Categories
American Beer Can Chicken Fusion Index Poultry Vietnamese

Beer can chicken, 7 more ways

[one_half][M]y least favorite aspect of graduate school is the process of saying goodbye. There is ceremony. Stifling tears, the departing student delivers a PowerPoint deck filled with inside jokes and parent-friendly illustrations. This is usually followed by a reception, maybe a barbecue, sometimes an evening out with friends and extended family. Then, suddenly, this person—with whom you’ve spent more time in the past several years than your own spouse—is… back at work. They continue to answer to greetings like, “You still here?” “I thought you had graduated…” or “Is it OK if I start moving my stuff into onto your bench?” After an awkward, lame-duck phase lasting from 1 – 16 months, there is another going-away party. This one doesn’t involve parents or thesis advisors. It’s in the secondary goodbye situation that you seriously begin to contemplate what your life will be like without this person.

Being a bit long in the tooth, I’ve experienced my share of goodbyes. Each time, I face the same, harsh reality: Another beer can chicken contestant out the door.

I’ll admit that I’ve had concerns about the long-term viability of our quasi-annual Battle Beer Can Chicken competition. We’ve lost countless contestants to academia, industry, civilian life… Sure, we’ve had some new blood in recent years. But I needed to find a more consistent source of food-obsessed, hyper-competitive people unlikely to have alternate 4th of July plans.

* * * * *

BATTLE BEER CAN CHICKEN IV: SCIENTISTS VS. FOOD BLOGGERS

As a pot luck organizer, my job was made criminally easy by the abrupt influx of food bloggers to our invite list. Need a legume/nut-free vegetarian non-dessert? Check. Baked goods? More than we can sensibly consume. Also cameras. Lots and lots of cameras. You’ll notice that Mrs. Babychili got a much needed break from photo duty this time around.

The question, of course, was whether my stranglehold on the coveted Golden Gob award would be more seriously threatened, given the culinary skill of this new class of contestant. That said, the scientist contingent was certainly nothing to sneeze at. Scientist/food blogger Rice and Wheat, perennially responsible for the most photogenic chicken (pictured above), competed with renewed vigor.

Also returning was BBC I silver medalist, Matt. A pure scientist and non-food-blogging entity, Matt brought a certain swagger to his game.

Overall, 5 out of our 7 cheftestants this year were food bloggers. 4 out of 7 were scientists, with Angi and me serving as dual citizens. Game on.

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GRILLING INSTRUCTIONS

As in previous years, all birds were cooked on a Classic Old Smokey Barbecue Grill (#18), which can comfortably accommodate 3 large (> 4.5 lb.) chickens or 4 smaller birds. One tweak we made this year was to mount each chicken on a trimmed pie tin, which mitigates scorching by blocking flames and preventing chicken fat from falling onto the coals. The chickens were then grilled with the lid closed, at a target temp of 350F for about 1.5 hours, depending on size. Most competitors cooked their birds to an internal temperature of 165F – 175F in the thickest part of the thigh. To maintain temperature, 10 – 12 hot coals were added to each grill at the 1 hour mark.

* * * * *

THE RECIPES

Last year, Angi brought a Korean-inspired chicken into my home, hoping to take home the gold. In the closest Battle Beer Can Chicken vote in history, I managed to “out-Korean” her entry. This year, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Shortly before the competition, Sunday Night Dinner informed me that he was bringing a Ga Ro Ti inspired chicken, based on a family recipe. My heart sank. That’s exactly what I had planned to do (except without the Vietnamese family recipe on my side). Would I be able to out-Viet a Viet?

