Spatchcocked Chicken

First Chicken of the Year

Let the grilling season (kind of) begin!!!

We finally cracked above freezing around here (isn’t it amazing how good 35°F and sunny can feel?) and had to celebrate with the first grilled chicken of the year.

1 roasting chicken
1 tablespoon of your favorite rub (Plowboys Yardbird, in this case) per pound of chicken
Sea or kosher salt

Clean and rinse the chicken and pat dry. To cut down the cooking time, butterfly (spatchcock) the bird by setting the bird in front of you, breast side down, and cutting up through the backbone with either a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife.

Now spread the bird open like a book and locate the keel bone that sits between the breasts. Nick it with a knife to get it to open up, but don’t cut all the way through. Flip the bird over and press down on the center of the bird until it lies pretty flat.

Rub both sides of the bird with the rub, working it under the skin a bit. Set the bird skin side up and give it a good dusting of salt. Arrange chicken skin side up on a pan (I use a large jelly roll pan) and stash in the fridge, uncovered, for at least an hour. This not only lets the rub and the salt do their thing, but also helps dry out the skin so it stays crispy.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat. I used the plate setter with its legs up and my new monster drip pan to diffuse the heat and create a more convective cooking set up. I filled the drip pan with a couple of cups of water to keep the drippings from burning.

Spatchcocked Chicken

When your grill is up to temp, arrange the chicken on the grate skin side up. Close the lid and walk away – no poking, no flipping, no peeking (ok, maybe just a little peek to make sure everything is cooking evenly) for 60 minutes, or until the chicken is done – 180°F internal in the thickest part of the thigh and/or the leg joint moves easily and the juices run clear.

Remove chicken from grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
This chicken was a tasty way to kick off the grilling season, but in a way, it’s also the start of my larger search for the perfect grilled chicken – smoky, crispy, moist, and tender.

I’d like to stick with doing a whole bird, not pieces, although I am good with spatchcocking or halving (halfcocking?) it. I’d rather not wet brine if I can avoid it, so I’m thinking some kind of slather or dry brine. It’ll be tough to get the dark meat just about falling apart without drying out the breast, so whatever I do will have to involve keeping the moisture and the fat content up. Maybe start with the Zuni chicken recipe? Hmmmm…

Anyway, more on my chicken odyssey as the year unfolds. Wish me luck!

Pastrami

St. Paddy’s Pastrami?!?

For a lot of folks, St. Paddy’s Day is an excuse for the wearin-o-the-green and the puking-on-the-shoes. For me, it’s a great chance to pick up some cheap brisket and make up a big batch of pastrami.

I know it’s not traditional, but both corned beef and pastrami are corned (cured) brisket, right? While corned beef is cured and then roasted, braised, boiled, and/or (sometimes) steamed, pastrami is cured and then re-seasoned before being smoked. I like plain corned beef too, but I think that the smoke adds a ton of flavor to the meat.

1 (7-pound) beef brisket
7 tablespoons Morton Sugar Cure (1 tablespoon per pound of meat)
3 tablespoons raw or brown sugar
3 tablespoons corning or pickling spices

Combine the Morton’s, brown sugar, and spices. Put the brisket in a large freezer bag and coat with the cure. Rub the cure into the meat, covering all sides. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal, and stash in the fridge for 7 days. Liquid will begin to collect in the bag almost immediately. This is your curing solution. Do not drain it off. Flip the bag over once a day to distribute the cure evenly.

After a week, remove the brisket from the cure and rinse under cold water and then soak for an hour to remove some of the salt. Dry off the meat and season with a Montreal-style steak seasoning.

Set up your grill for an indirect cook that will burn for at least 5 hours at 300°F. Use a drip pan under the brisket to catch the fat. Add wood for smoke (I like grape vine). Cook brisket fat side up at 300°F for about 3 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat hits 160°F internal.

Pastrami

Remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap tightly with several layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Return meat the the grill fat side up and cook for about another 2 hours, or until the meat hits 190°F internal.

Remove foiled brisket from the grill and let rest for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil (steam burns can ruin your day), reserving any juices that have accumulated. Slice the pastrami thinly against the grain to serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
We have a winner! I served it hot-off-the-grill with home-made sauerkraut and stone-ground mustard. Very tasty. The rest will go into pastrami reubens with melted Munster cheese and Russian dressing. Anything left over after that will become dip.

Ribs

Polar Ribs

Ribs

Winter has just barely started to loosen its grip in my neck of the woods. I did spot one poor, puffed up robin this morning, so maybe there is hope for spring after all.

Between visits from the Polar Vortex, I managed to cook a batch of ribs. For winter grilling, I like cooking foods that require plenty of time, but little attention – ribs and roasts; or foods that take some attention, but little time – steaks and seafood. The idea is to minimize the total amount of time I spend freezing my butt off. These ribs are a great example of this – no misting, mopping, or foiling – just a straight 5-hour cook with little intervention on my part.

