If nothing else, I have to say this meal was our greatest success in cooking an appropriate amount of food for two people. We ate a lot of different foods but not an excessive amount of any one of them, and only have a decent amount of chicken leftover (mmm… sandwiches…).
BUT, that’s not all there is to say about our dinner because it also happened to be awesome. This was Nick’s second attempt at a grilled chicken and I didn’t think it was possible, but it was actually better than the first one. I’ll let him tell you more later, but for now I will give you four words: beer-soaked wood chips.
The chicken was accompanied by zucchini (lightly marinated and then grilled), simple sauteed broccolini, and potatoes cooked in duck fat. One of our favorite foods (I hate using the collective “we” for talking about things like favorite foods, but this is one Nick and I do happen to share) is the duck fat fries at the local gastro pub, served with aioli. We’ve tried to recreate them at home and have come up with an acceptable substitute, although it’s still not the real thing.
Finally, for dessert, I made strawberries with a balsamic glaze, served over vanilla ice cream. If you haven’t experienced strawberries and balsamic vinegar together, trust me, it’s worth trying.
This was starting to become a super long blog, so it’s in two parts. You can find the recipes for the chicken and potatoes here, and the vegetables and dessert here.
This is all Nick.
Me here. Grilled chicken. I used to be terrified of how to even approach an entire chicken. There’s so much information available on chicken. Some hearsay, some heresy. I did some furious internet research before I tried it the first time. This time around, I went with my gut… the very thing that ingests said meals.
My girl has reinforced the need for “organic” foods. I try to indulge her at most turns. In this case, I fully support her decision, and quite frankly, I wait for the opportunity to get a fresh bird from a farm, take its feathers off, and grill it. One day, I shall. Until that day, I’ll do what I did today. We got a fresh (not frozen, you deserve better…even if you don’t) chicken from MOM’S Organic Market in Jessup, MD. They get their chickens delivered on Thursday, and it’s Saturday, so that’s good enough for me. It’s an organic chicken, which means it’s probably 4 times more expensive than a standard supermarket bird. I cannot stress this enough, start with a good quality bird from a reputable joint. Do not screw around trying to save a few bucks. It’s not worth your health and lack of enjoyment in something as mind-blowing as grilled chicken.
Once you’ve got that bird, get out your big stock pot, fill it with two quarts of cold water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sea salt, and stir it up until the sugar & salt are suspended in the water. Make sure the chicken doesn’t have any giblets or anything erroneous stuffed inside it’s cavity. Once the space has been made, put the bird in the brine solution. Stick it in the fridge, or put a bunch of ice in with it, and let it sit for an hour. Now is a good time to start soaking your wood chips in some beer & water. It’s also a good time to start soaking your liver in beer as well. Get out your headphones, portable listening device of choice, and grill utensils.
Chicken submerged in its icy, briny bath:
Once your chicken has soaked in brine for 60 minutes, take it out, pat it dry with a paper towel, and then get out your poultry shears. Cut out the spine of the chicken, stick it in a freezer bag for making stock later. Then cut a few holes in the skin flaps, so you can pull the wing tips back and get them out of the way. I only do this because I saw others do it. Does it really help? Whatever.
Cover your bird in freshly ground salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Prepare a bowl with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA mixed together. That’s what you’re going to baste on while the bird is grilling. Also get a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA for yourself, it does wonders for one’s constitution.
Get your grill hot, around 5oo degrees Fahrenheit or so. Get those wood chips in the grill, and get ’em smokin’. I’ve been doing a combination of indirect and direct heat for chicken grilling. Put your headphones on, and get the bird on the indirect side of the grill. Start cooking it, doesn’t matter which side, really.
Enjoy your drink, don’t try and substitute your 90 minute IPA for something that dudes with backwards baseball caps drink when they’re trying to fit in at the bar. If anyone catches you grilling a chicken with something that says “lite” in your hand, then karma’s going to take over and make your chicken really dry and flavorless.
Enjoy the weather. Try and smile, enjoy the song. Flip your bird over, and baste it with beer. Repeat this activity until the skin is pretty well blackened, and your “special basting sauce” is gone. Keep moving bird between indirect and direct heat until you’ve got the desired grilly-ness and when you stick your grill tongs in sideways and have a look, nothing should look weird and pink.
If you give the chicken your full attention, and enjoy your drink, I promise you’ll have a great chicken. Let it rip, and don’t over-think the process. When it’s done, put it on a tray and let it sit for 6 minutes or so. Then how you enjoy it is entirely up to you.
I didn’t think I could even enjoy chicken this much until the last one I did. This one raised my expectations even more. I have a deep loving affinity for grilled foods, and this one is certainly no exception. I get the same great satisfaction in eating a great grilled chicken as I do in eating a great steak, or enjoying a fine Scotch. It’s a wonderful thing, so make a day of it, and there’s pretty much very little you can do to screw it up.
Duck Fat Potatoes with Lemon and Thyme Aioli
The aioli can be made before you start the rest of dinner prep; just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The recipe I use is from a Bon Appetit recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Aioli. (The recipe in its entirety is wonderful, by the way.) The only difference is that I used thyme instead of oregano. I also made about a 1/4 cup instead of a full cup, but just eyeballed portions of the ingredients. Just taste it and play with it til you’re happy.
The amounts I’m writing here are for eight servings, as the recipe is written. Whisk together the following: 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp chopped oregano (or thyme), 1 pressed garlic clove, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper.
We used baby red potatoes, cut into one-inch pieces. Spread the potatoes in a foil-lined, grill-safe pan. Sprinkle several sprigs’ worth of rosemary over the potatoes; season with salt & pepper.
Dot the potatoes with rendered duck fat (you could just as easily use butter or drizzle olive oil on top). Place on grill over high heat, covered, periodically opening the grill to toss the potatoes around. Cook until tender and crisp on the outside. (I’d say this took about 15 minutes. Nick doesn’t have a good sense of time. The good thing is that potatoes are happy to patiently wait in the oven, wrapped in foil, until the rest of the meal is ready.)
Wondering what we had for dessert? Or if we actually ate anything green? Check here.