I knew I had to do something drastic to avoid a split vote. One way was to change the marinade to be fairly unlike a traditional Ga Ro Ti. My other idea was to go over-the-top: Chicken liver pâté underneath the skin. Without going into details, I’ll tell you that pâté underneath the skin is definitely not a good idea. You’re just going to have to trust me on that one. After suffering through the worst test-chicken I’ve made to date, this is what ended up doing:

“The FauxViet,” by Babychili

A 4 – 4.5 lb, high-quality chicken
2 T kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper

The marinade:
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 T sesame oil
3 T fish sauce
2 T honey
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp ground five spice
1/4 C chili garlic sauce
juice from 2 limes
6 cloves garlic, minced
roughly the same amount of fresh ginger, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 12 oz can beer (It probably doesn’t matter, but I used a Boont Amber.)

I’m personally not a fan of the “giant chicken strategy.” Proponents of that strategy contend that a larger bird is more difficult to overcook, and will thus be more tender. In my opinion, a small-to-average-sized bird is better because there’s less of a temperature gradient from the surface down to the bone. That gives me more control over texture, which is important. The tenderness will come from both the brining step and the acid in the marinade.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper, inside and out. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Combine ingredients for the marinade and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 – 20 minutes. Pat the chicken dry again, discarding any liquid that may have oozed out of it. Using your hands, massage the chicken with a liberal amount of marinade inside and out, and underneath the skin. Put the well-rubbed chicken into a giant zippered plastic bag, and pour the rest of the marinade on top. I double-bag it at this point, and refrigerate for a day and a half, turning once.

Drink about 3/4 of the beer. Using a “church key” style can opener, punch a number of additional holes on the top of the can and liberally add marinade and juice from 1/2 of a lime. Use the other half of the lime (trimmed if necessary) to fashion a plug at the neck hole to trap steam.

Prop the chicken onto a trimmed pie tin (a beer can chicken holder helps, but is not strictly necessary). Grill @ 350F for about 1.5 hours, or until the temperature reads 170F in the thickest part of the thigh. Allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes prior to carving.

Some notes from the rest of the field:

“Chicken of My Childhood,” by Sunday Night Dinner:

The recipe is sort of here… I quadrupled the marinade for a 4.9 pound chicken, added 10 minced Thai chili peppers, injected the breasts and marinated for 36 hours, rotating every 6 hours. I didn’t get any heat after the bird was grilled, so I would use a few habaneros instead next time! 

“Hawt Chick,” by Beyond the Plate (full recipe HERE):

I was going for a spicy Southeast Asian theme and knew that I wanted to beer-brine our bird, which we bought from Jim at Pampero Ranch. M selected Hefeweizen for our beer as it was similar to the types of light lagers commonly drunk with spicy dishes back home.

To the beer we added a few stalks of cilantro, lemongrass, thick chunks of galangal and many kaffir lime leaves, in addition to the usual characters of water, salt and sugar. We ended up perfuming the whole house with the aromatic concoction that brined our bird for 18 hours.

I initially planned to prepare a spicy chili paste to marinate the chicken, but after realizing the complexity of the brine, I made a dry rub featuring coriander seed, dried chilis and pink peppercorns instead, to flavor and crisp the skin without overpowering the subtlety of the meat. After the brine and letting the bird dry out for a bit, I rubbed it all over with the spices and let it marinate for another 18 hours before setting it on the grill.

“Chicken of the Colonies” by Rice and Wheat (full recipe to be posted shortly, over at r+w):

For the 2nd year in a row, we employed the ‘giant chicken’ strategy. This year though, we were less fortunate and could only find a 5.5 lb chicken. Chicken was dry-brined for 36 hours. We then rubbed it with the marinade for african chicken (which is more like a paste) and left it for another 24 hours. Sauce was served on the side.

“Boozy Bird,” by The Tomato Tart:

My air chilled organic chicken was not brined due to a brining mishap, but I would seriously recommend dry-brining with salt and maple sugar for 36 hours. Under the skin, I stuffed the chicken with bacon, rye, and maple butter. The rub was a mixture of sea salt, mustard, onion powder, habenero powder, and muscavdo sugar—and was inside and out of the chicken. The sauce was roasted and fresh peaches blended with a can of dark beer + four oz maple syrup reduced to 6 oz of liquid, habenero powder, rye whiskey, and stone ground mustard. I started glazing the chicken about 20 minutes before it’s done time.

