Jun 132012
 

Let’s cut right to the chase: People are intimidated by brine. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Brining is simple, relatively foolproof if you remember one important rule, and makes a massive difference in the quality of your finished meat. So it’s time to cast aside the fear and uncertainty – brining is good, and it’s time you started doing it.

A few ground rules to start: One, brining is generally reserved for poultry and pork. Beef isn’t really going to benefit from this and it is going to be too rough on the texture of fish and seafood. Two, you should always brine your poultry or pork if your cooking method is dry. Three (and this is the super important rule you must remember), your brine needs to be ice cold before the meat is immersed. Cold brine is happy brine. And fourth (and finally), giant-sized Ziploc bags are your best friends.

With these basic thoughts firmly stuck in the back our our minds, let’s begin. The basic brine for both pork and poultry is dead simple. For every half chicken (or equivalent) or every two pork chops (or equivalent) you will need:

1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of brown sugar
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of kosher salt

That’s it. That is the whole shebang. I told you this was simple.

So – dissolve your sugar and your salt into the boiling water in a large bowl. You are going to have to stir this pretty well to get it to completely dissolve, becuase it is right on the edge of how much sugar and salt the water can actually take on. When it is completely dissolved, put the bowl of brine in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry, but see the note below for a caveat or two) and chill it completely.

Cold brine is happy brine.

Once the brine is nicely chilled, you can add your meat. Grab a Ziploc bag that is large enough to hold both your meat and all of the brine you made, carefully pour the brine into it, and then add the meat. Adding the meat last helps you avoid pouring disasters, trust me. Now pop it back into the fridge, with the following list of times in mind:

Chicken or any game hen – 1 hour
Pork chops or ribs – 2 hours
Pork loin – 4 hours
Pork shoulder – overnight
Turkey drums or breast – overnight
Full turkey – 24 hours

When your time is up remove the meat from the brine and pat it completely dry (inside and out!) before you start to season or cook it. For pork, be sure to let the meat rest at room temperature so it can warm up before you start to cook, but poultry can hit the roaster / grill / smoker / whatever right away.

A Note About The Freezer: If you are in a hurry and need to chill your brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, be sure to cover it with a sheet of waxed paper so you dont get a tiny blizzard of crystals in your ice box.

And that is pretty much it. Roast or grill or smoke your brined and dried meat excatly as you would have before. Your actual cooking technique will not change, but your results definitely will. Once you get going with this you can start to add some flavour to the brine – orange zest, sage and cloves for roast turkey; juniper berries, garlic and rosemary for grilled pork; lemon zest, garlic and tarragon for roast chicken and other small fowl; garlic, crushed peppercorns, and ginger for grilled bird. Play with it, the possibilites are endless. Just remember: Add these things after the brine has cooled, otherwise you risk getting a nasty bitter note in your food.

And did I mention that cold brine is happy brine? Yes? Good.

Play with it. Experiment. Have fun. But most of all, do this. Every time.

Sep 292011
 

In the recent discussion of “spatchcocking” I reminded you to save the spine of your chicken for making stock. This goes for the rest of your trimmed and discarded parts any time you cook chicken – the spine, the wing tips, and even the carcass after you clean off all the meat and pack it away in the fridge.

Regardless of which recipe you use to make your stock, there is one crucial tip: DO NOT BOIL IT. Period. Boiling the stock will make it cloudy – some of the fat will emulsify and you will never get it out. Simmering the stock will leave it beautiful and clear after cooling and skimming.

Clear stock is good stock. So no boiling. Or else.

Sep 272011
 

Having roasted or barbeque chicken in the fridge and ready to use for everything from paninis to pasta dishes to a quick quesadilla is a brilliant idea. It’s tasty, healthy, neutral enough that you can go in almost any direction, and versatile enough that you can come up with a whack of different fast and easy ways to eat it and never really get bored. Unfortunately, cooking the actual bird is intimidating for a lot of people – to the point where I have seen suggestions in everything from bad supermarket-checkout magazines (you know the kind, glossy women’s lifestyle mags with a “food” section aimed at idiots like this) to chef-hosted cooking shows that say you should forget about roasting your own chicken and just buy a pre-cooked bird at the deli or take-out section of the supermarket.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Buying and cooking your own bird is always going to be a superior choice. There is no need to be hesitant. Roasted or barbeque chicken – especially if you just want to put the meat away for future use and don’t care about niceties like stuffing or carving presentation – is actually close to foolproof. All you need to do is remember five simple steps:

  1. Spatchcock
  2. Brine
  3. Dry
  4. Rub
  5. Cook

Wait a minute. Um … spatchcock? What the hell is that?

