Home on the Range
May 20, 2012
Summers, dad would barbecue chicken. Probably also sausage and steak and — later on — veggie burger for the nonconformist teen, but what sticks in memory is chicken. I didn't like it.
I liked the idea of it — of chicken sauced sticky and grilled crispy and seared sticky-crispy, best pressed directly onto a sticky-crispy face while standing barefoot in the grass, in a swimsuit, near the sprinkler.
What we got was this: burnt.
Maybe the adults considered it singed, flambe or well done but I, age 6 and opinionated, knew it was burnt. "I don't like burnt chicken," I would explain. Dad, patient, but not that patient, replied: "When you grow up, marry someone who doesn't burn the chicken."
A shocking retort.
Me? Grow up? Get married? To someone who barbecues? It was all so unlikely I shrugged and bit into the sweet smoky char.
I did grow up. And get married, though not to someone who barbecues. I learned to burn my own chicken. Face to face with leaping flame and dripping chicken I came to understand Dad's predicament: Chicken needs time to crisp. Sauce, given time, burns. The idea of saucing, then grilling, is flawed.
I decided to separate the tasks, grilling first, saucing later and searing at the last minute. The technique worked. And it's delicious. Though I wish I had Dad around, to burn it.
Prep: 20 minutes
Wait: 3 or more hours
Grill: 25 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
1 pound bone-in, skin-on drumsticks (about 5)
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (each halved again — ask the butcher — to yield about 10 chunks)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Apricot barbecue sauce (see recipe below)
Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub salt and pepper into the chicken. Cover (or tumble into ziptop bags) and chill, 2 hours to 2 days. Let chicken come to room temperature, up to 1 hour, before grilling.
Build (or spark) a medium-hot fire. Clean and lightly oil grates. Set chicken over flame and grill until golden outside and cooked through inside (165 degrees), about 12 minutes per side.
Brush chicken with sauce. Cook just long enough to sear sauce to chicken, about 1 minute per side. Enjoy, with napkins.
Sauce adapted from The New Basics cookbook.
Apricot barbecue sauce:
Combine in the food processor or blender 2 tablespoons each: soy sauce, dry white wine or sherry, finely chopped green onions, chopped garlic, chopped fresh ginger, lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup apricot jam and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Swirl smooth. Pour into a medium saucepan. Boil thick, stirring attentively, about 4 minutes.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at email@example.com.
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