“Cold Smokey,” by Matt.

Started with a small, 3 lb, Mary’s chicken.  Dry brined for 1 day.  Wet brined for 1 day.  Cold smoked at 70F for 4 hours using apple and hickory wood.  The bird sat on a block of ice throughout, so that internal temperature was maintained at less than  50F during the smoking process.  Cooked on grill with patriotic Budweiser beer can providing wetness (“The essence of beauty,” DZ, 2001).  Finished by soaking the chicken in an Alabama style white BBQ sauce – mayo, vinegar, horseradish, lemon, spices.

“Asian Street Chicken,” by Holly.

The chicken was dry brined overnight. I made a marinade consisting of a mixture of vegetable oil, soy sauce, five spice powder, turmeric, fresh garlic, fresh ginger, fresh lemongrass, salt and star anise.  Half of the marinade was applied to the chicken overnight, the other half was used to make the glaze.  Glaze: I strained the marinade and added honey, sugar and rice wine vinegar, and reduced until syrupy.  The glaze was brushed on the chicken during and after grilling.  Soy-lime dipping sauce: soy sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, jalapeno.

THE OUTCOME

Yay Science!
—Jesse Pinkman

OK, so maybe home-court advantage is beginning to be a little on the unfair side. I will say this: Either Holly and Matt should be writing food blogs, or the rest of the food bloggers need to seriously step it up for Battle Beer Can Chicken V! Scientists claimed the top three spots, with Holly being just a couple ballots away from stealing this one.

In the meantime, much to my wife’s chagrin, The George Oscar Bluth II Golden Chicken Award will remain on our mantle for one more year.

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(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

(photo: danielle @BeyondPlate)

(photo: danielle @BeyondPlate)

(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

(photo: sabrina @thetomatotart)

(photo: danielle @BeyondPlate)

(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

(photo: angi @riceandwheat)

The “prize.”

My filthy hands. (photo: jun @JunBelen)

Nathan’s filthier hands. (photo: elaine @e_eats)

Spectators. (photo: chuck @chuck415)

Closest I got to a picture of The Baking Barrister. (photo: sabrina @thetomatotart)

Number three. (photo: angi @riceandwheat)

Largemouth bass. (photo: jun @JunBelen)

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Categories
Fusion Index Italian Japanese Pescatarian

Translations

[one_half][T]here is perhaps no context in which package copy could be as fascinating to me as it is when I’m browsing the aisles of an Asian grocery. Examples are sufficiently numerous to fill books, but one that has always stayed with me is the seductive teaser that graces the packaging of my all-time favorite candy, Kasugai Muscat Gummy:

Its translucent color so alluring and taste and aroma so gentle and mellow offer admiring feelings of a graceful lady. Enjoy soft and juicy Kasugai Muscat Gummy.

This epigram unironically makes me wish that I could speak Japanese, so I could pinpoint the exact moment the car missed its exit and wound up at, quite frankly, a much more interesting place than it had originally intended to be.

Less commonly, we are treated with what I might call an inverse translation. That is, a translation that undergoes a round trip back to its original language. Of course, translations are not perfectly invertible, so the resulting text is subject to not one, but two transformations. Such was the case with Madonna’s 1996 interview with Budapest newspaper, Blikk. The interview was conducted in English, translated into Hungarian, and then, at the behest of USA Today, translated back to English. Sadly, the USA Today excerpts are unavailable, so we are left with Garry Trudeau’s hilarious re-imagining of said interview. A sample, for those who missed it at first go-around:

Blikk: Madonna, let’s cut toward the hunt: Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?

Madonna: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discotheque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.

