To Grill, Or Not To Grill (Chicken that is)

Everyone has grilled chicken. And everyone has failed, at least a few times. Who hasn’t opened the lid of the grill to find little chips of carbon where your beautiful free-range chicken used to be? I got tired of tending the grill and having to deal with the constant flares of burning chicken fat, the skin stuck to the grill and, worst of all, a mouth full of dried, charred chicken.

Obviously, I am talking about high-temperature cooking, otherwise known as grilling. But, the trick to great chicken is simple — low-temperature cooking. I don’t mean the traditional low-temperature, long, indirect cooking that is the backbone of great barbecue. What I am talking about is a modification of barbecuing that allows the chicken to cook to perfection without drying or, even worse, toasting.

I start with the chicken cut into serving pieces. I usually cut the ribs out of the breasts and then cut each breast in half if they are large; otherwise, leave them whole. Trimming excess fat seems to be a good idea, if not for the cooking process, than certainly for my waistline. And that last bit of the wing? Clip it off! Who eats that?

The next step is what makes this dish work. I use my basic barbecue dry rub to season the chicken. Any dry rub will work; it doesn’t have to be traditional. As long as the rub has some sugar in it, you will be successful. Just put the chicken in a 1-gallon ZipLoc bag, along with your dry rub, and shake away! Make sure that the chicken is completely coated and then stick it in the refrigerator for a few hours to as long as a day.

Cooking is simple, and it doesn’t require constant tending. Just heat your grill to about 250 degrees. Most grills have 2 or 3 burners, so use just one of them. If you are using charcoal, pile it up on one side of the grill. Then put the chicken pieces anywhere on the grill except directly over the burner that is on. I try to keep the chicken as far away from the flame as possible. It’s okay if the pieces touch. Close the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes. Check how it looks, flip the pieces, and cook for another 15 minutes. Repeat. Total cooking time should be 45-60 minutes.

The sugars will slowly caramelize and create a nice crust. The meat will be amazingly juicy and tender, and most of the fat will have rendered. The nice thing about this technique is that if you cook the chicken for an extra 5 minutes, it won’t burn. If you want the chicken to be even crispier, just turn up the heat for a few minutes and open the lid. But be careful, that is the kind of cooking that ends by ordering a pizza.

I haven’t written a more formal recipe because it is difficult to make a mistake with this technique. I have varied pretty much everything and it has still turned out well. Just don’t cook over direct heat, and don’t cook at too high a temperature and you will be happy with the results.


75 Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

This is a fine example of a very well made, pleasant California cab that is thoroughly forgettable. There is nothing wrong with this wine, in fact it is very well made, with nice balance between the fruit and tannins. But it tastes like every other well made cab. There just isn’t anything interesting in the bottle. I paid about $15, so I am certainly not upset about the purchase. And if I needed a bottle of wine as a gift for someone who might not be thrilled by interesting  and different wines, or was just starting down the wine road, this might be it. The label is pretty cool too, so that is a bonus. Don’t get me wrong; this is a good wine. I didn’t pour it down the sink or into the spaghetti sauce. I might not be a chef, but I’m not an idiot.

The grapes are from Lake county, which is why I bought the wine in the first place. I thought that the winemaker might be able to reveal something interesting or different. Many California cabernets are made from grapes grown in Napa county, and many of them taste like they were made by the same winemaker.

This wine represents all that I find boring about wine. I think of these wines as “corporate.” They taste like they have been made by committee, without any personality or individuality. Are they made well? Absolutely! Will you remember them? Nope.

A disappointment

I dabble in the fine art of aging beef. I have neither the knowledge nor the equipment to do it correctly, but I have, on occasion, come close to those wonderful, minerally, intensely flavored steaks that the best steakhouses will sometimes dish up. And I had high hopes for the thick, bone-in strip steaks that I had aging in the refrigerator. They were about 2.5-inches thick, which is, at least for my palate, the optimum grilled steak thickness. I like my steak rare, and I haven’t been able to get a nice char on thinner steaks without overcooking them. These steaks looked like they had aged well, losing some moisture without becoming too dry.  I served one plain and one with lemon and olive oil. They were cooked correctly, but they just weren’t “beefy” enough, and they were missing that special flavor that I have only tasted in aged beef.