3 racks of baby-back ribs
Fresh-ground sea or kosher salt
Fresh-ground back pepper
Barbecue rub and sauce of your choice

Get a fire going in the fireplace. Assemble winter gear. Get the hot cocoa started.

Boots, parka, and winter gloves on – go outside and shovel path then set up the grill before the warmth from shoveling wears off.

Set up grill up for a direct cook over low (250°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg, I didn’t use a plate setter to diffuse the heat, but did use a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the charcoal. Add a fresh load of charcoal, toss in a Lightning Nuggets Firestarter, hit it with the MAPP torch for 30 seconds or so, then run back inside until the grill gets going.

While the grill is getting up to temp, season both sides of the ribs with the salt, pepper, and rub. Warm hands in front of fire, sip some cocoa, and clear enough frost off the window to peek at the temperature gauge every so often.

When the grill is up to temp, make a quick dash outside to toss in your smoking wood (apple this time), put your cooking grate in place, and make any adjustments to keep the temp at 250°F. If you’ve got a remote thermometer to watch the grill temp, now is the time to set it up.

Dash back in and keep an eye out for the smoke to change over from white (bad and bitter) to blue (good and sweet).

Boots, parka, grill gloves, ribs – back outside and arrange the ribs on the grate bone side up. Close lid and stand around stamping your feet until it looks like the temperature has settled. Make any adjustments to keep the temp steady.

Back inside – add some Bailey’s to the cocoa and settle in front of the fire. Let ribs cook for an hour, peeking at temperature every so often.

Boots, grill gloves – back outside and flip the ribs bone side down.

Back inside – toss another log on the fire and arrange couch for napping. Add blanket and cats and/or dogs as needed for ideal warmth. Let ribs cook for two hours, peeking in between snoozes.

Ribs

Boots, grill gloves – back outside and flip the ribs end to end (still bone side down).

Back inside to start prepping side dishes. Let ribs cook for another hour.

Boots, parka, grill gloves – go out to start checking for doneness. Ribs are generally done when the meat has pulled back from the bones and a full slab will almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. If ribs aren’t ready yet, get back inside and get the barbecue sauce and basting brush ready.

Let the ribs cook for another 30 minutes.

Boots, parka, grill gloves, sauce, and basting brush – check ribs again for doneness. By now these ribs were getting very close to being done, so gave them a coating of sauce on each side and went back inside and let them cook for another 30 minutes. I made one last foray outside to sauce the ribs again and bring them in.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
I love ribs, and while these weren’t the best I’ve ever made, it was still damn fine to be eating ribs in the middle of winter. :)

Sweetheart Ribeye

Putting Your Heart Into It

They call it a “Sweetheart Ribeye.” You butterfly a 2-inch thick rib roast and it’s supposed end up looking like a heart.

It looks like a heart, right? Kinda? Maybe? Sorta? Glad my dear wife loves me for more than my cooking skills.

Anyway, I gave it my standard hot and fast treatment on the Big Green Egg and it was very tasty. It was not, however, the big hit of the evening. That was the Dark Chocolate Creme Brulee from She Cooks… He Cleans. It was rich, chocolatey, not too sweet, and decadently good. I highly recommend it.

Hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day!

Kimchi

Kimchi

I’ve loved this fiery Korean side dish ever since I had it with our New Year’s Bo Samm. While our local Korean market carries jar upon jar of it (some as large as a small child) in their cooler, I know that this is traditionally a home-made dish and have been wanting to try my hand at making it myself.

Kimchi is like sauerkraut’s kick-ass evil twin. They both start out as innocently enough as lacto-fermented cabbage, but sauerkraut ends up tart and humble, while kimchi gets hot and funky.

This is actually my second attempt at making home-fermented kimchi. The first batch was tasty, but it got a bit over-fermented and very odoriferous. It was tasty, but well… let’s just say I got a whole seat on the bus to myself the next day.

Gear note: for fermenting you’ll need at least a quart-sized jar or other non-reactive container with a lid. I use a Kraut Kap airlock on a mason jar or a dedicated pickling container like Primal Pickler or Pickl-it.

1 pound Napa cabbage or bok choy
1 small daikon radish
1 carrot
1 small onion
1/2 inch long finger of fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons Singsong Korean Hot Pepper
4 tablespoons sea or kosher salt
6 cups bottled or filtered water

Make your brine by adding the salt in 6 cups of water and stirring until the salt completely dissolved. Note: using sea or kosher salt and filtered water is not just a bit of foodie pretentiousness  – iodine, anti-caking additives, and chlorine will screw up your fermentation and kill the good bugs that you want to foster.

Wash and dry all the veggies. Slice the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and then chop into bite-sized chunks.  Julienne or grate the carrot, radish, and ginger. Quarter the onion.

