Category Archives: Grilling

Unleash Your Inner Butcher: Spatchcock a Chicken

I like hearing bones crunch. I like to pop things out of sockets, crack ribs, and pound on meat to make it flat. Before butchers became the new rock stars, after my stint in bakeries, and before I had kids, I fantasized about being a butcher, clad in blood-swiped whites, carrying a cleaver and getting intimate with a side of beef. There’s something carnal and pleasurable about getting to know the anatomy of your food. Which is why I like to spatchcock chickens.

Spatchcock is a funny word for taking the backbone out of a bird. You do this so the breast, legs, and thighs are of a somewhat even thickness, so theoretically all of the meat cooks at the same time with nothing overcooking while your waiting for other appendages catch up. You can take out the wishbone too—that’s like the collarbone in a chicken. Do this and the chicken breasts will be pretty much on par with the height of the legs.

During my first grill post Hurricane Irene, I picked up the grill bag only to have the bottom of the paper bag start to give—the paper was weakened what with all the moisture and rain. The charcoal started to spill out of the bottom, so I did what anyone would do—caught it in my arms. And then came the millipedes. All over the bottom of the bag and yes, now my hands. I flipped out, screamed, and sent charcoal flying halfway across Clinton Hill and into Bed-Stuy. My coal-heavy beer can chicken plans quickly changed into coal-lite spatchcock chicken.

To make a spatchcock chicken you need a hot side of the grill for searing the skin and a cool side to roast the bird. While the chicken is roasting on the low-heat side, take advantage of the hot side for cooking the rest of your meal. Grill up some corn (I like to peel away the tough outer husk, bend back the tender green husk, remove the silk, and then refold the tender husk back around the corn), asparagus (make a grill pan out of heavy duty foil folded up around the edges to make a rim), or a pizza. I’ve even been put cookie dough balls on a double sheet pan (two sheet pans to insulate the bottom of the cookies from too high of a temp) to bake up for dessert (you may need to either remove some coals or spread them out to do this so the heat under the pan is blazing hot).

Spatchcock and Spice Chicken

Serves 4

3- to 4-pound chicken rinsed and patted dry

2 tablespoons your favorite spice blend such as herbes de Provence (scroll through kebabs for recipe at the bottom), garam masala, Cajun seasoning, etc)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola/grapeseed/vegetable)

Heat one side of a charcoal or gas grill to medium (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill for 3 to 4 seconds) and the other to medium-low (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill for 5 to 6 seconds). If using charcoal, bank most of the hot coals to one side and keep the other side relatively lean. Set the grill grate on grill and let it heat up, then use a grill brush to scrape away any bits attached to the grates.

Place the chicken on a cutting board. Turn it upside down so the legs point away from you and the neck opening faces you. Position poultry shears to the right of the backbone—that’s the knobby looking bit on top of the neck cavity. Slice all the way down to the tail, staying as close to the spine as possible. Do the same on the other side.

Remove the backbone (save in a freezer bag for chicken stock).

Turn out the legs so the entire cavity is exposed.

Turn the chicken over. If you are going to remove the wishbone, locate it at the top of the neck cavity. Feel for the arch shape and then run your finger down to locate the tip of the wishbone near the wing joint. Snip it out using the poultry shears (removing the wishbone is optional).

Staring at the top of the breast, run your fingers under the skin separating the skin and sticky membrane from the meat to create a pocket. Do the same where the thigh connects to the lower part of the breast-area, sliding your finger up and over the thigh and under the skin. I like to keep wiggling my fingers down the leg and jostle it a bit to loosen the skin around the drumstick too.

Spoon some of the spices in each pocket you just made—some spices under the skin of each breast, and some in the thigh/drumstick pocket. Use your fingers to rub the spice over the meat. Tuck the wings behind the breasts (so the chicken looks like its reclining with its hands behind its head for a nice rest).

Pour the oil into a ramekin or small bowl. Fold up a few sheets of paper towels and use tongs to dip the paper towels into the oil. Wipe the oil across the grill grates on both sides of the grill. Place the chicken skin-side down on the hot side of the grill and cook until the skin is golden brown and nicely marked, 3 to 5 minutes. Use tongs to flip the chicken over and place it bony-side down on the cool side of the grill. Cover (make sure the vents are open in the lid if using a charcoal grill) and grill until cooked through and the juices at the thigh joint run clear, 25 to 40 minutes depending on the heat of the grill and the size of the bird. Remove the chicken from the grill and rest it for 10 minutes before carving.

