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August 2013

Easy Summer Grilled Chicken

Grilled_chicken

We live in an apartment in the city, and I rarely grill or barbeque anything. I don’t have the equipment or the space. And I certainly don’t have what it takes to lug a grill to the park and spend the afternoon there, firing it up amid the crowds (though I once roasted a whole pig in public, so maybe I’m made of tougher stuff than I realize).

However, I know that grills are popular. They are extremely handy, of course. It’s great fun to play with fire (don’t tell the kids), the flavor is unrivaled, and there are no pots to wash at the end of it all. Charcoal has its partisans, but gas grills are the easiest. I just love how you can turn them on and be ready to cook in a matter of minutes. If I had a back yard, I’d certainly own one.

Whenever we go on a summer vacation, I often have access to a grill. On Nantucket, recently, we had a nice big gas unit with three burners. It was sweet. One of the nights I whipped up sirloin tips. Another night, I did some chicken.

Chicken is not one of the easiest things to get right on the grill. I’ve been at parties where the legs have been black as the ink on this screen and the thighs were still pink. It can be tricky.

I have learned one simple solution: Cut the bird into parts. If you buy a whole chicken, it’s easy to slice one up. Instructions are here. Or, you can just buy drumsticks and thighs. It’ll probably cost you a bit more, but you’ll save the labor. Either way, it will make your cooking experiences a lot more relaxing.

When you have parts on the grill, you can move them around. And if your grill is the kind with more than one burner, you can keep them from getting too dark by turning off the heat on part of the grill, moving the parts there, and covering the grill. That way, they’ll continue to cook on the inside, without getting ruined on the outside.

Chicken needs flavoring more than most meats, and I solved that problem on vacation by marinating it in a commercial sauce that I found at the Stop & Shop on the island.  

Stubbs_Sauce

The sauce was by Stubb’s, and though I don’t usually rely on store-bought products like this, it worked very well. It was a nice balance of high flavor and low labor. It was a vacation, after all, and the chef wanted a break, too.

Easy Seashore Grilled Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts; or packs of legs and thighs, bone in
  • 1 Bottle Stubb’s Chicken Marinade

At least an hour or so before it’s time to cook, place the meat in shallow baking dish or a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, and cover with the marinade. Leave out if it’s close to cooking time. Put in the fridge if it’s not.

Go to the beach and go swimming.

Come home as late as you dare. Don’t shower off.

Fire up the grill. Get it good and hot.

Lay the pieces out and grill until nice and brown and 165 degrees in the thick parts. Move the pieces around the grill as necessary to keep them from burning.

Note: I did something similar once in New Jersey, and the fat from the skin pooled in the bottom of the grill. The following night, when I tried to use it again, it flared up like the Cuyahoga River in 1969. It was a disaster. In Nantucket, I avoided this by pulling the skin off the birds before marinating them. I didn’t want to miss out on the crispy skin, so I left a few intact. It worked out fine. 


Easy Summer Grilling Ideas: Sirloin Tip Strips

Nantucket_Beach
A friend recently lent us her condo on Nantucket, and we spent a week there with my mother, bicycling around and enjoying the beach. Nantucket is a stunning and fascinating place. The only thing that tops the natural beauty of its rolling fields and pristine beaches is the outrageous displays of wealth by its visitors. Every other car is a Range Rover, houses list for 14 million dollars, and people are dressed to the nines at all times. It was a bit disorienting, until Santa Maria pointed out one thing that unified and equalized all people on the island—the local Stop & Shop. Everywhere you went, you’d see folks—rich folks, poor folks, and in-between folks—carrying paper bags with the store’s logo. 

At the Stop & Shop, I picked up some Sirloin Tip Strips, an inexpensive, sufficiently fatty and delicious cut of beef that I would highly recommend. As it turns out, “Sirloin Tip” is a New England name.  Outside the region you might have to ask for faux hanger or bavette. According to this great article in Serious Eats, it’s “the bottom sirloin butt—the same general region where the tri-tip comes from.” The tips I had were cut into strips, also a New England custom, and I found that made them easier to cook. Here's how I did it:

Steak_starting

I salted them heavily and laid them out on the grill.

Steak_cooking
Gave them about two minutes a side, until they were charred nicely and 125 degrees in the thick parts.

Sirloin_tip_steak_finish
And then I cut them up and served them. Super easy, super tasty, and almost imposible to keep your hands off them—those are Nina's and Pinta's fingers reaching for a taste before dinner!


Slow-Roasted Pork Shouder for Universal Happiness

When we went to the shore two weeks ago, I naturally took charge of the cooking. I also recognized my responsibility to my wife, children, mother, brother's family, (and myself) to take care of other vacation needs. And I mean basic vacation needs. One need: to relax and have a good time.

