely keep moving. I need that. I don’t like to sit still. You gotta fight to keep stuff going.”   v

Who’s next: Lee Wolen, of Boka and Somerset, whose challenge is chicken gizzards. Wolen just opened GG’s Chicken Shop in Revival Food Hall, serving rotisserie chicken and fried chicken sandwiches.

“I always give him shit,” says Jupiter. “‘You stick with all the fancy stuff. Let me cook the fried chicken.’” For that, Wolen must redeem the yardbird’s muscular gastric mill, a notoriously tough nugget that it uses to grind its food.

“Gizzards are tricky,” says Jupiter. “You can screw them up really easily. I think the biggest mistake you can make is throw them in some chicken dredge and fry them up.”

Kinda sticks in your craw, doesn’t it, Wolen?

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If you tuned in last week (check our IGTV tab), you saw @chefErickWilliams of @VirtueRestaurantChi challenge @ChefJup of @FrontierChicago & @InaMaeTavern to ⁣ “dry ass chicken breast” in the last Key Ingredient: Pandemic Pantry!⁣⁣⁣ ⁣ “We always have some leftover chicken,” says Brian Jupiter, who’s been frying plenty of it at Ina Mae Tavern throughout the pandemic. So he was unfazed by Erick Williams’ challenge.⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ He made protein-packed meatballs with the chicken. The chef deep fried the balls until crispy and doused them in barbecue sauce, but he gives the rest of us permission to panfry. Find the full recipe here:⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ Next up: @leewolen of @bokachicago, @somersetchicago, and @ggchickenshop is challenged to cook with chicken gizzards.

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Chef Jup’s Protein-Packed Meatballs

1 pound ground beef ground chuck 

1/2 pound dry-ass chicken breast, fried, left overnight, and shredded with batter

1 cup quinoa, cooked

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/4 cup onion

1 egg

Cajun seasoning to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix gently. Form into meatballs. In an oiled skillet, panfry over medium-high heat until evenly browned and crispy. Serve with barbecue sauce.