Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Barbecued Chicken and Cole Slaw

I've eaten a lot of barbecued chicken in my life. I should define terms here - I'm talking about chicken that is grilled over direct heat (be it a propane gas grill or charcoal) and slathered with a tomato-based, sweet and tangy red sauce. I know that barbecue is defined differently by region of the country, but that's what I consider barbecued chicken. Growing up it was a summer staple, eaten at least once a week, with the only change being whatever sauce happened to be en vogue at the moment with my mother and the rest of us. I won't say I don't like barbecued chicken, but I've never been thrilled by barbecued chicken (which didn't stop me from eating 4 or 5 pieces every time I sat down at the dinner table all through my youth).

The problem for me turns out to be one of technique really. As I've found out, there are many ways that barbecued chicken can go wrong, but two main mistakes. First, most people put all their chicken on the grill at the same time and take it off at the same time. If you're cooking both dark and white meat, this almost always results in over-cooked breast meat, and if the white meat was boneless to begin with, as it so often is nowadays, forget about anything resembling juice in the meat. People are so afraid of under cooking chicken that they leave it on the grill way too long. For the chicken's sake people, get an instant read meat thermometer and take the guess work out of it (according to Mark Bittman and the USDA, you can safely remove the chicken from the grill when the internal temp is 165 degrees). Second, most people put the sauce on way too soon resulting in blackened chicken as the sugar in the sauce turns to carbon way before the chicken is done cooking. Unfortunately, continuously bathing the chicken in more sauce does little to combat this error. Dry inside and burned outside, doesn't sound too appealing does it?

Fortunately there is a better way, and I was shown the light once again a few years ago by my friend John. This recipe takes a little more effort than just throwing the chicken on the grill and opening a bottle of sauce, but the effort is well worth it. A spice rub imparts flavor to the chicken without the risk of premature burning, the cooking time is specific by chicken piece, and the sauce goes on right at the end where it caramelizes just every so slightly over low heat. You'll never have to worry about dry, burned chicken again. Cool, creamy, tangy cole slaw provides a perfect counterpoint to the warm, slightly spicy chicken, and if you're so inclined, it makes one heck of a barbecue sandwich condiment. You can make any cole slaw recipe you like, but I like this one from Emeril - Kicked Up Cole Slaw.

If you're going to make the cole slaw (and I strongly suggest that you do), start with that so it has time to sit in the fridge for a while which allows the flavors to meld. You can even make this a day ahead, just give it a good stir before serving. To make the dressing, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, brown sugar, cider vinegar, buttermilk, celery seeds, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl.

Shred the cabbage and carrot, dice the green pepper, and grate the onion. Toss the cabbage mixture with the dressing until everything is evenly coated, then cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Before you make the chicken, you need to make the barbecue sauce, and before you make the barbecue sauce, you need to make the rub, but that's easy. Just combine the following in a mixing bowl and work well to break up any lumps: brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seeds, and cayenne pepper. To make the barbecue sauce, combine the following ingredients in a small saucepan: ketchup, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, hot sauce, barbecue rub, liquid smoke, and black pepper (I'm not sure if this is Kansas City or Georgia style sauce).

Bring the sauce to a boil slowly over medium heat then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Pour the sauce into an empty jar (You do have an empty jar sitting around right?) and store it in the fridge until you need it (since this recipe uses only about a cup of sauce, you'll have leftover sauce that keeps for a few months).

Okay, now you're ready to start the chicken (and of course with chicken make sure you follow all safe handling rules). Rub some spice mixture into each side of each chicken piece (about 1/2 tsp of rub per piece, give or take depending on size). Here I chose to do thighs with the skin removed and boneless, skinless breasts which I had brined. The recipe calls for 1 chicken cut into 8 pieces (legs, thighs, breasts, and wings). Let the chicken sit for 30 minutes. Preheat the grill about 15 minutes before you're ready to cook on medium heat (or start your charcoal long enough ahead to provide a medium-hot fire).

Because I was cooking so many pieces, I decided to do the chicken in batches, first the dark meat, then the white meat. The recipe is written for cooking everything at once, but is easily adapted, just follow the cooking times. Place the dark meat skin side down, cover the grill and allow it to cook for 8 minutes. Do not move the chicken. After 8 minutes, flip the pieces over and cook them for 8 more minutes.

Flip the pieces so they are skin side down again and brush them generously with sauce. Flip them back over and brush the other side with sauce. Move the chicken to a cool part of the grill (I turn off the back burner), cover and let the chicken rest for 2 more minutes.

Take the chicken off the grill (total dark meat cooking time is 18 minutes). The white meat follows the same procedure, but the cooking time is reduced. For bone-in breasts, you would do 6 minutes, flip, 8 minutes, flip, sauce, flip, sauce, 2 minutes, done (total cooking time is 16 minutes). Boneless breasts will cook much quicker (especially if you brine them, which I strongly recommend), something along the lines of about 12 minutes total.

