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.


Michael Walsh said...

I recently grilled a butterflied chicken like you have described.

I used kitchen shears and cut the backbone off the chicken the opposite of you. I used the gizzards and backbone to make a quick small batch of stock. It also allowed me to pound out the breast for a more even cooking which is always troubling when cooking a whole bird.

I also brined my bird. I posted about brining on my blog. For a long time I thought of brining as a tedious time consuming process, but it only takes 10 minutes to put a brine together and an hour to brine.

Thanks for the pics. I'm ready to grill some more chicken.

amarillo said...

Yes! Cutting out the backbone will let me make the chicken as flat as a steak. Thank you for the great idea!!!