Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grill everything: Whole chicken

Inspired by my success with grilling cut-up rabbit, and by Chicken Chimehuin recipe in Francis Mallmann's cookbook "Seven Fires", I now decided to grill a whole butterflied chicken.

The recipe calls for a 2-3/4 pound chicken - they don't make these anymore, not in North America. Last time I looked in the supermarket, the organic chickens were 6 pounds and up. That time I needed a small chicken for roasting, and I didn't specifically care for organic, so I asked to bring me a few conventional ones in a hope to find a smaller specimen. They were between 6.5 and 7 pounds!

Now, this monstrosity would be very difficult to roast evenly, and it would never grill, no way! It can be BBQ'd slowly, but this was not what I was looking for. Mallmann's idea is to recreate gaucho cooking over wood fire, and he is a big enthusiast of grilling on the verge of burning, adding flavor interest with charred patches on otherwise perfectly cooked meat. Grilling simplicity, and charred, rustic grilled meats appeal to me. I sure wanted to try this. But if I attempt to lightly charr a 6-pound dinosaur that is about 50% fat, it would be completely burned on the outside and rake of burned chicken fat long before it's enormous breasts come close to the desired temperature.

I needed a real chicken! Now, I happen to have friendly farmers who raise chickens underfoot, and they would get me one of the right size and superior quality, she would even have a name and a life story - if I called them a day before, and then drove two hours to their farm (and two hours back, if there is no traffic). I'll do it some day. But this time, I didn't plan ahead again, and I needed the chicken today.

So I did the same as I did when I needed a roster: the smallest supermarket chicken that I met recently is Trader Joe's kosher chicken, and it'll have to do this time. The smallest TJ's kosher chicken that I found was a little over 3 pounds. It's obviously the same breed as all other commercial chickens, as it shares the same traits: unbelievably huge breasts for it's size, and a lot of internal fat. Also, because of some specifics of the kosher processing, it's hairy. I mean, they cannot just plunge the bird into boiling water and then use a machine to pluck it. As a result, there are always some feathers left. So expect to spend some meditative time with the tweezers finishing the epilation job.

Anyway, with most of the fat and feathers removed, my bird was approaching the desired weight of 2-3/4 pounds.

I cut it through the breast and flattened it the best I could. The breast was still protruding, Holliwood-style. Than I made a paste of rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon rind, and massaged it into the bird, carefully lifting the skin and spreading the mixture between the skin and the meat.
I heated the grill on full power, then reduced the heat to medium, brushed the grill with olive oil, and grilled my bird for about 15 minutes per side, bone-side first, putting out the flare-ups that occurred regularly - I thought I had cut off most of the fat, no?

The weird shape of the breast-forward chicken does create a problem: the legs were well cooked and beginning to burn long before the breast was done, so I covered them with foil for the last ten minutes of cooking.
Finally, it was done as desired: moist inside, 160 degrees, charred patches and golden-brown outside. Served with olive-parsley-garlic sauce, which is a green slurry of finely minced parsley and garlic in olive oil, as the recipe suggests (I couldn't resist doubling the garlic and adding some red wine vinegar to the sauce - it's so much like chimichurri!) and preserved lemons.

It's good, and I'll do it again. But the next time, I'll do it with a real chicken.

Grill everything: Rabbit

Now, who told you that rabbit tastes like chicken? They either never actually tried rabbit and are judging from the similar size and shape of the parts, or they only tasted it in one of those preparations that cover up the delicate flavor of the meat with a lot of sauce and spices. Rabbit tastes like rabbit! If i would compare it to chicken, I'd say that rabbit tastes like chicken should in the perfect world. It has delicate meaty flavor that, depending on the animal's diet, can sometimes be distinctly sweet. Also rabbit meat is naturally lean, so it's good for you.
The traditional, fool-proof way to cook rabbit is stewing or braising. This is what I have always been doing too. Sometimes I would save the tiny tender flanks (belly), loins, liver and kidneys to add to other things on the grill, but the legs always went into the braising pot. They can be tough and dry if cooked by dry heat, especially coming from a large animal that's been previously frozen.
This small (2 pounds) rabbit that I got from Devil's Gulch Ranch was fresh and looked tender, and it obviously had been well fed, as it had some fat in it, so I decided to risk cooking it all on the grill - and it worked!

I got the idea of the marinade at Jamie Oliver's website .

I left out the honey: the meat is already sweet, why try to improve it? I cut up the bunny and rubbed the parts with a paste made of minced garlic, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, salt and white pepper, covered and let them sit for 30 minutes or so. I preheated my gas grill on it's highest setting, then just before cooking I turned the gas down to medium and let some of the heat escape, so the actual cooking was done at 400 degrees or so.

