Grilled Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

If you are new to Indian cooking like I am, this is a very tasty and accessible dish. You get all the goodness of chicken cooked in butter and cream, all the wonderful spices, but without all of the heat that scares a lot of folks away from Indian cooking.

Traditionally, the chicken is cooked in the sauce, not grilled first. But I had the Big Green Egg fired up to cook something else, so I figured I might as well grill the thighs, stash them in the fridge, and then assemble the rest of the dish the next night.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (full fat)
1 tablespoon garam marsala
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, garam marsala, oil, juice, and salt. Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and cover with the yogurt mixture. Toss to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

When you are ready to cook, set your grill up for a direct cook over high (450°F) heat.

Remove the thighs from the marinade and arrange on the grill.  Cook about 6 minutes per side, until you get some crispy bits on the outside and the inside is about 180°F. Remove from the heat and set aside.

1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon garam marsala
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 (14.5-ounce can) petite diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce can) tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream

In a sauté pan with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat and then cook the onions in the butter until soft but not brown (about 5 minutes).

Add the diced tomatoes, garam marsala, salt, pepper, coriander, and cumin and cook until the juice from the tomatoes has mostly evaporated and the tomatoes have started to break down (about 5 minutes).

Add the broth, tomato sauce, and grilled chicken. Stir to combine and cook about 5 minutes.  Put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the whipping cream.

This is traditionally served over Basmati rice, but I put it over a bed of sautéed spinach and red lentils.

The Verdict: ★★★½☆
For my first try at this dish, I was pretty impressed. It’s got a lot of potential. The sauce was rich and fragrant with just enough heat.  But the meat wasn’t as tender as I would have liked and the sauce was thinner than versions I’ve had in restaurants.

Next time I’ll chop the onions finer, and use a larger can of tomato sauce instead of the combination of sauce and chicken stock. I’d cook the chicken covered longer – say 30 to 40 minutes. I might switch to heavy cream, so I can do a little reduction after the covered cook.

Corned Beef Hash

I’m a sucker for real corned beef hash. Not the crap in the cans, but the stuff you get at some roadside diner where the waitress serves your cuppa joe in those stocky white mugs, the short-order cook has a tattoo that says “Mom”, and you can order breakfast all day long.

2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
6 ounces diced corned beef (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 eggs
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

You’ll need a medium non-stick skillet with a lid. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Fill the pan with alternating layers of potatoes, corned beef, onion, and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper.  Press mixture to flatten with spatula. Cook uncovered until bottom begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and flatten again. Continue to cook, flipping every 5 minutes, until hash is mostly browned and the onion and bell pepper are tender (about 10 – 15 minutes).

With the back of a spoon, make 4 shallow wells in the hash for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the wells, pour the water into the middle of the hash, and cover with the lid.

Let cook until the egg whites are set, but the yolks are still runny (my favorite), about 5 minutes.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Eating these I could almost hear the ring of the “order’s up” bell – crispy hash browns with tender bits of corned beef and all that lovely yolk oozing over top – perfect!

T-bones with Butter Baste

My plan was to take the Adam Perry Lang “butter-bombed” recipe that I had previously tried on a sirloin and apply it to the last pack of t-bones that we had in the freezer. But they were such a lovely pair of steaks, that I decided to do minimal pre-seasoning on them and just hit them with a bit of butter baste at the end.

I fired up the Big Green Egg and set it up for a hot (600°F+) direct cook.

I combined the following in my favorite little cast iron melting pot and warmed it just long enough on the grate to melt the butter:

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 gloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme

The t-bones got coated with a little olive oil, a light coat of Dizzy Pig’s Raising the Steaks, and a couple of grinds of sea salt before I tossed them on the grill.

I grilled them for 90 seconds, rotated them 90 degrees and gave them another 30 seconds. Then I flipped them, basted them with the butter sauce, and grilled them for another 90 seconds. I flipped them back over, basted, and let them cook until the thickest steak hit a medium-rare 125°F internal (after 30 seconds on the grill).