Kimchi

Put the cabbage, carrot, radish, and ginger in a very large bowl and cover with the brine. Put a plate on top to keep them submerged, then let sit for at least 2 hours.

Put the garlic, onion, fish sauce, and pepper in a food processor and give it a whirl to combine. Add a bit of the brine if needed to form a thick paste. Stash in the fridge while the veggies soak up the brine.

Kimchi

After 2 hours, taste the cabbage – it should have softened a bit but still have a little crunch and be pleasantly salty. How salty? It should taste like the sea, or that first sip of a salt-rimmed margarita. You can do some adjusting at this point by letting it soak for another hour if it’s not salty enough, or by rinsing with fresh bottled water if it’s too salty.

When you’ve got it tasting right, drain the veggies, reserving the brine.

Add the chile paste to the veggies and (wearing gloves to avoid stains and smells) use your hands to mix everything together.

Kimchi

Pack the kimchi in a clean quart-sized jar or pickling container. Tamp the veggies down to remove any trapped air bubbles, making sure to leave 1 1/2 inches of head space at the top of the jar.

Kimchi

Add enough reserved brine cover the kimchi and still leave an inch of head space to allow for expansion during fermentation.

If you are not using an airlock, seal the jar loosely to let air escape as the fermentation bugs crank out their CO2. If you are using an airlock, seal the jar tightly, insert the airlock and add water up to the fill line.

Let stand for one to two days in a dark place at about room temperature. You may see bubbles forming in the jar or bubbling through the airlock – this is a good thing. Taste the kimchi now and then to see how it is progressing. It should start to taste a bit wild and tangy after about 4 days. This flavor will get stronger as it sits, so once the flavor is where you like it, remove the airlock and seal the jar then move it to the fridge.

I like to let it sit for a week in the fridge to mellow a bit. It keeps for several months, longer if you push the remaining back down as you use it to keep most of the cabbage submerged in the brine.

Serve as a side to any Korean dish, particularly anything with pork. It is also a great addition to fried rice, or omelets and makes a great hearty soup.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This dish has it all – tangy, savory, funky, rich and spicy. There are so many things going on (including a slight tingle from the fermentation) that it gives your taste buds a real wallop. It’s hitting so many flavor buttons that it’s pretty addictive.

I am particularly happy considering this one of my early attempts at lacto-fermentation. I’ve been trying to get more healthy, probiotic bugs into our diet and kimchi is definitely the gateway food for that. I am already looking at getting another fermenter to keep us in all the sauerkraut, pickled onions, kimchi, and hot sauce we can eat.

Chili Con Carne

Chili Con Carne

No beans, no tomatoes – it’s all about meat and heat. This is a modern version of the chili dish that the Aztecs introduced to the Spaniards and that the Mexican vaqueros brought north with them. A warm and hearty dish like this to ward off the sub-zero weather is just what a lot of us need right now.

3 to 4 pound beef chuck roast
10 dried chile peppers (I only used Guajillo, but a mix of New Mexico, Ancho, and pequin would be good too)
1 (7-ounce) can Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 quart beef stock
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano (Mexican, if you can)
Sea or Kosher salt and black pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 300°F.

Wearing gloves, stem and seed the dried chiles. Cover with hot (but not boiling) water, and let steep until they are softened – about 30 minutes.

While the chiles are soaking, coat the roast with a little peanut oil on all sides and then dust with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a large dutch oven until smoking. Sear the roast on all sides until browned (about 4 minutes a side). Remove roast to a plate.

Drain the chiles, discard the soaking water. Put the chiles, can of Chipotles, garlic, cumin, oregano, and about half the stock in a food processor and give them a whirl until they form a smooth sauce.

Put the onions in a layer in the bottom of the dutch oven. Top with the roast and any accumulated juices. Pour chili sauce over it all and add enough of the remaining beef stock to bring the liquid in the pan about a quarter of the way up the roast.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the lid on and move to the whole works to the oven for an hour.

Chili Con Carne

Braise the roast for an hour, then flip it over and add more stock if needed. Continue cooking until very tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours total. Remove the roast from the pan and set aside to shred the meat (I used a 9×13 cake pan to keep everything contained).

Chili Con Carne

Shred the meat and remove any nasty bits. I used a pair of bear paws to break it into bite-sized chunks. Return the meat and any juices that have accumulated back to the Dutch oven.

Move the Dutch oven to the stove top and bring chili to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let cook uncovered until the chili is thick and the meat has completely fallen apart.

Serve this with cornbread and garnish with cilantro, diced white onion, sliced radishes, sour cream, chopped green onions, grated cheese, avocado, tortilla chips – you name it.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This was a very rich and filling dish. Very meat-centric, but the Guajillo and Chipotles kept it interesting with a nice complex, smoky, and lasting heat. I can sure see any leftovers being used as a filling for tacos or tamales.