Friday, August 28, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken- it's certainly not pushing any culinary boundaries. But as a carrier of each chromosome I feel it must be done. The result was fantastic, even better than the juiciest oven-roasted chicken.

I tried to use Miller High Life as I do like the taste of the Champagne of Beers, yet I could not find a tallboy in my nearest mega-grocer's beer aisle. That is correct, you should use a 16 oz. beer can for increased stability. So Old Style was a good substitute here. And most recipes will tell you to pour off about 1/4 of the beer. Pour off? You mean pour into my beer mug?

You can certainly modify the rub to what you have and your preferred spice level. An easy way here was to use half smoked hot paprika and half smoked mild paprika, as my dinner companion prefers a moderate amount of heat. There might be a little rub leftover for future use, so I like to put a little aside that my raw-chickeny fingers haven't touched.

This size of the protein and thus cooking time necessitates indirect grilling for this recipe. Indirect grilling depends on your setup- with charcoal the food is placed in the middle with the briquettes to the side, a three-burner gas grill is used with the middle burner off. Most people, including myself, have a two-burner gas grill, indirect grilling is done using only one side.

Just to get more mileage out of my new grilling gadget, the smoker chip box, I employed that guy here also, throwing it onto the direct side of the grill with about 50 minutes left, so it smoked for about 35 minutes of the cooking time.

Beer Can Chicken

1 broiler/fryer chicken, about 4-5 lbs.
Canola oil
1 16 oz. beer can, about 3/4 full

1/2 TB smoked hot paprika
1/2 TB smoked mild paprika
1 TB kosher salt
1 TB onion powder
1/2 TB cayenne pepper
1/2 TB ground cumin
1 ts dried thyme
1 ts dried oregano
1 ts black pepper
1 ts garlic powder

Combine all rub ingredients into a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Separate about 1/4 of the rub, depending on the size of the bird.

Remove chicken from fridge about 20-30 minutes before you plan on grilling. Rinse chicken thoroughly and remove neck and giblets, then pat dry and place on a cookie sheet. Open your tallboy and take a few sips, removing about 4 oz. Make another hole in the beer can top with a church-key style opener. If you don't have one stab with something sharp and try not to injure thyself. Cover the chicken with canola oil, ensuring to get all up in those legs and wings and the cavity. Slowly work your fingers between the skin and breast so you can cover the entire breast with the rub. Work the rub over the entire chicken and the cavity as well. Toss about a teaspoon or two of the rub into the beer can...this will foam a little, so do this in the sink. You can spray or rub some oil onto the outside of the beer can too, this will ease the beer can extraction later.

Place the beer can onto the cookie sheet and work the chicken onto it. Using kitchen twine or silicone bands, tie up the ends of the legs and tuck the wings behind so they don't burn.

Fire up both sides of the grill for about 10 minutes. Once ready to grill, turn off one side and turn one side down to about medium-high, depending on the temperature. You want about 325-350 F with the lid closed. Throw an oven thermometer in there to be sure. You do have an oven thermometer, right?

Place beer can chicken onto indirect side of grill and close lid. You might want to get another one of those tallboys and stay close for the first bit, ensuring your bird isn't going to fall over. Use the two legs and can as a tripod, sort of like my friend's 3-legged dog. Okay, 3.5 legs to be fair.

After about 40 minutes, rotate the chicken so the other side faces the flame. Total cooking time will be about 75-90 minutes, depending on the size of bird and temperature of the grill.

Your dinner will be ready when the middle of the leg reaches 180 F, so removing from the grill at about 175 F will do, as the temp will increase a little once removed from the heat, covered with foil resting about 10 minutes.

Once rested for a bit, fold up that foil to hold the base of the beer can. Using another piece of foil backed with gloves or kitchen towels, pull the bird off the chicken. I forgot to oil the beer can, so I had to pull a little. Try not to disturb the skin too much, as we all know you eat first with the eyes. Don't forget about the juice that accumulated while the chicken was resting-pour that over the plated chicken.