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Filed under Chicken, Dinner, Grilling

What I made in less than 30 minutes: Grilled Zucchini Couscous with Burrata, Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a vegetarian. I blame my college Peace Studies class—we read “Diet for a New America” and that was it, end game. No more factory-raised anything for me. Nothing with eyes or families. Of course I had no idea what the heck to cook myself for dinner. For many months I existed on canned refried beans, nachos, and pad Thai. (Obviously I was oblivious to the existence of nam pla.) My interest in food grew, finally overcoming my interest in my major, communications. So when I was 20, I decided I had to go to school to learn how to cook. Without meat.

I considered two vegetarian cooking schools: one in New York City where I knew no one and one in Boulder, Colorado where I had family and could crash for nearly free. Not a hard pick. I cashed all the savings I had, paid my tuition for The School of Natural Cookery in the stunning foothills of Boulder, bought a bunch of knives and pots and pans, and packed up my pick-up truck for an epic road trip with my best friend. One clutch, one tire blow out, and one pitiful attempt at camping later, we arrived in that alternate dimension that is Boulder, rife with hippies, nudists, mountain climbers, and mountain lions. Awesome.

Our teacher, the incredibly earthy Joanne Saltzman, taught us how to pair spices blindfolded, cook grains, pulses, and legumes a million ways to Sunday, make our own seitan, rely on our biceps for bread kneading, make our own almond milk, and pummel rice into mochi. That cooking class taught me how to feel out a dish and taste it in my head before I even started to make it.

It goes without saying that I cook tons of grains, beans, and veggies for my family. There is always a bowl of something from the veg world on our dinner table. Often a nod of protein as well, but not much—I’ll split up a steak four ways (like my grandma used to do), or buy a gorgeous and expensive piece of pristine wild salmon and give everyone a few nuggets. Just enough to get the taste, to get the satisfaction, without spending a rent check at the fishmonger’s counter.

This meal works the principal of keeping things green and grainy with just a bit of protein for satiety’s sake. In this case, I pair zucchini and couscous a few knobs of unbelievably rich and fabulous burrata cheese. Burrata is like a double whammy of mozzarella. You have that semi-solid mozzarella rind that lovingly spoons a soft mozzarella-cream core. It’s incredible played against the grainy couscous and the juicy pop of smaller-than-baby-grape tomatoes (halved grape or cherry tomatoes work too). I grill zucchini—it’s quick—but you can totally broil it if you don’t do outdoor grilling, though the char on it does give the salad a nice hit of umamae. Which is also really nice against the creamy burrata. A handful of fresh herbs, some juicy-sweet tomatoes, toasted pine nuts. I dare you to miss the meat.

Grilled Zucchini Couscous with Burrata, Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

Note: If you can’t find burrata, sub fresh mozzarella. Just do me a favor—before using, place it in a small bowl of tepid salted water until it has lost its chill (a few minutes will do it). Then chop and add.

2 zucchini, halved lengthwise

3 tablespoons good olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 1/2 cups couscous

1/2 lemon

1 cup smallest grape tomatoes or halved grape tomatoes (or quartered cherry tomatoes)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (I like 1 tablespoon each of basil, cilantro, and mint)

1/3 ball burrata cheese gently broken into small pieces

Heat a charcoal or gas grill (I like to bank a bunch of coals on 3/4 of the grill to make one side medium-high and leave a spare few coals on the other side to get medium heat; if what I’m cooking gets too dark I can  scooch it over to the cooler side—if using a gas grill, heat one side to high and the other to medium). Set the zucchini halves on a plate and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Rub the salt and oil all over the zucchini. Place them on the grill and cook until nicely browned and etched with grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes (check often as this will vary depending on the intensity of the grill). Use tongs (I like the super long handled ones for grilling) to flip the zucchini over and cook the other side, preferably over lower heat, until the zucchini is tender, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the grill and set aside.

Place the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan often, until they’re golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a small plate, sprinkle with a pinch of salt while hot, and set aside.

Bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the couscous. Stir, cover, and turn off the heat. Set aside for 5 minutes to plump and then use a fork to fluff, recover, and turn out into a large bowl.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the couscous and squeeze the lemon over the top. Stir to combine. Cut the zucchini into bite-sized pieces and place them in the bowl with the couscous. Add the tomatoes and herbs and stir with a fork to combine. Add the burrata, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with salt, taste, and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Grilling, Recipe, Side dish, Vegetarian Main

Turkey Kebabs with Garlic, Basil, and Umame

My boys are game eaters. I don’t mean rabbit and pheasant, though I’m sure they’d dig it if presented with it, I mean that they try everything. From fish eye balls to octopus and Brussels sprouts to sardines, the rule of our house table is “always try one bite—you’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it.” This didn’t happen overnight—I didn’t like, present them with a bowl of fish eyeballs and say, “hey, guess what’s for dinner!”