Once the chicken is done, you can eat is as is with whatever sides you like, or you can make barbecue sandwiches! Just slice up some chicken (in this case I just sliced all the white meat) and put some on a nice soft roll (I made some of these).

Top the chicken with a bit of extra sauce and a healthy dollop of cole slaw. I first had cole slaw on a barbecued pulled pork sandwich at Corky's in Memphis and I must say it was nothing short of a revelatory experience for this New England boy.

Mmm...a nice barbecued chicken sandwich with a side of cold whole wheat orzo salad and cold green beans with goat cheese - a perfect summer barbecue menu.


Barbecued Chicken
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons Basic Barbecue Rub (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup Basis Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
  1. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels
  2. Place the chicken pieces on a large platter, sprinkle rub on both sides (approximately 1/4 tsp per side), and pat the rub into the chicken
  3. Cover the chicken and let it sit for 30 minutes
  4. Prepare a medium-hot fire (coals 2 layers deep or gas grill set to medium)
  5. Place the legs and thighs directly over the fire skin-side down and cook for 2 minutes
  6. Add the breast pieces skin-side down and cook the breasts, legs, and thighs for 6 minutes
  7. Turn all the pieces over and add the wings
  8. Cook all the pieces for 8 more minutes (turning the wings after 4)
  9. Flip all pieces over to original side and baste liberally with sauce
  10. Flip all pieces back over and baste the other side with sauce (the pieces should be skin-side up at this point)
  11. Move the pieces to a cooler area of the grill, put the lid down, and allow the chicken to sit for 2 minutes
  12. Take it off the grill and serve with some extra sauce
  • Note: Removing the skin from the chicken will help to prevent flare-ups, but if you do keep the skin, you can minimize flare ups by covering your grill or with a spray bottle filled with water
Basic Barbecue Rub
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (1/2 teaspoon if you don't want it too spicy)
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl
  2. Mix with your hands, working to break up any lumps
  3. Store in an airtight container away from heat or light
Basic Barbecue Sauce
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Basic Barbecue Rub
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan
  2. Bring slowly to a boil over medium heat
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until sauce is slightly thickened
  4. Transfer to a clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few months

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicken Enchiladas

A few weeks ago my friends Jeff and Becc had a dinner party, which is what my friends and I have instead of plain old parties now that we're all grown up and married and such. The theme was Southwest, Tex-Mex style food, with all it entails. I'm no expert on this particular cuisine, and my restaurant experience in the area is sorely lacking, so I can't speak as to the authenticity of the meal (What is authenticity anyway?), but I can say that everything I ate that night was delicious. There was guacamole, tortilla chips, salsa, cornbread, and two kinds of enchiladas, all homemade (except for the tortilla chips I think), even a chocolate cake with chili pepper for dessert. We made margaritas, drank wine, played Trivial Pursuit (The 16th amendment to the US Constitution gives the Congress the power to "lay and collect taxes on incomes"), and had an all around good time.

One of the enchilada dishes featured chicken, cheese, and onions wrapped in a corn tortilla and smothered in a deliciously not-too-spicy red sauce spiked with generous amounts of chili powder. I thought these were exceptional, and Jeff let me in on his secret recipe (it was Emeril's). I finally got around to making them myself yesterday, and after just finishing the leftovers tonight I can say they were as good as I remembered. Any recipe that comes out this good (not to mention consistent) the first time two different people make it is a keeper in my book.

This recipe took me about an hour to put together, and then another half hour to bake, so make sure you have some time on your hands before you start. Get all the sauce ingredients together, then heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan.

Add the flour to the hot oil and stir constantly for one minute, then add the chili powder and cook for another thirty seconds.

Add the tomato puree, chicken stock, oregano, and cumin to the pan. Bring it to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes. While the sauce cooks, you can get your filling together, which is a simple mixture of shredded chicken, chopped onion, and grated cheddar cheese. Taste the sauce and season with salt (I added 1/2 teaspoon), then remove it from the heat and whisk it well to make sure the oil is nicely blended. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and heat some more oil in a medium skillet. When the oil is good and hot (not smoking), drop in a tortilla to soften it.

I counted to 10, flipped, counted to 10, then removed the tortilla to a paper towel-lined brown paper bag to drain the excess oil. After softening all the tortillas, you're ready to assemble. Start by dipping a tortilla in the sauce.

Place the dipped tortilla on a plate, top with a generous portion of the chicken filling, then roll it up. Place each enchilada seam-side down in a baking dish. I was able to make 12 enchiladas using small corn tortillas, and fit them all in 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with the remaining sauce and bake for 30 minutes.

When done, carefully remove a few enchiladas (2 or 3 per person should be sufficient unless you're really hungry) with a nice, big spatula and put them on a dish. I'm sure you can come up with some sides on your own, but I went with guacamole and some brown rice that I cooked with chili powder, oil, and a little salt. Garnish with sour cream and you're good to go!


I followed this recipe exactly as written, so I'm not going to post it here. I couldn't find New Mexico chili powder (to be honest, I didn't really look) so I just used plain old nondescript chili powder - tasted fine to me.

Another satisfied customer...