That, my friend, is a time-honoured and (sadly) little-used way to cook a bird quickly and with almost any kind of heat source. And quickly is key – the faster you can cook a chicken, the moister and more flavourful the meat will be. Spatchcocking a bird is akin to butterflying, but instead of taking out both the spine and the sternum you just remove the spine. The sternum helps to protect the breast meat from drying out, giving you all sorts of options for the actual cook. No matter what kind of grill/oven/smoker/roaster you are packing, you are pretty much guaranteed to have a way to make this work.

Ready? Get yourself a really nice bird – forget the supermarket, get a fresh free-range hen from your farmer’s market – and let’s dig in.

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Jul 182011
 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away …

Er, wait. Wrong script.

A not-so-long time ago, in the fine city of Hamilton, there was a take-out and delivery place called “Hamilton Barbeque”. Two things made the place memorable: The fleet of red delivery cars – each with a flashing light inside a big plastic chicken on the roof – and the quality of the barbeque bird. It was stupidly good.

The place is gone now, and it’s tragic to think that there is a whole generation of Hamilton kids out there who will never point and yell “Flashing Chicken!” at the top of their lungs when one of the cars go by. It’s even more tragic to live in a city where people now think that Swiss Chalet is actually decent food. Sadly, there is nothing I can do about the cars. But I can do my bit to fill the gaping void when it comes to good barbeque chicken.

So – in honour of the late and much-lamented Hamilton Barbeque, I offer to you “Flashing Chicken”. There are no big secrets here, just a simple brine and a hotter-than-you-would-think turn in the smoker. And if you don’t have a real barbeque pit you can still play along, either with a grill or even in your oven.

Ready? Chicken awaits …

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Apr 232010
 

As promised, here is the start-to-finish rundown on how to do the whole “crispy chicken dipped in spicy sauce” thing. And yes, I am fully aware that the title sucks. I started with “How To Make Dipped Chicken” but that was misleading … you don’t “make” the dipped chicken, you make the chicken and then dip it. If I really wanted to be accurate then “How To Make Sauce And Then Cook Chicken And Then Dip That Chicken In The Sauce” would be the way to go. Unfortunately, most people don’t have monitors wide enough to actually read that. So in a half-assed compromise between legibility and vague accuracy I am sticking with “How To Dip Chicken”. Deal with it.

With that out of the way, let’s run this thing down. The recipes in play here are the True North Chicken Rub, the Basic Chicken For Dipping, and the Diamondstar Halo dipping sauce. If you are not familiar with and of these now is the time to follow the links and check them out. The timeline below is what I consider ideal – yes, sometimes you have to compress things time-wise, I get that. But for this one … make the effort to start it a full day early. The result is worth the extra hassle of planning your meal 24 hours in advance. Trust me.

24 HOURS AHEAD

Make sure you have enough of the True North Chicken Rub

Make a batch of Diamondstar Halo sauce

While that cools, toss your chicken pieces with the rub

Put the sauce and the tossed chicken into the fridge. Wash your hands. And wait for tomorrow.

90 MINUTES BEFORE EATING

Take the chicken out of the fridge. Dredge the chicken pieces with flour and put them on a rack to rest for 30 minutes. Pre-heat your oven / barbeque pit / roaster / whatever to 175 degrees C (350 Fahrenheit if you are being retro).

Strain your sauce – you want to get the bits of sage and rosemary out of there now. They have done their work, from this point on all they can do is get bitter from being reheated. The easiest way to do this is to strain it right into the pot you are going to heat it up in.

60 MINUTES BEFORE EATING

Put the chicken (on a rack) in your cooker of choice and let ‘er rip. If you remember to do so, turn the chicken once at the 30 minute mark.

5 MINUTES BEFORE EATING

Heat the sauce. You don’t want it to boil (that would be bad bad bad) but you want to get it very hot.

ZERO HOUR

Pull out the chicken. As you serve it, dunk each piece completely in the sauce. Just a quick in and out, you want to coat it, not to soak it. Let the extra drip off for a couple of seconds (as long as it takes to say “drip drip drip” is probably ideal) and plate it up. Serve it on a pile of rice if you are eating indoors (the sauce dripping into the rice is heaven) or just plate it beside a pile of really good plain potato chips or nacho chips if you are feeling casual.
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Eat. With your fingers. Then get ready to be dipping more pieces, because people are going to want seconds. And thirds. Keep the sauce hot and ready to go until you are sure everyone is done. And remember – only dip pieces as you are about to serve them.

THE AFTERMATH

This is one of those deals where it is just as easy to make a lot as a little. So make a lot. Let any undipped leftover chicken pieces cool completely and store them in the fridge. Let the sauce cool completely and put it back in its jar and stick that in the fridge too. When you want another meal, heat however much chicken you want in an oven (not a microwave) at 175C/350F for about 20 minutes loosely wrapped in foil, then open the foil and heat for 10 minutes more. Heat the sauce up and once again just dip the pieces you are about to eat. The sauce can re-cool and re-store and re-heat as many times as you require.