You get the idea. The serendipity of words gained in translation. I somehow could not shake the thought of Madonna’s brilliant Blikk interview during a recent meal at Halu, a ramen/yakitori shop in the heart of the Richmond. The friends who had recommended this restaurant to us warned that we were not, under any circumstances, to neglect the pizza. They were, of course, referring to okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish that’s more akin to a savory pancake, or a Korean jeon. At some point, this got translated as “pizza,” presumably because it is often sliced into pie-shaped wedges. Entertaining the unlikely idea that this was Japan’s take on a classic Neopolitan pie, I was compelled to devise an inverse translation: What about an Italian okonomiyaki? If perfectly invertible, one might arrive at a pizza margherita. But where would be the fun in that? Instead, my aim was to construct a dish with the same look and feel of an okonomiyaki, but with Italian-inspired ingredients and flavors.

MY BASTARD STEPCHILD

The concept. There were two main things I wanted to change about the “crust,” or the base. First, I seasoned the batter with anchovies instead of dashi. This gives the crust a flavor reminiscent of a cuddura patteda. Second, a classic okonomiyaki batter contains shredded cabbage. I opted to use radicchio—more specifically, a radicchio salad. A lesser offense is my use of shredded potato instead of nagaimo. This is a fairly common substitution, one that makes this recipe easier to shop for, and let’s face it … mine isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, anyway.

The topping is the fantastic shredded radicchio salad from the Zuni Café Cookbook. Typically, okonomiyaki is garnished with a zig-zagged squirt of kewpie mayonniase. I accomplished a similar visual effect by using Béchamel sauce.

A note on anchovies. I am officially in love with salt-packed anchovies. The flavor is incomparable to the oil-packed variety found in flat tins (which, incidentally, I also like). They are a bit more difficult to find, so you may want to buy them online. Also, they require more handling: Before using, soak a small batch of the anchovies in cold water for 15 – 20 minutes, then remove fins and backbone. Transfer remaining salt-packed fish to an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

A note to the lazy. Honestly? I didn’t bother soaking these. I cut off the fins and chopped them up, bones and all. I used this instead of adding more salt. If I were eating these whole, e.g., over a salad, I would do it the long way. But in this case, I honestly don’t think it makes a difference.

The preparation. First, make the Béchamel sauce. This can be done a day in advance. You want to allow it sufficient time to cool, as it may be too runny otherwise. Note that Batali’s recipe makes 3 cups of sauce. We are using it for a garnish, so may want to scale it down or find another use for the rest of the sauce.

Next, make the shredded radicchio salad, as it is needed for both the crust and the topping. If desired, reserve breadcrumbs and sieved egg until after making the crust. The salad wilts considerably after an hour or two. This isn’t a tragedy, since part of it is being cooked. But it’s best to make this shortly before making the crust. If you also want to serve this as a straight-up salad, reserve some to dress immediately prior to serving.

Babychili’s Italian Okonomiyaki (or Italian-Japanese-Italian pizza)
adapted from Okonomiyaki World

grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 C all purpose flour
2/3 C ice cold water
2 eggs
1/4 C grated russet potato
About 3 tsp salt-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped

Zuni Café shredded radicchio salad
Béchamel sauce

Cover the surface of a cast-iron skillet or griddle with a liberal pour of oil and place over medium heat. Combine flour, water, eggs, potato, and anchovy in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir until just smooth. Add about 1 1/2 C of the salad and mix until evenly coated. Test the batter by frying a small (coin-sized) sample. Adjust seasoning with anchovy (and/or salt, fish sauce), if desired. Ladle batter into the skillet and flatten to a pancake to about 1.5 cm in uniform thickness. You have a minute or so to add more batter if needed, or tuck in the edges with a spoon to make a nice-looking circle. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown.  At that point, flip the pancake and cook for another 2 – 4 minutes until done.

Blot with paper towels, if desired. Dress with the shredded radicchio salad as a topping, being sure to include the toasted bread crumbs and sieved, hardboiled egg. Pan-crisped pancetta might also be nice here. Drizzle with Béchamel sauce and serve immediately.