I quickly basted both sides again, pulled them off the grill and onto a warm plate. I covered them with another plate and let them rest 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Wow, these were good! Nice char on the outside and medium-rare on the inside. I like the contrast on a t-bone between the beefy loin side and the buttery soft tenderloin side.  As for seasoning, I think this was a great compromise. The full-on marinating and bombing from Adam Perry Lang’s BBQ 25 can be more than the steak really needs, but just hitting it with the baste at the end really bumps up the flavor.

Lemon Pepper Chicken

I remember this chicken from when I was a kid – buttery richness of the thighs (my favorite piece) set off by the tang of the lemon and the bite of the pepper. The skin was crispy and there always some charred bits (sometimes a lot) from where the flame had reached up and licked the chicken. We sat out on the old picnic table on the back patio and ate it off of paper plates with sweet corn and potato salad and everything was right with the world.

Cue dreamy flashback to small-town Iowa circa 1972…

Lemon Pepper Chicken

Have the wife cut-up fryer (11 pieces, counting the “last thing over the fence”) and season it with that fancy lemon pepper stuff (Tones is traditional).

Crack an Old-Style, or (if it’s the weekend) pour a whiskey and water into an insulated mug. Wheel the shaky old charcoal grill that the kids bought you for Father’s Day out to the middle of the patio.

Pour out a pile of Kingsford Briquettes into the firebox and arrange them in a rough pyramid. Douse with boy scout juice and set ablaze.  If the fire starts to die before the briquettes have turned gray, pour more juice on straight from the can. Admire flames and check to see if you still have eyebrows.

Let the flames die out. Spread the coals into a single layer. Wait for wife to yell down, “Are the coals ready?”

“In just another beer minute.”

Wife mixes together 1/4 cup butter and 3 tablespoons “real” bottled lemon juice in a small saucepan and heats it until the butter is melted. She brings the sauce, chicken, and another beer down to the grill.

Toss the chicken on the grill and share sips of beer with the wife while waving the tongs at the kids and telling them to, “Stay away from the grill. Carefull that’s hot. Watch out or you’ll burn yourself!”

After 5 to 10 minutes the grease flare up will start. Move chicken away from hot spots. Spritz hot spots with water, creating more flare-ups. Wave tongs at kids again. Repeat until wife asks if the chicken is done.

Poke at chicken with tongs and knowingly say, “It sure looks done.”

Wife says, “Well, I like my chicken done, you know.”

“I think it’s done, but I can give a little longer” Shake empty beer can.

Wife retrieves fresh beer, peers at chicken, and says, “That looks done. When are you going to baste it?”

“Oh yeah.” Baste chicken with butter and lemon. Fight flare-ups. Rearrange chicken. Baste again. Wave tongs. Repeat.

Wife prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces and brings them to the table.

“Daddy, we’re hungry!”

Take chicken off the grill, scraping off any really badly burned bits, and put it on the table. Go get another beer and return to find that the kids have eaten everything but the chicken butt.

Eat the butt. Sip the beer. Smile and enjoy the summer.

Flashback Friday

Pulled Pork Shortcut (April 16, 2010) – a year ago I was trying to figure out exactly how I was going to get 8 pork butts cooked for an upcoming graduation party. This first attempt wasn’t bad, but I eventually went with a hotter & faster cooking method that let me get all the cooking done in one weekend.

Gluten-Free Egg Rolls (April 12, 2009) – two years ago my dear wife helped me make up these treats. They were tasty, but a bit putzy and didn’t freeze well. I’d like to try them again, but fry them this time and then freeze off the extras.

Bacon – Buckboard and Canadian-style (April 15, 2008) – three years ago I took my first shot at curing my own bacon. It was such a hit that nowadays I regularly make 15 pound batches and freeze it off for later.

