Monday, June 23, 2008

Grilled Chicken

I recently discovered the magnificent flavor of grilled whole chicken, butterflied. I'd just been wondering, too, if there was a way to grill chicken without drying it out, but I never considered throwing an entire bird on there until I read about it in Cook's Illustrated's Summer Grilling & Entertaining publication from last summer (which, incidently, I didn't use once last summer but have used twice this month).

With rotisserie chickens available at any store nearly any hour of the day, I'd nearly stopped buying whole chickens to roast at home. (Our favorite, by the way, is Costco's version.) It's been a bit of a letdown for me, actually, since I really like working with whole chickens. It somehow makes me feel like a cook. So I'm thrilled to have this new recipe, and I'll definitely be using this frequently over the summer and into fall.

The beauty of this chicken is that it's so tender, even leftover 3 days. (How it managed to last 3 days I don't know.) It's smoky and delicious, and is probably my favorite way to eat chicken right now. It's wonderful served just the way it is or with a great sauce (I'll be posting one in the next few days), and leftovers are great on sandwiches or as tacos or in soup. I won't pretend it's the easiest item on the menu, but it is worth more than the small effort you'll need to supply. So, if you're thinking of grilling anytime soon, think chicken.

Grilled Butterflied Chicken
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Summer Grilling & Entertaining

1 whole chicken, about 5 lbs. (you can go smaller, but why? leftovers will be treasured!)
1/2 c. Kosher salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 lemon

About five hours before you want to grill, prepare the chicken. To do this, you'll need to remove the backbone. With the tail of the chicken facing you, use poultry shears, kitchen shears, or a strong knife (carefully!) to cut completely down one side of the backbone. Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side of the backbone. (You'll probably still have quite a few bones in the area, but that's fine. These are irrelevant in the cooking.)

Turn the spineless chicken over and flatten it a bit with the heel of your hands. Then cut one small slit on each breast about an inch up and in from the tail. Tuck the drumstick tips in the slits (you can see in the picture above that one leg has stayed in and one has come out). And now for the fun part: use a smooth mallet to pound the chicken to a fairly even thickness. It doesn't need to be thin, just even enough that it will cook evenly.

Dissolve the salt and sugar in a medium to large container (bucket) with a few cups of water. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice in, add the lemons, and add an additional 1 1/2 gallons of cold water and lots of ice. Add the butterflied chicken and let it brine until you're ready to grill it. Make sure you check it frequently to add and be sure there's still ice in there; this will ensure that the chicken is being kept at a safe temperature. (I actually thawed my chicken in the brine, because I didn't really plan on doing this until the day of, and then I butterflied it after it had brined.)

To grill, you'll need a medium fire, which means you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate for 5-6 seconds before it's too hot. If your fire is hotter than this, it will be difficult to cook the chicken thoroughly without burning it. Remove the chicken from the brine and air dry for a couple of minutes. When the grill is ready and the rack is hot, place the chicken, bone side down, on the rack. Press the chicken by topping it with a baking sheet that has been topped with a couple of large bricks, or several smaller ones. After 15 minutes (12 if your bird is closer to 3 lbs.), remove the press and turn the chicken over.

The chicken no longer needs the press at this point, as it has been smashed as far as it will go and will just lose juice if pressed further. Cook for about 15 minutes on this side, until the temperature of the breast meat is 165˚ and the thigh is 185˚. Remove to a platter, cover with foil, and rest for 10 minutes. Serve.

And yes, this chicken does look like it's got excessively large legs. They've just been turned from their original grilling position, though, and were really quite normal.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cream Pie

It is with great pleasure I announce that my most recent pre-baked pie shell was successful. As I've mentioned previously, blind baking has never been my forte. Making pies, however, is one of my favorite kitchen tasks, so I have welcomed the challenge. Since I last posted, I've studied up, listened to advice, and experimented. And, as you can see above, I did pretty well. There was just a touch of shrinkage, but I'm still calling this a success.

So, here's the first step to this great pie:

Blind-Baked Pie Shell

First, make the pie dough (recipe here), roll it out, and shape it in a pie dish. Then refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. This gives the elastic properties in the dough time to relax in the shape you've set it in, so it doesn't want to spring back. Next, place the pie dish in the freezer. I used my deep freezer and had it in there 20 minutes. If you're using a kitchen freezer, go for 30. Line the pie with aluminum foil (this takes two regular-width sheets, perpendicular), then fill the pie one-fourth of the way up with pie weights or dry beans. Don't add more weights than this, or the crust will not bake quickly enough, as they'll pull heat away from the crust. Also, the weights are a benefit to the bottom crust and won't hold up the sides, really, so you don't need a ton of them to do the job. (By the way, I use beans.)

Bake the pie crust in a 450˚ oven for 20 minutes. Remove the weights and foil from the crust, reduce the oven temperature to 375˚, and bake about 15 minutes more, checking after 10, until the crust is perfectly baked. Remove from the oven and cool completely before filling.