Further notes. For crisp pancakes, use ice-cold water and eggs for the batter. The side that gets cooked first will be smoother and more even-looking. I tend to place this side face-up when serving. Finally, these are best when served, as much as possible, hot from the pan. If the pancakes must be reheated, this is best done in a skillet as opposed to a microwave.

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Categories
Desserts Dinner Party Fusion Index Meats Poultry Soups Vegetarian Vietnamese

Mother Peach

[one_half][L]ost in my incessant praise for David Chang has been a quiet appreciation for the deft hand of Tien Ho, former chef de cuisine at Ssäm Bar. Erin and I recently traveled to New York together for the first time in years, ostensibly to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. That we might also sample as much food as humanly possible from the Momofuku empire was, of course, a serendipitous byproduct. Giddy as we were about sampling the litany of dishes that brought fame to The House That Chang Built, the highlight of our tour emerged from a place we least expected: an understated lunch at Má Pêche, where Ho is currently chef and co-owner.

A tidy summer roll mating grilled pork cake with a narrow breadstick sported measured contrasts in temperature and crunch, an interplay we’d come to expect from Ho’s Ssäm Bar lineage. The prix fixe also starred an exceptional cold-smoked chicken, striking our palates with richness and stealthy precision. Our meal was punctuated by miniature bricks of cereal milk panna cotta and Chang’s version of culinary crack. An elegant meal with simple flavors and a keen eye to balancing sweet, bitter and tart.

Is Má Pêche the best restaurant in Midtown? Probably, no. But the 60 minutes we spent there were, for us, unthinkable luxury. There we were, in this city we knew like a college roommate, our daughter in capable, loving, 3000-miles-away hands. A quiet meal in the middle of a workweek that wasn’t, with no appointments to keep and no place in particular to be. It was the briefest taste of a life we’d had, one that we’ve mourned losing, while acknowledging the bleary-eyed exhilaration that comes with having lost it.

So when tasked to create a “Luxury Dinner Party” menu, I devised a home cook’s tribute to Tien Ho, inviting dear friends (and Mission Bay It Couple) Caleb and Akua. This is what we ate.

* * * * *
FRIED PICKLES

This course is perhaps more Noodle Bar than Má Pêche, and was inspired in large part by a wonderful post by Kelly at The Meaning of Pie. I’ve always adored fried pickles, and was struck by the use of panko to enhance the difference between the dry and wet varieties of crunch. My contribution to this dish was the replacement of kosher dill pickles with an assortment of Asian pickles—something I’ve been curious about, but have never seen done. I used thinly sliced takuan and two different types of kimchi: baechu (napa cabbage) and oi sobagi (stuffed kirby cukes). I also used pickled shiitake mushrooms, made with a recipe from Momofuku.

To more easily appreciate the effects of deep-frying, I also plated raw versions of these pickles. I served two dipping sauces: a “ghetto salad dressing” (mayo mixed with a splash of soy sauce) and a “ghetto rouille” (mayo mixed with a squirt of sriracha). My mayonnaise of choice was Japanese kewpie.

Notes I would definitely make this again. The deep-frying mellows out the heat and raw garlic of the kimchi, as well as the saltiness of the pickled shiitakes. A high-sided, cast iron saucepan is a convenient and economical tool for deep frying small portions of food while minimizing splash. Lead time here is minimal. The pickled shiitakes are optimal if made a week in advance, but perfectly delicious when eaten immediately.

Wine opened Franck Bonville “Brut Selection” Blanc de Blancs Champagne. For the early portion of this menu, I was looking for a beverage with crispness and acid to cut the oil from the deep-fried dish and the rich terrines that would follow. A sparkling wine made sense to me, and this Champagne was an economical and well-received choice.

Music cued Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, Guided by Voices.