Foodie Technology

Both of my grandmothers kept their favorite recipes in their heads, and what few they couldn’t remember, they wrote out in neat script on 3 x 5 note cards and stored then in wooden boxes. For most of their lives, they fed their family foods that they or their neighbors had grown, raised, or made with their own two hands. Their grocery lists were short and the meals were predictable. You knew what you were having for dinner based on what day of the week it was.

Our world is a little more complicated, which I don’t always think is a good thing. While I’m lucky to know the joys of sriracha and tahini, I’m just not always sure how you wade through all of the recipes and food choices out their without getting overwhelmed?

Thankfully, there’s an app for that. Here are some apps and web sites that I’ve found useful in managing the complexity that is our modern world:

OurGroceries – share shopping lists with everyone in your household via smartphones or web browser. My dear wife loves this app. It was one of the first ones she installed on her Droid 2. She can enter her shopping lists on the netbook in the kitchen, I can add things from my phone or computer, and when we go shopping we can just tap on an item to cross it off the list.

Google Reader – a web-based feed aggregator, or (in non-techie speak) a great tool for grabbing content from all of the food blogs that I follow (36 at last count) and dumping them into one place so that I can read them at my leisure. Also try Feedly to put a more magazine-like wrapper around your feeds that makes them easier to read on a smart phone.

Gmail – web-based email from Google. Not only is this the most bullet-proof, spam-free email account I’ve ever had, it’s a great place to store all those recipes you run across online. Use the GmailThis! bookmarklet to send a recipe to your email account, where you can then categorize it with labels and folders. No more recipe boxes.

WordPress – one of the best blogging tools out there. Food & Fire started out as just my way of storing and managing recipes that I’d made. I figured that if I blogged about a dish, then I had not only the recipe, but pics, and notes on how it turned out.

Locavore – based on your location, this app lists what foods are in season and the nearby farms or farmer’s markets where you can buy local food.

Find Me Gluten Free – locate gluten-free resources near your current location. Having celiacs, this app has been a life-saver when I’m trying to find something I can eat in an unfamiliar city.

Epicurious – search for recipes, create shopping lists, and follow step-by-step instructions all from your smart phone. You can also access your personal recipe box.

Recipe Converter – unit conversion and servings yield calculator. You can convert volume and weight measurements and makes scaling servings yields up or down easy.

OpenTable – don’t feel like cooking? OpenTable gets you free, real-time online reservations at more than 20,000 restaurants. If I’m out and about and want someone else to cook, I can book a table and get an email confirmation by the time it takes to drive there.

Grilled Beef and Chicken Kabobs

It was warm enough over the weekend that we could finally sit out on our deck. To celebrate, I made up these Mediterranean-ish kabobs. Marinating the meat overnight not only added a ton of flavor, but helped to keep it moist and tender despite the high grill temps and short cooking times.

Step 1 – Get Everything Marinating

Beef Kabobs

1 1/2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into large cubes
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1  teaspoon dried oregano (Turkish if you can get it)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Put the garlic and salt in a food processor and give it a spin until the garlic is minced. Add the parsley, rosemary, oregano, oil, and lemon juice. Process until well-mixed.

Put the steak in a zip-top bag and cover with the marinade. Toss to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Chicken Kabobs

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into large cubes
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (full fat)
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (or 2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper plus 1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Turkish if you can get it)

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, Aleppo pepper, salt, black pepper, and oregano. Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and cover with the yogurt mixture. Toss to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Step 2 – Make the Tzatziki

Tzatziki

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (full fat)
2 tablespoons feta cheese (crumbled)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano (again, Turkish if you can get it)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons mint, finely chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and grated

Combine every thing in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3 – The Cook

Veggies (and Fruit)

3 bell peppers (red, yellow, and green), chopped into 1  1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces fresh mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried plums
1/2 dried cherries
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garam masala

When you are ready to grill, toss the veggies and dried fruit  together with the oil, vinegar, salt, and garam masala in a large bowl. Let sit while you bring the grill up to temperature.