The only secret in grilling rabbit (besides getting a young and fresh one from a good source) is that different parts cook in different times.

The hind legs are largest and toughest, hardworking parts of the beast. They took 15 minutes per side.
I added the smaller front legs while turning the hind legs over. They cooked about 8 minutes per side.
The delicate loins were ready after 3 minutes per side.
Then I turned heat back up, and quickly seared the bellies and liver and kidneys, threaded on a bamboo skewer, 2 minutes per side. This made the belly pieces really crispy without burning them, and cooked the liver and kidneys perfectly: browned on the outside, moist and tender inside.

Served with grilled vegetables, green salad, California Pinot Noir.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Grill everything: Vegetables

Here I am, in the "beautiful, sunny California" in the end of May (heavy fog one day, so that you don't know if it's day or early morning till 4 pm, when the howling wind takes away the fog and brings in the rain clouds; pouring rain the next two days; upper 50s; repeat). I know I shouldn't be complaining: if this climate is good enough to grow grapes, it's probably good enough for me. But please, can it be just a little warmer sometimes? I'm waiting for summer. Begging for summer. Doing my little Voodoo dance to bring the summer in. The magic dance requires me to pretend that it is summer now. So every time the weather allows me to get outside, I cook my dinner on the grill, and serve it outside too. I even made the poor dear boyfriend have dinner out in the patio, in 50 knot wind, so that he had to hold his napkin with one hand, while protecting his face from the flying salad with the other. We pulled it off just fine, so I know, the summer is coming...

Since all grills are different, I cannot give you the exact cooking times. Mine is a Weber Q 320 gas grill that goes from zero 65 to 600 in 15 minutes. Probe your vegetables with a fork from time to time to find out right cooking times for your grill.

I like to prepare assorted vegetables, then brush them all together with light olive oil seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper just before placing them on the grill.

Artichokes: Peel off tough outer leaves. Cut off the top 1/3. Cut in halves. Remove the choke with a spoon or tip of a paring knife. I don't bother to rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice to protect them from discoloration - they are going to charr anyway. Parboil until almost tender, 10-15 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until the heart is tender and the leaves are charred, 5-6 minutes.

Asparagus: Break off tough root ends (if you have a powerful blender, save the roots for a cream of asparagus soup). Toss with seasoned oil, grill until tender, 2-3 minutes, turning once or twice to get nice grill marks.

Bell peppers: Core, slice into 6 segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and the skins are lightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Remove skins if desired.

Carrots: trim the root and the greens, leaving 1/2 inch of the greens attached (for presentation). Parboil until almost tender, 15-20 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning, until tender and marked on all sides, 5-6 minutes.

Eggplant: For grilling, select slender Japanese eggplants. Slice into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 4-5 minutes.

Fennel: Trim off the green tops. Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until almost tender but still crunchy, 6-8 minutes.

Lemons: Cut in halves, brush the cut side with oil, place on the grill with the curbside down. Grill 1-2 minutes just to soften. Squeeze over your grilled meats, fish, or vegetables.
Mushrooms: Trim the roots even with the cups. If the gaps in the grill are large and the mushrooms are small, thread them on bamboo skewers soaked in water. Brush with oil, cook 3-4 minutes, turning once. Cook portabello cups on the cooler side of the grill 8-10 minutes, until soft, turning once, brush with white wine vinegar or balsamico, if desired. Slice before serving.

Radish: Trim roots and greens, cut in halves, brush with seasoned oil. Grill on the cut side, just to mark, about one minute.

Ramps, baby leeks: Remove outer leaves. Cut off the green part, leaving 1 inch for presentation. Cut lengthwise, rinse, rubbing with your fingers, under running water, to remove the dirt that is clinging between the leaves. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 2-3 minutes.

Spring onions: Remove the green tops, leaving 1-2 inches. Trim off the root, but leave the root end intact, so that the layers won't separate (you can cut it off after cooking). Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and well marked.

Summer squashes (green, yellow, crookneck, pattypan, zucchini, etc.): Slice oblong squashes into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Cut pattypans in halves, or, if small, leave whole. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender, 3-4 minutes.

Sweet potatoes, yams: scrub thoroughly, brush lightly with oil. Grill in their skins over medium heat, turning occasionally, until tender (about 20 minutes). Cut in halves lengthwise, season with salt, pepper, olive oil. Eat out of the skins, or, if organic, skins are good to eat too.

Tomatoes: Cut in halves. Brush with seasoned oil. Place on the cool side of the grill, cut side down, and grill gently, just to charr the cut side.