* * * * *

BÁNH MÌ CLUB

A bánh mì sandwich was the anchor point for my menu. For starving graduate students such as myself, the $2.50 bánh mì is a dietary staple and gustatory wonder. Classically, it consists of an airy baguette made with both rice and wheat flour, toasted, spread with mayonnaise and topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeno, and (typically) a mix of terrines. As was the case with my bo ssäm post, I was compelled to make this dish after reading asian jewish deli’s assessment of it. Like Phong, I was completely taken with the pickled daikon radish. I had always thought of daikon as the boring, bland stepsister of the Korean mu radish. But cured with Momofuku’s vinegar pickle master brine, it brightens inordinately, revealing an astonishing amount of fragrance and verve.

It’s always a risky choice to mess with perfection, but I felt that taking some minor liberties with Tien Ho’s masterful interpretation of this sandwich (from Momofuku) was necessary to incorporate it into a five course meal. My key modification was to to make this sandwich a miniature triple-decker, using pan-grilled toast made from a loaf of sour batard from Acme. I also added some parma prosciutto, crisped in an oiled skillet, to mimic the bacon element of a more traditional club sandwich.

A note on portion size Even a small sandwich (as pictured here) is tremendously filling, particularly in the context of a multicourse meal. I presented it this way to accommodate the notorious appetite of a 6’4″, 205 lb, basketball-playing scientist. For mortals, I recommend a single tower, using toast points roughly 2″ square.

Preparation As is the case with the pickled shiitakes, both the daikon and carrot pickles benefit from a week of curing. In a pinch, however, overnight is better than nothing. The sandwich contains both a chicken liver terrine and ham terrine, which need to be made at least a day in advance. I advise also taking into account the amount of time it takes to locate 4 lbs of fresh ham. In San Francisco, it’s not so difficult. Often only available during the holidays elsewhere. Terrines and pickle recipes can also be found in Momofuku.

* * * * *

PEACH GAZPACHO

My favorite course of the evening served three purposes. First, as a nominal salutation to Má Pêche (“mother peach”) and Momofuku (“lucky peach”). Second, to bid a fond farewell to this year’s peach season, which was extraordinary. And functionally, I wanted to give my guests a breather from the assaulting richness of the surrounding courses. I managed to scavenge the last gasp of peaches last week from the Kashiwase Farms fruit stand, home to the most remarkable stone fruit ever to have crossed my jaded taste buds. I got about a dozen, cherry-picking the best 3 for my soup. This dish was cribbed directly from Daniel Humm’s Go-To-Dish segment on Chow’s fantastic new series. Humm’s soup is predictably stunning.

Notes Child’s play to execute, but really demands exceptional peaches. If your peaches are crunchy, mealy, or odorless, don’t try it.

Wine opened 2007 Vigneau-Chevreau “Cuvée Silex” Vouvray Sec. This dry chenin blanc was originally selected to pair with the next dish. The lady being dry, and the Vouvray being a rather promiscuous partner, we opened it. It worked surprisingly well with the creaminess of this soup.

Music cued Quarantine the Past, Pavement.

* * * * *

GA RO TI

I would have loved to replicate that smoked chicken I had at Má Pêche, but adding a cold-smoking step to my prep list was just not in the cards this time. I did feel that, given careful management of portion size in this menu, chicken was the correct protein for this course. Not excessively heavy, and in no danger of disappearing among its counterparts. I was looking for something simple and bold, and looked no further than this traditional Vietnamese roast chicken. Like The Ravenous Couple, I opted for cornish hens, a longtime favorite of Erin’s. I served halves of the cornish hen, seared off in a cast-iron skillet and drizzled with a pan gravy described as Dipping Sauce in the referenced post.

I did choose to serve this with tomato rice, forgoing the fried egg and adding a liberal punch of ground sumac, a tip I picked up from fellow blogger Jean at Lemons and Anchovies. The sumac provides acid, aroma and texture to the rice, and takes the dish very slightly to the left of faithful. I hesitated to include the rice, thinking that adding a starch might be  bit much for an already loaded menu. However, this is definitely one of those cases where it’s better to cut portions than courses. The tomato rice was an unqualified hit, devoured by Caleb and reminiscent of jollof rice from Akua’s native Ghana.