Carve up and enjoy. Some couscous and grilled garlic bread served as perfect accompaniments for this easy weeknight dinner.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Corn and Tomato Salad

It's taken a while for the local tomatoes and sweet corn to ripen due to the cold summer here in Chicago. Once they are here, it's one of the best times of the year to enjoy fresh local produce. If you can get to a farmer's market to find heirloom tomatoes, I highly encourage their use in many ways. Well, of course a BLT. For 10 months of the year we are relegated to those store-bought tomatoes from CaliMexico. These varieties are bred for shelf life- the transport across the country and such. Have you ever tasted a tomato right off the vine? Sweet corn so fresh you could eat it raw? That is summer time. Fire up the grill, tune your radio to AM720, and listen to Pat and Ron discuss the futility of the boys in blue.

This salad has unlimited variations, and I in fact rarely serve it the same way twice. One ingredient not mentioned in the list, but may be recognized in the photo is blue cheese. You could put blue cheese on dog sh*t and I might eat it. Wait you can't say that.

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Dressing
makes 6 servings

6 ears of sweet corn
5 medium tomato, heirloom preferred, seeded and chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2/3 C red onion, sliced or diced

1/4 C good EVOO
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
2 Tb fresh mint, chopped (optional)
2 TB white wine vinegar
1 TB lime juice
2 ts brown sugar, packed
1 medium garlic clove, minced

Grill the ears of corn over medium-high direct heat, turning every 4-6 minutes or so for a total of about 20-25 minutes. They should be moderately charred on all sides. The easiest way to slice corn off the cob is by placing on a bundt cake pan. Thanks Alton, but I still don't have a bundt pan. But you might.

Immersion blender sticks are great for making salad dressings, flavored oils, etc. No need to whisk oil in slowly to ensure the emulsion, you can take the lazier route if available. Much handier than a bundt pan.

Combine all dressing ingredients into cup and blend until smooth, or whisk in small bowl until incorporated.

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and toss it up. Serve immediately and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon

Even though it feels like fall, the calendar still reads August. So that means the grill is still in full use and the Cubs are out of the division race. Oh well, there's always next year.

Salmon is something I wished I ate more because it's damn tasty and it is good for you. Omega 3's are good for the heart, you know. I also wish that my budget could afford wild caught salmon instead of farm raised, I mostly buy the latter. The taste and price difference is prevalent! Almost every time I eat salmon at home, it is from grilling on a cedar plank. I bought these planks a few years ago and love them, especially for fish. Just be sure to soak them for at least 2 hours, preferably longer. Once I soaked a plank for only an hour, it ended up on fire. Good thing I bought four. Next time I'll try soaking in wine to see if that imparts more flavor.

Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon

Salmon Filets
Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Slices

Depending on the size of your plank/filets, soak one or two planks in water for 2-3 hrs. Pat dry once ready and coat each side with vegetable oil.

Pre-heat grill to about 450 F for about 10 minutes. Place planks over direct medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.

As with all meat, allow some time between fridge and grill/oven/stovetop/campfire/engine block/whatever.

Coat salmon with olive oil and place on plank skin side down. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, then for about 5-8 minutes over medium-low heat, depending on the thickness and how you like your salmon. I like mine firm, somewhat well done. Keep the lid closed to prevent flare-ups, and keep that spray water bottle handy.

Once done, plate it up and throw a couple lemon slices over the salmon, squeeze a little lemon juice over that and enjoy.

Oh you need a condiment? Dill and salmon are good friends.

This time I just went with risotto that sports a Caitlin-style topping of parmeggiano reggiano. You don't still use that stuff in the round, green plastic container for parmesan cheese, do you? Find yourself a microplane and a hunk of parm-reg. Email me for where to send the thank you card.

Dill Sauce-

1/4 C mayo
1 TB fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 ts garlic, minced
1/4 ts shallot, minced
dash of lemon juice

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BLT bites

These little guys are fantastic party appetizers.

1/2 C mayo
6 0z. cream cheese, softened
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled.
1/4 C finely chopped green onion
2 TB finely chopped fresh parsley, reserved
1 ts fresh basil, chiffonade
20-24 cherry tomato
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 TB plain bread crumbs

Combine mayo, cream cheese, bacon, onion and 1.5 TB parsley into electric mixer bowl. Using the beater attachment, stir on speed 1 to combine.