Sherry Yard, pastry chef to Wolfgang Puck and author of The Secrets of Baking, says that it's necessary to start the pastry baking at a very high temperature to encourage steaming between the layers of fat and starch right away; otherwise you're just melting the butter first, which will slacken the dough. Because the dough is frozen before baking, I increased the temperature from the usual 425˚ to 450˚, especially since my previous attempt to start at 425˚ didn't work well. Also, I baked it at this higher temperature for a full 20 minutes. It certainly wasn't going to burn, and I wanted the sides to set up really well. I definitely wouldn't go less than 20 minutes unless you're baking in a thin metal pan, and then you might stop at 17 or 18.

Now, onto the reason I was doing this in the first place. Chocolate.

Of all the cream pies, chocolate has to be my favorite. I think. They're all good, actually. Especially banana. But chocolate tops them all when the chocolate filling is just right: decadent, smooth, and firm when set up. You should already know I don't like wimpy chocolate, so trust me on the depth of flavor here. And if you're not sure how dark you like your chocolate, just add more whipped cream to the top of the pie. Or you could substitute bittersweet chocolate for the small amount of unsweetened chocolate. But please don't. Just make the pie like it is, and enjoy it. But leave some leftovers. Like all chocolate desserts, it's even better the next day.

Chocolate Cream Pie
ever so slightly modified from a Bon Appétit recipe, Black-bottom Chocolate Pie

2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt
6 large egg yolks
2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy or whipping cream
5 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. unsalted butter

one baked, cooled 9" pie shell

1 1/2 c. chilled heavy or whipping cream
3-4 T. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

chocolate curls, for garnish

For the filling, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir in the yolks until evenly combined. Whisk in the milk, then the cream. Set the saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to get pretty warm. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue whisking until the mixture thickens and simmers (a full boil isn't necessary) for one minute.

Remove from heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Stir in the butter and vanilla until the butter is melted. Pour into a medium bowl. Set the bowl inside another bowl made into an ice bath (ice and water) and stir frequently for about 20 minutes to cool.

Pour the filling into the prebaked pie shell and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably 4.

Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until medium to firm peaks form. Top the chocolate pie and garnish with chocolate curls. Keep chilled when not serving.

When I served this the first day, I was anxious, so it wasn't a really solid filling, but by the next day it cut nicely and held its shape well. Even if you ice bath the filling for 30 or 40 minutes, it will still need a couple of hours to chill completely in the refrigerator before serving.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bacon Chipotle Potato Salad

In case you're wondering from my infrequent posts, I do still know how to cook. I'm just a teensy bit on the busy side with 3 offspring to nurture. (I'd call them rugrats, but really, only the younger two are rugrats.) Still, sometimes I manage to throw something together that is so terribly delicious I need to pass it on. Or at least post it for future use.

We're having guests over for dinner tonight, and I opted to make hamburgers, since grilled meat is always good on a sunny day. What else could I serve with it but potato salad? But there was a problem. I made potato salad a week ago. Now, I like potato salad, at least as much as you, but I don't like eating potato salad for three days and then starting over a few days after that, so I needed to get creative. I usually turn to for ideas, then sort by fork rating, only wasting my time on items that pretty much everyone recommends. Unfortunately, my search today turned up nothing but the usual (but usually delicious) fare: potatoes with onions, mayo, maybe herbs, maybe eggs, mustard, pickles, and celery. I know how to make a good potato salad. I wanted to make a better potato salad.

So I ignored the online world and thought about my refrigerator. It occurred to me that I had two perfect ingredients waiting for me in the fridge: bacon and chipotle purée. I quickly added ingredients in my head - Dijon, boiled eggs, red onion - that would match the salad and went to work.

The result, I humbly admit, is the best potato salad I have ever eaten. And those words were actually stolen from my husband, but I agree with him. Mom, I love your potato salad. But I think you should try this one.

Just a couple of notes, of course. First, the salad isn't loaded with bacon. It's a potato salad, not a bacon salad, so the bacon is there to add to the salad, not take it over. Likewise for the chipotle. I added just enough to give it a kick after a few bites, mellow enough for my kids but interesting enough for adults. You can add more if you like, depending on the palates of your diners.

Bacon Chipotle Potato Salad

2 1/2 lbs. red potatoes
3 T. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. thick cut bacon, chopped, cooked, drained, and chilled
2/3 c. mayonnaise
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/4 T. chipotle purée (place contents of canned chipotles with adobo sauce in blender or food processor; purée)
1/2 c. finely chopped red onion, chilled in ice water 10 minutes (to take the bite off), drained
2 boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1/3 c. chopped dill pickles
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
Kosher salt

Gently boil whole, unpeeled potatoes in water 20-40 minutes, depending on size, until a knife or fork will just go through to the center. Set aside and cool for 5 minutes. Slice into 1/4" or 1/2" slices. Place in a bowl and drizzle with the white wine vinegar. Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours.

Stir remaining ingredients into potatoes, including 2 t. of Kosher salt to start. If the potatoes don't fall apart on their own at the point, you didn't overcook them (congratulations!), and you can cut some of them into smaller pieces if you like with just a butter knife or the edge of the spoon you're stirring with. Taste for salt and spice. Add more salt if needed and more chipotle purée if desired. Serve or chill and serve!