Best Damn Smoked Chicken Recipe, period

Mon, Jan 9 • 0

This may be the best thing that could ever happen to a chicken.

I get a whole lot of compliments on this one. There are some members of my extended family who insist I bring this to any family gathering, regardless of the time of year. The technique of putting lit coals over top of unlit coals ensures a nice, long burn, and will provide enough heat for the 2-hour long cooking time. This recipe specifically relies on using a Webber kettle grill. You’ll need to further experiment in order to come up with the proper technique for a different kind of grill.

2 whole chickens, 3 to 4 pounds each
2 fist-sized lumps of chunk fruit wood
1 aluminium drip pan, 10×14
20 – 30 charcoal briquettes
cooking spray
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
7 quarts of water

Take two chickens and cut them each into 8 pieces — 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 drumsticks, and 2 thighs. Save the rest for chicken stock. Brine the chicken in 6 quarts of water that you’ve dissolved a cup of sugar and a cup of salt for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towel. Season it with pepper, and spray both sides with cooking spray.

Soak wood in water for 15 minutes. (I’ve tried both apple and cherry wood, and can’t detect any difference in flavor, but do avoid mesquite because it’s just too strong a flavor.)

Light half a chimney full of briquettes and let burn in chimney until the top is white with ash. In your kettle grill, put an aluminum pan on one side and fill it with a quart of water. On the other side, put in 20 unlit briquettes, and nestle the wood chunks in it. Close the top and bottom vents of the grill to the halfway point. Pour the lit charcoal over top of the wood and the unlit charcoal, and put on the grill, and let it heat for 5 minutes with the lid on, then clean the grill and put on the chicken, skin side up, and putting the breasts around the outside, over top of the pan of water, furthest from the heat. Put the cover back on, and let the chicken cook undisturbed for 90 to 120 minutes.


Wild Rice Stuffing

Sun, Nov 7 • 0

Tried this in a chicken last week. I’m usually against putting stuffing inside a chicken or a turkey, since it means longer cooking time, and increases the chances of bacteria, but I figured if I didn’t make the stuffing too tightly packed, and if I put it in the bird hot, just before roasting it, I could get away with it. The cooking time did end up being longer than I expected, but that may have been due to the chicken being larger than I usually go with (4½ pounds as opposed to 3). In the end, I think I liked it more than my wife did.

The following quantities are for a 3-5 pound chicken, but you could increase it for a larger bird, like a turkey. The recipe still needs fine tuning, and you could easily swap out or omit some of the items. For example, replacing the onion with shallots or leeks. You could replace or augment the chestnuts with the chicken or turkey’s giblets. (Note: I was enticed into making up this recipe by an article and recipes in the Washington Post food section. In it, they talk about the best place to buy prepared, steamed chestnuts, and that’s apparently Trader Joes. They sell them in skinny maroon-colored boxes, nearish the flour and other baking supplies in my local store.)

1 cup prepared basmati and wild rice mix (fully cooked)
¼ yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
¼ cup chopped celery (ideally, the light yellow stalks and leave tops from the heart)
¼ cup chopped steamed chestnuts
liquid: vegetable or chicken broth, white wine, vermoth, or water
herbs: sage leaves, fresh thyme, to taste, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Prepare the rice ahead of time, and allow to cool. Avoid adding salt at this stage.

In a frying pan, soften onion and celery in butter or olive oil. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (30 seconds). Add rice and chestnuts, and enough liquid to moisten, and allow it to  all get quite hot. Remove from heat, and taste for salt and pepper. You want it to be saltier than normal, since it’s going to flavor the whole bird from the inside. Add the herbs at this point, too.

Spoon the hot stuffing into the cavity, being careful not to pack it too tightly. Tie the opening closed with kitchen string. Roast in a hot oven (425°) until the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh near the thigh. Allow the chicken to rest, then cut the string and spoon out the stuffing before carving.


Better Roast Chicken

Sun, Dec 27 • 0

So it seems pretty straight-forward, but I never actually tried it until last week. A better way to roast a chicken. I’ve often lamented the fact that the thighs and drumsticks are rarely ever completely cooked to my liking, or if they are, the breast meat is completely overdone. Taking a cue from recipes for roasted turkey, I decided to try twirling the bird.

First, salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. If you want to get fancy, put a couple spoonfuls of compound butter underneath the skin of the breast. Then put the 3 to 3½ pound chicken on a roasting pan that’s preheated in a hot oven (425°), but put it in on its side, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Then turn it on its other side for another 15 minutes. Finally, roast it breast side up for 25 to 35 minutes more, basting the bird every 10 minutes. You should hear the chicken sizzling the whole time while it’s in the oven. (You know it’s done when the joints move easily.) Then let it rest outside of the oven for 15 minutes more, covered with foil.

The result is an very moist and completely cooked chicken. What’s more, as with other roast chicken recipes, it’s just as easy to cook two chickens at the same time, either to feed a crowd or for copious leftovers. And though it’s a little more work, and I can’t wander far from the kitchen, it’s definitely going to be my go-to way to roast a chicken from now on — or, at least until some novel method presents itself.


Eleven Herbs and Spices Revealed?

Mon, Jul 27 • 1

Ron Douglas, author of America’s Most Wanted Recipes, claims he has discovered the secret recipe after lots of chicken, and years of testing. According to an article in The Guardian, the secret ingredients are :

1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Accent (MSG)

Unfortunately, it’s still pretty difficult to duplicate the fast food chain’s cooking methods, since they use pressure cookers to fry their chicken. However, the home cook does have the advantage of being better able to drain the excess grease from the fried chicken, since we’re not cooking dozens of chickens at once. Also, home cooks have the option of buying better quality, organic, free-range chicken if they choose to. The Guardian even claimed to have come up with what they call a superior mix of herbs and spices, that doesn’t include MSG. This is their recipe and recommended process, the best I can interpret it from the article, as they only roughly describe the process, but they do give a detailed listing of their choice of herbs and spices. The recommend poaching the chicken in milk to insure the chicken is cooked completely to the bone, but that’s a step I’ve never seen in any fried chicken recipe.

“It’s worth noting that chicken marinaded and poached in milk has an unbelievably suave flavour and texture, and that the poaching liquid thickens to create the most soothing cream of chicken soup I’ve ever achieved,” says the article.

1 half gallon whole milk
1 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp sage
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried onion flakes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
peanut oil
for frying

Cut the chickens into 8 parts, splitting the breast in half to allow for even cooking, and saving the backs, necks and wing tips for stock. Marinate overnight in the milk. The next day, lightly poach the chicken in the milk bath for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and drain. Use enough peanut oil to make a depth of 1 inch in a frying pan. Bring up to 350º heat. While the oil is coming to temperature, mix the spices with the flour. Coat each piece of chicken with the flour mixture, and let set for a couple of minutes, then re-coat each piece. Fry the chicken in the oil, 6 minutes on each side, or until the coating is golden brown. Remove the chicken to a rack and allow excess oil to drip off.

The results were ok. Nothing fantastic. Each piece of chicken was fully cooked, but I didn’t really detect the suave flavor and texture described. In fact, some of the skin was a little chewy and flabby. And frankly, the coating did not come near the flavor of KFC, or any other chain-store fried chicken place I’ve tried. In fact, I’d say it was comparable to cheap grocery store fried chicken.

In the end, my wife and I just didn’t think it came close to competing with my personal favorite recipe for fried chicken, which I think is better than anything you can buy. What I may do, though, is use most of my technique from that recipe, but try to spice it up with the different herbs and spices from these new recipes. Look for that in the coming weeks.


“Spatchcocking”

Thu, Oct 30 • 0

What I called butterflying in this recipe I posted in July is apparently really called spatchcocking. It’s basically cutting a whole bird down its back, removing the backbone (which I reserve for stock) and flattening it to a relatively even thickness for even, fast cooking. Whether you use a grill, or your oven, you can cook a 3-pound chicken in 45 minutes or less. I confirmed my misnomer when I was thumbing through Martha Stewart’s new cookbook, although she takes it a step further and grills the bird with a foil covered brick on it.

I can’t abide by that method. I think a quarter-inch more or less contact to the grill surface isn’t going to make such a huge difference, and I’d be worried that pressing the bird down, like pressing down on a hamburger patty, would cause essential juices to dribble out onto the fire.