Now. Stop reading and eat some chicken. When you are done I would appreciate it if you take a moment and let me know what you think.

Enjoy.

Apr 222010
 

This is a basic coated chicken that is a perfect starting point for your adventures and experimentation in dipping. It’s easy to make, is wickedly versatile, and can be cooked in pretty much anything that offers an option for indirect heat. You can use a good ol’ Weber kettle, your oven (yes, I said oven), or something that is built just for this sort of task like a Big Green Egg. You want to use a clean fire here – you are roasting, not smoking. A plain charcoal fire would be your best bet, you only want to use a wood fire if you really know how to control the smoke and (in this case) keep it to a minimum.

If you are unsure, then do your first batch in the oven – this works really well in the oven. Everyone can play on this one, and you will be glad you did. Besides the aforementioned dipping, this chicken is a great thing to have in your back pocket as a go-to technique for any time you need a big mound of crispy tasty crunchy juicy bird.

Total prep time is about 10 minutes, cooking time is just short of an hour. Ready? Let’s go.

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Feb 042010
 

This started out as a quest for a dipping sauce for chicken, and ended with a super simple bit of liquid love that you can dip damn near anything into with delicious results. The name, if you were wondering, is a reference to the old T-Rex song “Get It On” (the original, please, not that defective Power Station remake) and specifically the line “you’re dirty and sweet, oh yeah.” This sauce is dirty and sweet at the same time – it’s as sweet as your grade 9 girlfriend and it’s as dirty and skanky as that nasty Kate Gosselin chick.

If you were wondering, no, you don’t have to play the song while you cook this. But it doesn’t hurt, either. Marc Bolan was a genius.

So – you may not know that “dipped” is a classic way to serve fried or roasted chicken. And I don’t mean dipped in little fork-bites at the table (a la Swiss Pigeon), i mean dipped as whole pieces in sauce when those pieces are just hot out of the oil or the oven. If you have never had chicken this way – a method that was inspiration for the first “buffalo wings” – then you are missing out on one of the great taste explosions of our time. But don’t stop there – and don’t shy away from making this if you aren’t planning on piece-cooked chicken. I have been dunking and/or exposing all sorts of things to this little concoction, and when push comes to shove you can pair this with pretty much any meat that is served hot and has any sort of salt in it’s seasoning profile.

Best of all, this is super simple. It has a a mere four ingredients (if you are like me and count this as one ingredient) and takes 5 minutes to make. Full details, some ideas on use, and random ranting after the jump.

Let’s get saucy!

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Aug 132009
 

Okay – first things first. I realize that “Chicken Shakeys” is a terrible name, but the problem is this: Until about a day ago, these things had no name at all. I have been making them for pretty much ever, but there was never a name beyond “those chicken wing things” and when I got around to taking pictures and getting ready to put the recipe up here, I realized that a name was probably in order. So I went with “Chicken Shakeys” because (a) you do shake them at one point, and (b) the great Jim “Shakey” Hunt could eat more chicken wings at a press box buffet than anyone else on the planet. But the name is definitely not set in stone, and if you can think of something better, I am all ears. In fact, if you do come up with a name and I adopt it, I will name another recipe down the road after you. So get your thinking bibs on and see what you can do.

In the meantime, on with the show.
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This is a kind of messy (during the preparation) and somewhat fidgety (during the preparation) but generally simple (during the cooking) take on chicken wings that will really impress your guests as either a side or an appetizer. These look cool, are fun to eat, and taste like greasy heaven on a stick. And, just for extra awesomeness, there is bacon. When you are done, you get what amounts to savory chicken and bacon lollipops with all kinds of layers of sweet and smoky flavour, and if you can eat just one of these then you either have ludicrous amounts of willpower or no taste buds at all.

Sorry, grill-heads, this one needs smoke and no direct heat, so you are on the sidelines for this one. Everyone else, stand by for some serious yum.

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Jun 132009
 

One more recipe to get you going here. While the vast majority of barbeque spice comes from rubs instead of saucing – the cooking process is so long that most sauces end up burning or hardening – there is still a place for sauces, usually in either finishing or serving. You will find that most serious barbeque cooks have a different sauce for each kind of meat – like rubs, there are different flavour points that tend to work best with different textures and tastes – but I have been experimenting with a single “top level” sauce that you can then finish in different ways for whatever meat you happen to be thinking about using it with. Unlike rubs, where you just mix ’em and put them on a shelf somewhere, a sauce usually means you need to invest some cooking time and you need to store the finished product in the fridge. Having a single sauce that you can then drive off in different directions give maximum return on these requirements.

This mix is for a single load, about two full mason jars worth. If you are having a big cook or have the fridge space to spare, just double everything for a bigger batch.

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