Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Technique: Chicken on the Grill

Chicken on the grill is about as All-American as you can get - not that other cultures around the planet haven't got eons of history cooking poultry over fire. But somehow, whenever we feel the need to put on a 'typical Amurricun feast,' like for example, when niece Jessica was about to head off for a year in Japan, well, chicken on the grill with corn on the cob and potato salad or boiled potatoes and a big green salad, that was it. What else can ya say?

here's what you'll need . . .

chicken parts, I like breasts, Cathy likes legs, works out just right . . .
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup coarse kosher salt
1 gal. water
stuff to put on the chicken, see below . . .

Here's how you do it.
The first trick is a gift from my Uncle Chuck in Florida. An ex- IRS agent, gone legit in his retirement helping out victims of IRS intimidation, well into his 80s, and he's still giving me gourmet-cooking tips! Go figure . . . I think he came upon this one in Cooks Illustrated, but I'm not entirely sure. I am sure, however, that it works.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in cold water. Don't, as is my wont, start with a little bit of hot water and then cool it down after everything is dissolved. Start with cold water. Stir. A lot. Plan on 25 minutes to get it all dissolved. And do get it all dissolved. No little flakes or clouds or even the slightest murkiness. All dissolved. No heat.

Wash your chicken parts and put a few in a Baggie, pour in the sugar/salt liquid to cover, and seal it up. Use however many Baggies of whatever size you need to soak all your chicken in this miraculous broth. Seal them up, and let 'em sit in the 'fridge for at least an hour; 6 is fine.

When the time is up, take 'em out, wash 'em thoroughly, and get ready to grill! (The soaking insures that your chicken will come out tender and juicy, whether you cook it quickly over high heat, or leave it on the grill for a week over barely a flame. No, I have no idea why - though I can take a few guesses about what salt and sugar do to the cell membranes and osmotic pressure of the chicken meat, but, guesses they'd be, so let's just say, it works!)

So how do you get some soaked chicken ready to grill? I have about 97 favorite ways; I suspect that the more times you cook chicken on the grill, the more favorites you'll come up with too.

The simplest is, do nothing. Maybe grind some Tellicherry all over, and then just put it on the fire.

Grilled chicken

Another great idea is to take a bottle of your favorite Italian salad dressing and douse your chicken with it. (Be sure to rub it all over, not just puddle it on top.) Let it sit at room temperature for 10 - 30 minutes, and toss it on the fire.

Or maybe you've got a favorite olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar and/or herb or spice? Well, you've got the idea already. Oil it, rub it, vinegar it, rub it, herb it, rub it, spice it, rub it - in any order that strikes your fancy of the day! Let it sit, and put it on the fire.

I've been known to do no more than rub the chicken with some of my favorite Louisiana Hot Sauce; or maybe just a light dose of Worcestershire; or maybe a thickly coat of A-1; or maybe a layer of Tabasco Sauce rubbed with a sploosh of sesame oil; or . . .

Hot Sauce grilled chicken

And, there are any number of home-makeable and/or store bought 'rubs' that you can try. I'm particularly fond of Penzey's Galena Street Rub, as well as their Bavarian Rub. And I've been know to just mix a little ground cayenne, rosemary and thyme and scrub it into my chicken parts. If you're at a complete loss, just wander around your kitchen sniffing things. Anything that smells good, set the bottle out on the counter. When you've piled a bunch of bottles on the counter, do the same sniffing thing amongst them. Narrow it down to 3 or 5 or 7 or the magic 11, and go for it!

So. Either give your chicken parts some flavor. Or don't. Chicken does have a wonderful flavor all by itself. A little salt and pepper, and hey, eat hearty!

Of course, before you eat it, you should probably warm it up, at least a little! So put it on the grill. I prefer to use very low heat and let the beast cook for a long time - 45 minutes to maybe as much as a hour and a half, depending on how many pieces of chicken I'm trying to cook at once. The more meat, the longer the time. But others like to take the quick approach - turn the flame up high, leave the cover open, call it done in 30 minutes. Since grilling is a book unto itself, I'll leave the fine points to you. Just remember, the bird is definitely NOT cooked until the juices run clear (when you poke near a bone). So practice on your grill until you have a good idea how long various meats take. But since you have to practice anyway, why not practice with 27 different approaches to one of America's All Stars - grilled chicken!

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