Raising a good eater, and moreover, an adventurous eater, takes persistence and patience by parents. The parents have to be just as game and willing as the kids. I mean, a three-year-old doesn’t have control of what is being taken out of the fridge (or dialed on the phone) for dinner. A child’s palate is first and foremost shaped by the parents. Sure, kids can want chicken nuggets and pizza every night of the week. But it’s up to parents to say, “uh, yeah, right. And I want foie gras torchons and chocolate soufflé every night too, but you know what, tonight we’re having pasta and broccoli.” You try and try and try—broccoli steamed, broccoli stir-fried, broccoli in soup, broccoli in a frittata, broccoli roasted. And then you adjust. Perhaps broccoli baked into a bacony quiche. Or chopped and mixed with cheddar and shredded leftover chicken for an empanada. Sometimes you have to think outside of the argument.

So, today: gorgeous, hot, sunny. One of my older son’s best friends and his mom joined us—and the child, well, he’s my favorite picky eater. He’s my project. To avoid conflict at the table, I have learned that when he comes to dinner, I make a myriad of options. I put them all on the table. And everyone can pick and choose what they want to eat. That way, everyone’s plate is a customized canvas of options, with no one having to say “eeewww” or “I don’t like…” “I don’t like isn’t an option when there are options. Often times, because no one is hounding him to eat what’s on the plate, he reaches for something new. He may not dig it, but he tried it, and let me tell you, that’s like winning a major battle.

I made turkey burgers and kebabs from the same ground turkey base. I pumped it with flavor from some gorgeous inky-purple opal basil, fresh farmers market garlic, Worcestershire sauce for a necessary dose of umame (turkey often needs all the help it can get), herbes de provence for backbone, and some panko to keep it all together on the grill. I also made simple steamed broccoli, grilled garlic bread, orecchiette with butter and Pecorino, and grilled mushrooms tossed with garlic-butter and flakey salt. There was a nice salad of baby arugula, a soft and ewe-y Spanish cheese, thin-sliced cukes, lemon, and extra-virgin. Everyone was happy and no one was criticized because everyone had something to put on their plate. And my favorite picky eater? He tried the garlic bread (victory!), turned his nose up to the turkey burger (defeat), and devoured the pasta with Pecorino (yes!).

Which only meant more turkey kebabs for the rest of the table. So really, we all won.

Turkey Kebabs (or Burgers) with Garlic, Basil, and Umame

Makes 4 kebabs or burgers

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

2 garlic cloves, minced or smashed through a garlic press

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (or 1 tablespoon soy sauce)

1 teaspoon herbes de provence (preferably homemade)

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 pound ground turkey (dark meat)

2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola/grapeseed/vegetable) for greasing the grill

Mix the basil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, herbes de provence, and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the panko and then add the ground turkey in small knobs (adding it in chunks makes it easier to work into the other ingredients without over working the meat, ensuring you get a juicy end result). Use your hand(s) to mix everything together. Divide into 4 equal parts and form in a long cigar-shape around 4 skewers (for wood skewers, soak 20 minutes in water before using) or pat into 4 burgers. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan and refrigerate.

Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high (you can hold your hand above the grill grate for about 3 seconds before it gets too hot). Pour the neutral oil into a small bowl and using tongs, dip a folded bunch of paper towels into the oil and brush the oil over the grill grates. Remove the kebabs from the grill and place on the grates, grilling until all sides are brown and char-marked and the meat springs back to light pressure (there should be some spring to it—it shouldn’t be rock solid), about 8 minutes total. Remove from the grill and serve on garlic bread, grilled pita, or with rice.

Homemade Herbes de Provence

Makes about 1/2 cup

Homemade spice blends are so simple to make and are always fresher than pre-blended mixes. Herbes de Provence is an incredibly woodsy and herbaceous blend that can be easily adjusted to suit your taste—if you’re not crazy for one of the spices below, just cut it and boost up the quantity of another. I love using my microwave to dry herbs in a flash. They’re like a bazillion times more flavorful than packaged dried herbs and take less than a minute to zap (see below).

6 tablespoons dried basil

2 tablespoons dried thyme

4 teaspoons dried fennel seeds

4 teaspoons dried marjoram

4 teaspoons dried rosemary

2 teaspoons dried lavender

2 teaspoons dried sage

Place the basil, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, lavender, and sage in a spice grinder and process until powder fine. Transfer to a small bottle and store in a cool, dark, and dry spot for up to 4 months.

If drying in a microwave: place herbs in a single layer on a paper towel-lined plate. Microwave for one to three 30-second increments, until the herbs are shriveled and papery-dry. Let them cool and then crumble them into a jar to use the next time a recipe calls for dried herbs.

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Filed under Dinner, Grilling, Recipe, Turkey