Strange as it may seem, it has been harder in the past for me to chill out than to feed a dozen people. But part of the human condition is the ability to adapt, so I did a few things differently this year. I made Thich Nhat Hanh not Gordon Ramsay my guide in the kitchen, and instead of yelling, I changed my approach.

For example, I made a mystery slow-roasted pork shoulder. The mystery was what was in the rub. For last year's trip to the beach I had prepared a spice rub for two pork shoulders. That year, I only made one, and, so, I had a perfectly mixed batch of spices left over in my cupboard. I grabbed that bag while packing, and thought: one meal ready!

This year, the night before I wanted to eat, I slathered that rub over a pair of smallish organic pork shoulders and--in keeping with my desire to help myself and others by relaxing and enjoying the moment--the next day I put the meat in a 250 degree oven at 10:00 in the morning, and I went swimming. I walked on the beach. I drew some pictures. I took a nap. I laughed with my girls. Then, at the end of the day, at 6:00, I took the meat out of the oven and we made pork tacos. All it needed was a touch of lime and it was perfect. The meat was falling-apart tender, and everything was easy and good. We were happy.

Easiest Pork Shoulder Ever

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons mild chili powder, like ancho or New Mexico
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 or 2 pork shoulder, totaling about 6 pounds
  • 3 or 4 limes, cut into pieces
The night before eating, rub the pork with the spices.

The morning of the meal, heat an oven to 250 degrees, and place the meat on a foil-lined roasting pan that has a lip or raised edge.

Cook the meat for eight hours, until it is super tender.

To serve, cut the meat (it should fall apart) and eat with soft-corn tortillas and a touch of lime juice.


Zen and the Art of Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Chocolate_sand_castle_by_jab2810-d39t7m6

We were on the New Jersey shore last week, for an extended-family vacation, and I learned a few things about life, family, and cooking. The first is the secret recipe for a successful extend-family vacation:

                            Two houses + the words of Thich Nhat Hanh = great happiness.

Let me explain: I find sharing a house with too many relatives too stressful, and this year we were fortunate to have two houses close together. Keeping one family in one house and mine in another proved to be very, very relaxing. The other ingredient, the words of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, came to me through his new book, “The Art of Communicating.” I suggest it for all people who need to talk to anyone else, ever. It is (close to) magic.

Speaking of magic, the first night we were at the shore, my mother took the whole gang to dinner at Bistro 14, an extremely tasty and inviting restaurant in Beach Haven, where we had a dessert that made my head spin: Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding.

Like all good magic tricks, it is based on simplicity, but that doesn’t take anything away from its power. “It’s basically a riff on pain au chocolat,” the owner and chef Richard Vaughan said after I called him up and begged him for the recipe, “which is a croissant wrapped around a chocolate bar.”

A trip to Paris inspired the recipe. “The first thing you do in the morning there, is go to the patisserie and have a pain au chocolat,” Vaughan said. “My wife, Karen, came up with the idea of doing this back home, and the dessert was born.”

When they make the dish at the restaurant, they use eighteen croissants, and then cut out individual servings. “It’s always a good day for the staff when it’s time to cut up the servings,” Vaughan said. There are always extra scraps that aren’t appropriate for serving. “The staff hovers like seagulls,” Vaughan said, and gobble up the extra bits.

Vaughan was kind enough to scale the recipe down for the home chef. He said you can use any kind of chocolate chips, from Hershey’s to something more fancy, such as Valrhona (they use 2 ½ quarts of chips at the restaurant!). He added that this would make a great dinner-party dish—when it comes out of the oven, it puffs up, and if you can time it right, it would make a very dramatic, almost magical moment. Here’s the recipe.

Bistro 14's Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

  • 3 whole eggs
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 5 C half and half
  • 1 ½ C sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 6-8 croissants
  • chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make the custard.  Mix the eggs, yolks, half and half, sugar and vanilla together until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Set aside. 

Slice the croissants.  Shingle the croissant bottoms in an ungreased baking dish.  Pour ½ of the custard over them.  Add a serious layer of chocolate chips.  Cover with the croissant tops, make sure you cover the chips completely, or they may burn. Add the rest of the custard.  Do it slowly, or it may run everywhere. Smoosh the croissants down so they absorb as much of the custard as they can.  Allow the pudding to rest for about 10 minutes.   

Bake tented with foil for least 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Uncover and finish baking for another 30 minutes.  Pudding is done when it is puffed and the custard is just set.  

Serve warm, or at room temperature, with heavy cream or crème anglaise.

Note: You can scale this dish up or down pretty directly.  We have even made individual bread puddings in soufflé ramekins, but in that case use a water bath to keep them from getting too dry on the outside.  

(Image courtesy of Deviantart.)