Jacques Pepin demonstrated the method on his new series, More Fast Food My Way, on PBS. He adds a few refinements that will cut off even more cooking time.

(Before you proceed, either get your grill going, or preheat your oven to 425°.)

Same as before, using shears, cut down either side of the backbone of the bird, then open it up like a book, helping it flatten by snapping the cartilage near where the wishbone is, up by the neck with a knife. Now, using your knife, knick the bird in all the places where you’ve ended up with raw chicken when you’ve roasted before — right at the knee of the drumstick and the thigh, up in the “arm pit” between the wing and the breast, as well as the crotch, where the thigh meets the torso. Cut a small gash, less then an inch long, but all the way to the bone. This will supposedly allow heat to get into the spots that take the longest to cook. (He also chops off the tips of the drumsticks, which causes the meat to contract up, exposing the thin, white leg bone when it cooks.)

He used a very assertive, mustard-based recipe for coating the bird.

2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
5 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup olive oil
salt & pepper

Mix all of these together in a bowl, and slather this sauce all over the bird, on both sides.

He prepared his in the oven, and so his method has you first put the chicken, skin-side down, in a very hot oven-proof skillet, and cook it for 5 minutes, then turning it, and putting it in the oven to cook for 30-40 minutes.


Chicken with Vinegar and Shallots

Thu, Oct 16 • 0

This is apparently a classic french dish, because I found many, many versions of it on the net. (Fricassée de Poulet au Vinaigre et à l’Echalote.) It’s a basic, tasty, braised chicken recipe, which yields a really good gravy, and can be made in about an hour and a half. As an option, you can remove the skin after browning, since it ends up turning kind of distastefully flabby in the braise. You should still add it to the pan since it provides flavor, but discard it before serving.

1 3-lb chicken, cut up into 8 pieces.
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 cups red wine
6 large shallots, diced
1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. Heat up the oil in a large pot and brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken and take off the skin.

Add the garlic, thyme and bay leaf and cover. Cook on medium heat for 10minutes while gradually adding half of the vinegar, so that it evaporates quickly and steams the meat.

Add the shallots and cover the chicken with the red wine and remaining vinegar. Cover and simmer for about an hour. When chicken is done, remove from pot and place on a warm platter.

Optionally, strain the shallots and garlic out of the sauce, and then whisk butter in and pour over the chicken.


Chicken Cacciatore with Risotto

Sun, Oct 12 • 0

Cacciatore means “hunter’s style” in italian, and it’s typically a braising method for chicken (or rabbit) with tomatoes and other vegetables, including mushrooms, onions, and herbs.

The chicken part of this meal was the simple part to the much more complicated risotto, but even that’s not so bad. I chose whole wheat short grain rice for my risotto, which doubled the cooking time, but you can choose regular white, arborio. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but you could easily use chicken breasts, or a combination, and the chicken doesn’t have to be boneless — though I recommend the skinless, since the braising method would tend to make the skin sort of rubbery otherwise.

6 boneless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ cup onions, chopped
1 large can plum tomatoes, crushed, with juice

1 large leek, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
3 handfuls short grain rice, about ¾ cup
2 cups chicken broth, plus 3 cups water, heated to boiling
¼ cup parmesan cheese, shredded

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the chicken thighs with the salt and pepper, and brown them off, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken, and put in the garlic and the onion, and sweat. Add the tomatoes, plus any herbs you like (basil or thyme would work well here) and bring to a rapid boil. Return the chicken and cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. and cook until the chicken is cooked through — at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock and the water to a simmer in a saucepan. In another pan (preferably, a saucier), heat 2 tablespoons of butter, and add the leek, and cook until wilted. Add the rice, and stir, allowing the rice to soak up the butter, and turn pearly. Begin adding the hot stock, about three or four ladles-full to start. You don’t need to constantly stir the rice, but you do need to keep and eye on it, and stir it occasionally, to make sure it doesn’t scorch in the pan and run out of liquid. Keep adding more liquid, a ladle at a time. I also fortified the cooking liquid for the rice with some of the excess liquid from the chicken, which added flavor as well as a rosey color to the rice. It’ll take about 20 minutes for white risotto or 45 for brown to get to the point where you can taste a grain or two, and they’re chewy, but not so much so that they stick to your teeth. At this point, you can keep cooking it to whatever consistency you prefer. I like it the consistency of wet oatmeal. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the shredded cheese. Taste for seasoning.


