Saturday, May 28, 2016

Perfect Grilled Chicken Tips

Grilled chicken is one of my favorite Memorial Day Weekend foods. We grill it year-round-- rain, snow or shine.  If you are starting up the grill after a winter hibernation, here are a few reminders to get that perfect grilled chicken the first weekend of the summer instead of the last.

Chicken Grilling Basics
  • Pick the best chicken you can afford.  Keep it cold until it is ready to put on the grill.
  • If you marinate (in the refrigerator), wipe off excess so that oils do not drip into the flames.  We  prefer a dry method of seasoning the poultry and like to salt and pepper the pieces well, cook then add sauces and chutneys afterwards. If you want to add barbecue sauce, wait until the chicken is almost cooked, brush sauce onto one side, turn to allow it to caramelize a bit and repeat on other side.
  • Grill bone-in with skin intact to preserve moistness and impart the best 'chicken' flavor. You can remove skin after cooking (if you must).
  • Cook chicken on medium low heat for even and thorough cooking.  Chicken is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165˚F. We use a charcoal grill and let the coals develop a nice ash before starting to cook.  This provides a moderate, even temperature.
  • Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature.  This is the most important tip on this list.  No amount of pressing on meat for tenderness can match the accuracy and safety of a good thermometer.
  • Use a grill cover to help the chicken meat cook on the inside while it is developing that lovely crisp skin on the outside.  
  • Dark meat, like thighs and legs, take a little longer to cook but stand up better to high and varying heat levels. They can stay on the grill to a temperature of 175˚F.  Chicken breasts need a little more care.  Provide even heat on the lower end of medium-low.  Chicken wings are high in fat and thus behave more like dark meat on the grill.  
  • Start chicken skin side up.  Turn chicken breasts when the breast's 'chicken tender' piece begins to split away from the larger muscle.  This takes about 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the piece. Turn thighs and legs when you see nice browning occur.  Start checking after 10 minutes.  These pieces can be turned a few times. 
  • Keep chicken fat out of the flames.  This causes flare ups and excess skin char which is not tasty.  Watch thighs in particular and move them to a cooler spot on the grill until they calm down.  Placing a cover on the grill, thus dampening oxygen flow, helps dampen the fire too.
  • Let the chicken rest after it comes off the grill.  Give it at least 10 minutes while you get the rest of the meal inside and served.  
  • Bonus tip: If you are charcoal grilling a different meat for dinner, pick up some chicken parts to put on the grill afterwards.  It is a great way to use the heated charcoal after the steak or burgers come off the grill.  Cooler charcoal takes a bit longer to cook chicken so put the pieces on, cover the grill and enjoy a leisurely meal, checking the chicken now and then.  (Use that thermometer.)
Lastly, cook enough to have cold grilled chicken leftovers.  After all, this is a holiday and we have important things to do, like thanking our lucky stars and the families of those who have bravely kept us safe.

Happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Cornmeal Okra and Mushrooms

It's a short season in this area for okra-- so short that many have not quite gotten the hang of this 'seed pod' vegetable.   Too bad because okra is an excellent source of soluble fiber and quite tasty as a side to any grilled entree. Trouble is, the characteristic sticky inner chambers can be challenging.

The best advise about okra, is to go with the vegetable's strength. The slick liquid inside helps to thicken classic gumbo and will thicken any stew or soup it goes in.

The albumen-like liquid surrounding the seeds also create the perfect coating for cornmeal making sliced okra an extremely simple fried side dish that is quite a bit lighter than most fried vegetables.  Here's how it works:

Cornmeal Okra and Mushrooms
1 pound while okra
1/2 pound portobello or button mushrooms
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. Rinse whole okra well and dry it.  Really let it dry. Then, take a paper towel and wipe it again so it is dry.  (Water is the enemy here in this recipe.)
  2. Now, cut each okra into half-inch pieces, placing them in a clean DRY bowl or plastic bag filled with the cornmeal and seasoned with salt, black pepper and a little cayenne pepper. 
  3. Also add the clean, dry mushrooms, cut in nice chunks (about the size of your okra pieces).
  4. Toss the ingredients together and shake off excess cornmeal using a sieve or colander.  Shake of cornmeal coating twice.
  5. Note how okra's natural lubrication helps the cornmeal coating stick to not only the okra but also the mushrooms.  
  6. Is your skillet dry?  Wipe it down to be sure.  
  7. Add a layer of oil and heat over a medium high flame.  
  8. Add okra and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to turn vegetables over.  
  9. When vegetables are tender, remove and serve at once.
Reheats well: toss in a hot skillet.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Morels In Town

I love the sculptural quality of morel mushrooms.  They remind me of the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, especially his unfinished Sagrada Família basilica  in Barcelona.

Fresh morels are in markets in the northeast now.  If you get your hands on some via a reliable forager or a market prepare them simply to bring out their best.

Pictured here is a five-minute sauté of morels and zucchini ribbons finished with a few tablespoons of cream and served over wide noodles.  A squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine before the cream goes in brings up some of the more subtle flavors but be judicious so as not to overwhelm the delicate mushrooms.

Try this simple sauté with any combination of mushrooms or feature one special one as I've done here.  Variations?  Serve over grilled polenta instead of noodles.

This is a stand alone vegetarian dish or can be served alongside a grilled steak or chicken.

Did you know?
For those who crave morels at other times of year, they hold up to drying well.  Reconstitute in warm water for 10 minutes then proceed with your recipe. Don't toss the soaking liquid.  It has great depth of flavor. Use it in your dish boiled down or add to any savory sauce.  Terrific mixed with steak juices.

And.. I have read that one should not eat raw morels.  So please be careful and keep your stash away from pets.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Smokey White Beans

Walking through Zabar's food market in New York City recently, I noticed the the smoked fish counter was being swarmed by customers picking up freshly smoked mussels from Maine.  I joined the fray for this seasonal treat.

Smoked mussels come preserved in cans but these need to be refrigerated and eaten soon.  They are great on a plain cracker or chopped and mixed with cream cheese and sour cream or yogurt for a quick dip. Soma sites recommend tossing them with hot pasta.  I found one more way to use them -- stirred into white bean soup they lend the smokey touch that kielbasa or other smoked meats like bacon gives to beans.

No recipe just stir in your smoked mussels once the bean soup is nice and hot. This works for freshly made or soup made from canned beans.  If you miss the dish during the winter, open a can of smoked mussels, drain most of the oil and add to hot beans.