Using a paring knife, core out each tomato as well as possible. I like to turn the tomato and keep the knife stationary, it seems easier that way. Stuff each tomato with a teaspoon or similar device.

In a small pan over medium heat, lightly toast bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of each stuffed tomato, then sprinkle with basil and parsley. Refrigerate for a couple hours. I have learned the hard way that if you keep them in the fridge overnight, it would be better to save the bread crumb topping for next day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brined, Grilled Pork Chops

Brining pork chops is well worth the effort. So easy, so much flavor. These don't stand a chance once plated and you have silver in hand.

Brined Grilled Pork Chops

8 C cold water
1/2 C + 2 TB kosher salt
1/2 C light brown sugar
1 C orange juice
small handful of black peppercorns
fresh aromatics- a branch of rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, use what you have.
2 ~2" center cut pork chops

Combine first 4 ingredients into medium pot, heat until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool completely. Add corns and herbs, stir to mix. Add chops, ensure they are submerged completely

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 8 hours. Some people (Alton Brown) would say to turn the chops halfway through the process. I only do if possible.

Remove chops from brine and rinse well, then pat dry with paper towels. Prepare grill to medium high direct heat for 10 minutes, about 450 F. Rub some olive oil on all sides of chops, lightly cover with freshly cracked black pepper and a touch of kosher salt. Grill over medium direct heat for 7 minutes, rotating 45 degrees halfway. Turn heat down a little for the other side, grill 5-7 minutes or until internal temp reaches 145 degrees F at the thickest part. Let rest about 5 minutes before devouring.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mesquite-Smoked Chicken Wings

City living certainly constrains the outdoor cook. I would love to have room for a gas grill, charcoal grill, smoker, deep fryer, etc, however I could flip burgers on my balcony grill from indoors, that's about how much room I have. Looking for ways to impart more flavor to grilled items, I finally bought one of those smoker boxes and some mesquite wood chips. I thought for the first attempt I would keep things simple, no rubs, brines, or marinades. I wanted pure smoke. Holy sh*t was my grill smoking! The aroma of the chips smoking was amazing. I felt bad for my neighbors, but certainly not for long. Can't wait to try some ribs with this gadget.

I encourage you to buy things as whole and as close to what it actually looks like in nature as possible. Those prepackaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts? Might as well eat paper. If you're gonna buy a chicken, buy it whole and cut it up yourself. You save money and you get better quality. Homemade chicken stock? Yes please. That being said, buy the whole chicken wings so you have some wing tips to throw in next time you make stock. Or, a favorite shortcut of mine is to take low-sodium broth and add the tips and the usual veg and herbage, this will add tremendous flavor to store-bought stock. And if you don't have 8 hours on a lazy Sunday to make stock, use your crockpot. Just be ready to wake up at 3AM hungry and wondering where that delicious aroma is coming from!

Mesquite-Smoked Chicken Wings

Whole chicken wings or drummettes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Spicy Garlic BBQ sauce-

3-4 garlic cloves, slivered
1 ts chili pepper flakes
1 C Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce

No homemade BBQ sauce this time. In a small sauce pan, heat some olive oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and chili flakes, stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add BBQ sauce, reduce heat to low and barely simmer for 10-20 minutes, keeping warm.

Soak chips in water for 30 minutes.
Separate wings into 3 pieces, save tips for stock. Best way to do this is dislocate the joint, bend the joint over your forefinger by using your thumb and middle finger. Feel for where the joint is dislocated, make a small slice with a sharp knife. Place on cutting board (I hope you are not using your good wooden board for raw chicken) before cutting completely. Don't try to slice through completely while holding. Trust me. Once you slice a few, it's like riding a bike.

Add wings to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Coat evenly with salt and pepper.

Drain the chips and place into a metal box or use heavy-duty foil poked with a few holes. Fire up the grill to about 450°F after coating the grill with non-stick spray or oil. Grill over medium direct heat for about 16 minutes, turning twice. That spray water bottle you always keep near the grill for flare-ups? Yep, keep that handy. If the little guys get a little charred, no worries, the sauce will cover em anyway.

Toss cooked wings in a bowl with the sauce. Top with a little chopped green onion, serve with a blue cheese dip if you wish, but definitely a nice cold beer with these.