Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Drunken Herbed Chicken 101

One of the many nice things about having a second-floor balcony overlooking huge trees and grass along the Green Belt and the Boise River is in being able to get out and have a barbecue just steps away from the air conditioning.
A two-for-one sale at Albertsons persuaded me (I cave easily) to try some drunken herbed smoked chicken. There was also some bargain broccoli and corn, which made it look more like a real menu and not just a bird bonfire.
So I have here four chicken breasts with skin and bone. This is better for grilling than the skinless stripped kind, because the skin and bone and what little fat there is help the juiciness. For this exercise, you could also use a whole adult chicken, or a chicken cut up into its usual parts (drumsticks, thighs, breasts, wings)
The other trick is the beer. You will need two kinds: A good kind for the chef, and a cheaper "bulk" kind for the chicken. Beer will help break down the chicken a little and help it hold its tender juiciness even over a fire. And beer will also help the chef persevere while standing over the grill on a hot day.
I have four breasts here, so the brine in which the breasts will marinate overnight is made of two cups of water, a quart of beer, 4 Tbsp. of kosher salt, 2 Tbsp. of minced garlic and 2 Tbsp. of ground garlic, 2 Tbsp. of cayenne pepper, 2 Tbsp. of shoyu, and the juice of two limes. Place the chicken skin-side down in a pot big enough to hold it. Pour over the brine mixture, cover with plastic wrap, put on the lid and let it bathe overnight in the fridge.

Two kinds of beer: One for the chef, left, and one for the chicken, right.

Minced garlic, and the juice of two limes.

Fast forward to the next day. We prepare a little foil pouch containing two big handsful of hickory (or your favorite alternative smoking wood) chips, folding over the foil and poking holes in it, which will let the smoke out when the time comes.

Prepare your charcoal grill with a pyramid that will be big enough to provide coals across the bottom, and after the coals burn down, spread them and place the foil wood chip pouch in the center.

While the charcoal is burning down to a nice orange glow, heat your friendly oven to 450F (150C). Take the pot of marinated chicken out, drain away the liquid, rinse the bird, and pat dry with paper towels.
You will have had the foresight to make a nice little rub mixture of your favorite herbs, 1/3 cup of water, 1/3 cup of salad oil, and 3 Tbsp. of vinegar. I used cider vinegar, but any kind will do. My rub mixture includes rosemary, cayenne, a load of basil, oregano, dried cilantro, parsley, dried jalopeno, chipotle powder, black pepper, white pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme and a teaspoon of Lipton onion soup mix powder (which is also great mixed into sour cream for a chip dip.)
The trick with rub is to really try to get it all over the bird, on both sides, and into every crook and nanny. This is easier after patting the chicken parts dry with paper towel, then applying a light spray of olive oil, before smearing the rub over the bird as if applying sunscreen (it rubs the lotion on its skin....etc....)

While you've been rubbing the breasts, the charcoal is working its way to orange-glowing coals. This is the time to put the breasts on a grill lightly sprayed with oil and set on a baking pan lined with foil to catch the drippings. The grill should be the one you will use over the charcoal. Baking in the oven will help bring the chicken meat up to safe temperature (180F) and also help seal in the juices so they will release over the charcoal-hickory on the grill.

While all that smoking is going on, you will naturally have had the foresight to prepare the side dishes. In this case, I have made wild rice with shiitake, adding a chicken bouillon cube and two hefty shots of sake to boost the flavor and fragrance. I got the sake idea from a Chinese-Japanese friend back in the 1960s who had a little Chinese restaurant in Shimo-Akatsuka, Japan. I say a little thank-you prayer to him whenever I make rice!
Where was I? Oh yes, broccoli flowers are blanced in boiling water, then drained and allowed to cool. They will join greens later as a salad.
The other treat is an ear of corn. Put the shucked ear into a pot, fill halfway with water, add a little salt, then add milk to cover. The milk brings out the sweetness of the corn so you won't need to smear on artery-choking butter.
Time on a charcoal grill varies widely, which is another good reason to start the chicken in an oven before moving it to smoke. Mine took about 30 extra minutes to get a nice color. Remove the chicken, allow 10-15 minutes to release the juices sealed in by the heat, and plate over a bed of the wild rice. This, with a little wine or some of that "good" beer should result in a supper that you would be proud to share with someone you really love, which is what I am hoping will happen someday too.