Butterflied BBQ Chicken

Thu, Jul 24 • 0

This method cuts the normal cooking time for a chicken in half.

I got an electric patio grill for my birthday a few weeks ago, and with a few modifications, it’s able to get really very hot. So now I can grill food, legally, on my high-rise balcony with no worries about setting off the smoke alarm. And tonight I made butterflied BBQ’d chicken and it turned out really well. But if you don’t have an electric grill, it will work fine under the broiler of your oven, and even better if you have access to a gas or charcoal grill (though you’ll probably have to fidget with the cooking times).

You’ll need a chicken, no more than 4 pounds, preferably 3. Cut the back bone out, and cut off the wing tips, and splay it out on the cutting board, legs akimbo, skin side up. Take a kebab skewer and press it into one of the shoulders, and run it diagonally through the breast, and aim the tip to come out the end of the opposite drumstick. Take another skewer and make an X, starting in the other shoulder. This will keep the bird from curling up over the heat. Now you can flavor the chicken with whatever spice combination you want. I chose a mixture of bbq seasoning, salt, garlic powder, and pepper.  I mixed a little of this spice combination with some softened butter and crushed fresh garlic, and inserted it under the skin over the breast and down to the thighs and leg. Then I covered the bird, front and back with the dry seasoning.

Cooking it can’t be easier. Once the thermometer on my grill was up over 425°, I sprayed the grill with a little canola spray, and put the bird, skin-side down, onto the grill and put on the cover, and cooked it that way for 15 minutes. I kept my eye on the thermometer and regulated the heat so it stayed roughly around 400°. Then I turned it over, and cooked it, skin side up, for 25 minutes, rubbing bottled bbq sauce on the chicken in the last 5 minutes. You want the chicken’s internal temperature to be 165° at the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear when you cut into the bird on the platter.

Normally a 3 pound bird would take an hour and a half in my countertop rotisserie. Total cooking time this way, 40 minutes. (I’ve also tried this recipe with two cornish game hens, treated exactly the same… the only difference is the cooking time. You can get by with only 10 minutes on the skin side, and 15-20 minutes on the other.)


Easy Chicken Stew

Wed, May 21 • 0

Saw this recipe for a chicken stew with wine demonstrated on a cooking show last weekend, and thought I’d give it a go.

The results were ok, but I think it could use some tinkering, as the broth was a little too astringent for my taste. The recipe called for oyster mushrooms, but one of us is allergic, so I replaced them with carrots. The recipe also called for serving it over buttered noodles, but I chose to add an Israeli couscous and grains mix that Trader Joes sells. The leftovers taste even better the second day.

4 oz bacon, diced
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
8-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 bay leaves
1t fresh thyme
2 carrots, sliced
1 bottle riesling wine
salt and pepper to taste
couscous

Brown the bacon in a dutch oven. Add the leeks and soften. Add the chicken thighs — no need to brown the thighs. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the couscous, and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 45 minutes. Add the couscous and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.


Experiment : Boursin Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Wed, May 14 • 0

Made this recipe up in the grocery store, though ultimately, it was a waste of some expensive cheese spread.

Marinate 3 chicken breasts using the salt/buttermilk & onion method described in the recent southern fried chicken recipe, below. Pat dry, and pound ¼” thickness, trimming excess to form uniform rectangles. In a food processor, mix chicken trimmings, ¼ c sour cream, 2 or 3 T boursin cheese, fresh parsley and fresh baby spinach leaves, plus salt and pepper to taste. Mix with 1c freshly made rice. (I used a brown and red rice mixture.) Spread a thin layer of the rice and cheese mixture on each chicken breast, and roll, tying with string. Dredge in flour and fry in a little bit of butter and olive oil until golden, and then finish off in a 325 oven for 15 or 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Results: Though it tasted just great, I didn’t notice that the marinade made much of a difference, so I’ll probably skip that step. Also, the stuffing was good, it didn’t particularly taste of boursin cheese, so I might just leave that part out next time, too. Either that, or cut back on the spinach/parsley. Alternately, I could replace the subtle boursin with just a few cloves of garlic, chopped in the food processor.


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