Todd Fisher: Of Caviar And Corn Dogs
It was only a few hours ago, as I was doing a little late-night leftover raid on the fridge, that it hit me. Too often I take for granted my moist chicken, that my steaks are perfectly cooked and my vegetables are “snaptastic” bright green, still bursting with flavor and nutrients. So it seems only right that I should share a few tips and techniques to help you with your grilling woes. After all, cooking perfectly moist, tender and delicious chicken is all in the technique and know-how.
There are many kitchen tricks and secrets that I won’t divulge at this juncture. However, a few helpful hints to make your summer grilling more
flavorful and less frustrating, but of course …
First things first — brine! Chicken, turkey, pork … a brine will marinate, season and assist in the retention of natural juices. Later, I will provide a
simple brine recipe that will act as your multipurpose moisture maker for years to come. A good brine is the first step, equally important is cooking time and the medium of cooking. Grilling is always a popular method; it adds a smokey, caramelization to the meat, which in the case of chicken can be a real help as yard bird can be a little boring!
Another great moisture magnifier for chicken is a buttermilk bath. Yep. After a little butchery, the chicken parts soak in the buttermilk for a
minimum of 1 hour to a maximum of 24 hours. This technique usually applies to a fried chicken application, however another technique that implements dairy is a yogurt marinate. Tart, plain yogurt mixed with garlic, pepper and coriander — painted liberally all over the chicken and allowed to rest for 30 minutes to 4 hours.
As for marinates that employ salt, watch out. Remember that, like curing, the salt actually pulls out the moisture in meats and dries out the final product if it sits in the marinade too long. Yes, salt is good for flavor, but allowing a meat to sit in a heavily salted marinate for more than 4-6 hours could actually be detrimental to the moisture of your final product.
When it comes to cooking times, each piece of meat will vary. A good rule of thumb is to cook breast meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (before allowing it to rest) and thighs or drumsticks to 165 degrees (allowing it to “carry-over cook” for individual pieces). Same temperatures for a whole bird; however I tend to poke the inner thigh (gigiddy), and if the juices run clear, I allow the bird to rest and pull any final touches together and serve.
Cooking on the bone is another way to retain a bit of moistness as well as flavor. Pan-roasting your chicken may be one of my favorite ways to do chicken; all the skin gets crispy and delicious. Speaking of skin, cooking chicken in any fashion is enhanced by cooking with the skin on. You may choose to remove it before eating, but cooking with it on allows the skin to be a natural baster for the meat as it cooks.
Basting your bird while it cooks in the oven will help create a crispy delicious skin, but does not necessarily add moisture. You actually have to cook the bird longer because you keep playing peekie boo with your bird, causing it to possibly purge more delicious moistness.
Finally I think the most important part of grilling chicken is being patient. What I mean by being patient is not just leaving it on the grill to cook and cook and cook and dry out and get drier and even drier. When I say patient, I mean work over a hot grill to mark and flavor your chicken, then move it over for indirect cooking — not being directly over the heat source. The grill becomes an oven. Well, I wish you all the grilling success this summer brings!
Note: Since I have been over the benefits of brining a few times in my Thanksgiving columns, I thought I would share a link that explains it better than I ever did: www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND01_ISBriningbasics.pdf
Simple chicken brine
1 gallon cold water
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
4 smashed cloves garlic
1 T. crushed red chili flakes
Steps: Bring ½ gallon of water, the salt and sugar to boil, stirring until both are completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add flavorings, cover and allow to cool completely. Add the remaining ½ gallon of water. Refrigerate to below 40 degrees before adding chicken.
To keep the chicken submerged, place a heavy plate, or a flat-bottomed bowl filled with some water over the chicken in the brine container.
Keep the brine and chicken cold during brining, between 36-40 degrees. If there’s room, place the brining chicken in the fridge. If not, brine in an insulated cooler, and place a sealed bag of ice in the brine with the chicken. Don’t put loose ice in the brine … when it melts, the brine will be diluted and it won’t do its job.
Brick Chicken and Peach Salad
2 T. canola oil
1 (3-4 lb.) brined chicken, halved, backbone, rib cage and thigh bones removed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup. homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
Peach, red onion and basil salad, for serving
Steps: Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over high heat. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper; add chicken to skillet, skin side down, and place a 10-inch heavy-bottomed skillet on top of chicken. Place two heavy soup cans or a brick in second skillet to weigh down.
Reduce heat to medium and cook chicken until skin is golden brown and crisp, about 18 minutes. Remove top skillet and weights and turn chicken; pour off excess fat from skillet.
Squeeze lemon juice over chicken and add stock. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chicken thigh registers 160 degrees, about 3 minutes.
Place each chicken half on a plate and serve immediately with pan juices and the peach, red onion and basil salad.
Peach, red onion and basil salad
3 peaches, sliced ½-inch thick
¼ red onion, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh basil (leaves torn if large)
Juice of half a lemon
½ tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Steps: Toss peaches with red onion, basil, lemon juice, salt and some pepper.
Drizzle with olive oil.