It is possible that the raw material simply wasn’t good enough. But these steaks looked pretty good! Nicely marbled and a rich medium red color. I have had excellent results with meat from Costco and the local supermarkets, and I have been hoping that the aging is the most important part of the process. One of the intractable problems is that the best aging occurs in large cuts, before they are sliced for cooking. I don’t have a band saw for cutting an entire porterhouse into manageable portions, so I have to make do with the pre-cut stuff. And three weeks of aging of a single portion will yield a completely dessicated, inedible waste of time. Am I stuck?

Wine By Joe Pinot Noir

I have never heard of this winemaker, but his 2005 pinot noir is a very nice example of an Oregon pinot. There was a bit too much of that typical bright cherry flavor, but it was a nicely balanced and pleasant wine. It has some structure that is offset by good fruit. At $18 retail it seems to be a good deal. If you can find it at discount, even better!

Caesar Salad Dressing

1 can of anchovies, drained of the oil in which they are packed
1 egg
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
2/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese
2/3 cup of good olive oil (I use Extra Virgin)

Blend, at medium-low speed until smooth, the anchovies, the egg and the garlic. Make sure to use the top, because it will splatter. Add the vinegar and the cheese and blend for 20-30 seconds on low speed. Then drizzle the oil slowly as you blend at an increasing speed to compensate for the thickening of the dressing. I move from low to medium high, and it takes about 1 minute to drizzle the oil. For those who can’t manage to drizzle oil and work the blender buttons, just blend on medium until the oil is drizzled completely and then take a look to make sure that it is smooth.

Refrigerate for an hour or so to set the dressing. It seems to be better after some time in the refrigerator. I have kept it for a week, assuming that the large quantity of vinegar will limit bacterial growth.

Daddy O

Daddy O is a funky, trying-to-be-upscale hotel and restaurant in Brant Beach on Long Beach Island NJ. I really liked the bar, which was hopping at 6:00pm. It is large, rectangular shaped, with a nice steel top. The owners must be Yankees fans too (that is a plus); The flat-screen TV was tuned to the game. The bartenders move pretty fast to serve what seemed to be a hard-drinking crowd, with a mix of middle-aged folks like us, and a fair number of drinkers in their 20s. The bar menu is interesting, and it is clear that management encourages people to eat as well as drink at the bar.

The drinks are nicely sized and well made, and Happy Hour lasts until 7pm. The down side is the liberal use of the gun for mixers; they definitely don’t use fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juices for their drinks. I had hoped for a great margarita, but alas, it was not meant to be. But the martinis are nice and cold.

The owners made a good effort in trying to make the restaurant different, with art deco (I think. I am also not an art major) lamps, nice flatware and linen, and an interesting menu. The service was adequate; none of the waiters is taking the summer off from Per Se. But the food was the reason we were there. And they did not disappoint. The sesame crusted calamari was excellent, with just enough crunch but not over-fried. It was served with a nice sauce on the side; sort of a sweet and sour syrupy glop that was nevertheless pretty good. It had a bit of a bite from some chile peppers so it wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The Philly Cheese Steak was a very clever interpretation of a mostly boring sandwich. They used some short ribs that they shredded and placed on a triangle of non-descript toast. But they topped it with a very interesting goat cheese sauce that went surprisingly well with the rich short rib meat. Excellent!

We also had a mediocre Caesar Salad (mine is much better!), and an excellent chopped salad with some smoky bacon and blue cheese. Very nice. One of the specials was a black bean and corn soup that was well made and very pleasant, even on a hot summer evening.

The crab cakes were a cut above the typical bread crumb and egg filled standby. I actually saw some chunks of crab! But the winner was definitely the burger. The waitress said that they made it with Kobe beef, which I do not believe. But it doesn’t matter if they made it with cat meat, it was juicy and beefy, with a well chosen accompaniment of applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. It was topped with a couple of mediocre onion rings that I ignored after tasting the perfectly cooked fries that came with the burger. I am not sure which was better, the burger or the fries, and that is a dilemma that I really enjoy.

The wine list was quite overpriced. I find it irritating to the point of offense when I see on a wine list bottles that are priced at 3-4 times retail. Am I the only one who thinks that if restaurants price their wines fairly they will sell more of them?