Friday, April 27, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Chicken on the Grill

Another Friday and another adventure with Whole Foods. You might have noticed that I like to do themes for these Friday posts - an ingredient, a cooking method, a particular course.

This time the theme is birds. First, chicken on the grill. Then ... well, you'll see. Or, okay, if you're in a hurry, scroll down and you'll really see.

My absolutely favorite way to cook chicken outdoors is to cook it on the rotisserie that's part of my gas grill. As the bird spins around it sort of bastes itself and the result is a really juicy chicken.

The downside of the rotisserie is that if you don't get the bird evenly balanced and if everything isn't secured properly, you can end up with the spit turning and the bird staying in place, which means an extremely unevenly cooked bird.

And trying to re-secure a hot chicken on a hot spit isn't a lot of fun. Don't ask me how I know that.

I figured I'd spatchcock a chicken, instead. This is a technique anyone can use, whether they're cooking on the grill or in the oven.

Spatchcocking sounds technical, but it's simple. The best tool for the job is a heavy-duty pair of poultry shears. You simply cut on either side of the backbone to remove it.

If you're staring at a raw chicken and wondering which side has the backbone, just look for the nub of the neck, and on the opposite side is the fatty bit that some people call the pope's nose. Just cut from one end to the other, and you've got a chicken that opens up and will lay fairly flat on the grill.

You can remove the keel bone (on the breast side of the bird) or push down on it really hard to crack it so the chicken is even flatter, but in this case it's not necessary.

You'd want it really flat if you planned on cooking it in a pan and wanted maximum contact with the hot pan. In this case, we're roasting. The hot air is cooking it, so it doesn't matter if it's completely flat.

Or maybe it matters in some technical sense, but in practice, this works just fine.

If you don't want to wrestle with a chicken, I'm sure the meat guys at Whole Foods would take care of this for you. Just ask them to spatchcock the bird, or if you can't remember that, ask them to butterfly it for you.

Chicken on the Grill

1 whole chicken, spare parts removed, spatchcocked
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (or to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste

After the bird is spatchcocked, season it all over with the salt, pepper, and paprika. Let it rest while you prepare your grill.

If you're cooking on a gas grill, you can adjust the heat as you go. On a charcoal grill, you'll want the coals on either side of the grill so that the bird can cook in the center, by indirect heat.

I like to cook the chicken over direct heat on the skin side before I flip it over and move it to direct heat. That's not necessary, and might not be convenient on a charcoal grill.

Cook the chicken until the internal temperature in the breast is at 155 degrees and the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh is 170 degrees. The chicken will continue cooking as it rests.

When it's done, the joints will be loose and the juices will run clear. Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before you start cutting it apart.

I like serving the wings, drumsticks, and thighs as whole pieces, and carving the breast into thick slices.

Birdie Bread

This bread is just slightly sweet - not like a sweet roll that you'd have for breakfast, but slightly sweet dinner roll. Great with a dab of butter. A really good match for spicy food or barbecue.

Like any shaped bread, you're never going to get two that look alike - but that's part of the charm. They'll rise differently before baking, and they'll rise differently in the oven. It's unpredictably fun. And every once in a while, you'll get one that looks just plain weird. Hey, you have to sample one, right?

The hardest part about making these is getting the eyes and beak to behave. The rising dough wants to push them out, so you need to insert them a lot farther in than seems right. And then give them another little push right before they go into the oven.

I wanted to use completely edible items for the eyes and beak, so I used slivered almonds for the beaks and chocolate pearls for the eyes. I was a little concerned that the eyes might melt and make a mess, but it actually worked. The pearls are chocolate-coated crunchy cereal, so they had some substance.

Something more solid - like a peppercorn - would probably work better as an eye, but most folks don't want to bite into a peppercorn, so if you wanted to use something like that, you'd be wise to warn people. A piece of black olive or a bit of dried fruit should work, too. You probably don't need to run out and buy something - look around your kitchen and see what you have that would be edible and suitable.

Birdie Bread

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Chocolate pearls (for eyes)
Slivered almonds (for beaks)

You want the liquid to be at room temperature or just slightly warmer, so if your orange juice is straight from the refrigerator, use warmer water to compensate. You won't ruin anything by using cool liquid, but the dough will rise much, much slower.

Combine the water, orange juice, sugar, yeast, and bread flour in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead it with the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the salt and olive oil, and continue kneading until they are completely incorporated and the dough is smooth, silky, shiny and elastic.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out. Knead it briefly, then divide it into 8 even pieces.

Take one of the pieces and cut off about 1/4 of the dough. Form that smaller piece into a ball. Form the other piece into a teardrop shape.

Make a divot in the fat part of the teardrop-shaped piece, but not too close to the edge as shown in the photo.

Place the ball on top of the teardrop shaped piece on top of that divot you just made.

Place this on the baking sheet, with the pointy end facing the center of the sheet. This will make it easier to work in the face later.

Continue until all the birds are shaped.

Cover the birds with plastic wrap and set aside until nearly doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes in the first bird's head where you want the eyes and beak. Insert the eyes and beak, pushing them well into the dough. Keep in mind that they don't all need to be facing straight forward - you can position the faces so they're looking up, down, or to the side.

Continue with the rest of the birds, until all of them have eyes and beaks. Cover them with plastic wrap and let them continue rising until doubled - another 5-10 minutes, depending on how long it took to get the faces finished.

Uncover the birds again, and if the eyes and beaks have started protruding, push them back in again. 

Bake at 350 degrees until the birds are nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Remove the birds from the baking sheet and put them on a rack to cool.

If the eyes and beaks need to be pushed back in again, do so while the buns are still warm. Let them cool completely on the rack if you're not serving them right away.

Want more creative bread? Check out Bunny Bread!

For more information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.