You’ll need 8 to 10 bamboo skewers. Soak them in water for at least an hour.

Set the grill up for a direct cook over very hot (500°F +) heat.

Using a veggie basket, grill the veggies and fruit (stirring often) until the peppers soften and everything gets a little char on them, about 10 minutes. Remove the veggies to a bowl and keep warm.

Remove the meat from their respective marinades and thread onto skewers (the flat ones work great as they keep the meat from spinning around).  Grill the chicken about 6 minutes per side. Grill the beef for about 3 minutes per side. In both cases you’re looking for some crispy bits on the outside without overcooking the meat.

When the meat is done, remove from the grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then remove the meat from the skewers, toss with the veggies, and serve over a rice pilaf with a dollop of the tzatziki.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I really liked the way the flavors of these individual dishes complimented each other – juicy bites of charred-yet-succulent meat, sweet and savory veggies, tangy and refreshing tzatziki, and the rich blend of herbs and spices bringing it all together. It was a little United Nations on a stick.

Flashback Friday

Christening (April 7, 2010) – a year ago I named my Big Green Egg Bella, and got her a fancy personalized handle. I think she likes it.

Grilled Lamb (April 7, 2009) – two years ago was the last time I’ve made lamb. It was a good dish, but just not something I think to put on the grill. Might have to give it a try again.

Beef Tri-Tip (April 8, 2008) – three years ago I started my love affair with tri-tips roasts. It’s a cut that’s got great beefy flavor while still being lean and tender

Butter-Bombed Sirloin

This is one of those “surprise” steaks that pop up every so often when we get a quarter of beef from the butcher. The wrapping paper says sirloin, but instead of a nice, thick steak it turns out to be a very thin roast that’s been folded over on itself. It’s not a bad piece of meat, but it’s just not what I was expecting when I dug it out of the deep freeze.

I’ve found Adam Perry Lang’s butter bombing method from his Serious Barbecue book to be the way to go when tackling thin steaks like this that could easily dry out and get tough without a little help.

Marinade
1 thin sirloin steak, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Put the garlic and salt in a food processor and give it a whirl until the garlic is finely minced. Add the pepper flakes, hot water, Worcestershire, mustard, honey, soy sauce, steak seasoning, oregano, and oil. Pulse to combine.

Put the steak in a large zip-top bag and cover with the marinade. Squeezed the air out of the bag, seal it, and toss it in the fridge to marinate for at least a couple of hours, overnight is best.

Resting Butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Set your grill up for a direct cook over high (500°F+) heat.

Combine the butter, parsley, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice, Worcestershire, garlic, red pepper, salt, and pepper in a shallow baking pan (I use a 9×13 disposable foil pan that I can set right on the grill).

Heat the pan, stirring to combine everything as the butter melts. Set pan beside the grill.

Remove the steak from the marinade and slap it on the hottest part of the grill. Let it sear for 60 seconds, then flip it over and let it go another 60 seconds.

Move the steak off into the butter sauce. Flip it a couple of times to coat both sides with all that herby/buttery wonderfulness. Return the steak to the grill for another 30 seconds on each side – it will smoke and flare and start to burn, but that’s kinda the idea.

Move the steak off into the butter sauce and give it another flip. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Move the steak to a cutting board, reserve the butter mix and keep the pan warm.

Trim any fat or connective tissue, and then slice the meat on a diagonal into 1/4-inch slices. Put the sliced steak and any accumulated meat juices from the cutting board back into butter mix. Give the pan a shake to coat the meat.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
Too much of a good thing? This sirloin had a good, beefy flavor, but was cut so thin that it would have been hard to cook without drying it out and making it chewy. The marinade and the butter mix kept it moist and tender even when cooked to medium. But while this was exactly what this steak needed, the steak was so thin that the herbs and red pepper almost overwhelmed the meat. The “bombing” would have been perfect on a thicker steak, or if the steak was playing more of a minor role, like in a salad.