Notes The halved birds can be cooked in advance and held at room temperature until the final sear. In the interest of accuracy, I used a mixture of white and black pepper in the marinade, as the recipe specified. I’ve since concluded that I dislike white pepper, whose aroma tends to unpleasantly dominate anything I have seasoned with it. I am apparently not alone in this opinion. I recommend sticking with black pepper (preferably tellicherry). I used the same master brine from Course 2 to make the pickled beets that I’ve shown on the plate. In retrospect, the beets look exactly like takuan, and I may opt for a different color next time.

Music cued High Violet, The National.

* * * * *

LEMONGRASS GRANITA

To finish, I wanted something both refreshing and fragrant, and had in mind a sorbet or granita made with lemongrass. I adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

3 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer leaves discarded and root ends trimmed
3 C water
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
juice from 1 lime

Trim lemongrass stalks of tougher, dried portions and thinly slice. Simmer sliced lemongrass in water, covered, for 5 minutes. Add mint and simmer, uncovered, for about a minute. Remove  from heat and add sugar, salt and lime, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Purée mixture and strain through a chinois, discarding solids. Correct for salt and lime. Chill the filtrate, covered, until cold (this can be done quickly by immersing your mixing bowl in icewater) and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

Notes This dish can be served immediately as a sorbet. If held in the freezer, its texture will become more crystalline, allowing it to be served in the form of a granita. Garnish with a mint or basil leaf, if desired. The aromatic components of this dish are volatile, so it is best consumed within 1 – 2 days.

* * * * *

As if on cue, Esme arrived from a classmate’s birthday party shortly after we finished dessert. Our luxurious dinner came to a close, and we stood, rapt, as our daughter regaled us with tales of princess outfits, bouncy houses, and cake.

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Categories
Beer Can Chicken Chinese Fusion Index Korean Poultry Vietnamese

Beer can chicken, 6 ways

[one_half][M]y goodness, has it really been that long since July 4?  That would have been the date of our 3rd quasi-annual Battle Beer Can Chicken Competition, held at the frozen tundra (otherwise known as “The Inner Sunset”) where Chez Babychili can be found. And for the record, pictured above is the second-best chicken I tasted this year (sorry, @riceandwheat! 🙂 ).

Battle Beer Can Chicken (BBC) was, in many ways, the inevitable outcome of gathering a bunch of socially awkward, Type A science geeks at a backyard BBQ. As the organizer, I quickly realized the following things about my labmates:

  1. We tend to take after our socially awkward, hyper-competitive, lead geek (otherwise known as our “thesis advisor”) .
  2. We have an unusually high percentage of people who could be described (for better or for worse) as “foodies.”
  3. We likely had no other plans for July 4. (Lab, anyone?)

I had always been interested in attempting a beer can chicken, so I began campaigning early for a collective, one-day work stoppage to hold this food contest. Due to above realizations, this was not a tough sell. It just made so much sense. I mean, we all love food, right? Why not try to channel that love toward an activity of mutual annihilation? The rules were fairly simple: Bring, dress, and carve your own chicken. It must be cooked on the grill with a beer can in its cavity. Popular vote decides the winner. To up the stakes, I assembled a mantle-worthy traveling trophy out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, a rubber chicken, metallic gold spray paint, and glue. The prize was dubbed “The Golden Gob,” in honor of Will Arnett’s character on the greatest show ever to be cancelled by Fox.

The inaugural BBC was a smashing success, with 8 competitors representing 3 countries. One particularly enthusiastic German (whom I will only refer to as “Mr. F”) entered not one, but two birds for consideration. My wife, just to make us look bad, made a Zuni chicken in the oven. The recipes also spanned the globe, including a Tandoori-style chicken and a black tea dry rub. I personally entered a take on pollo a la brasa, inspired by the signature dish of New York City’s Flor de Mayo. The only mildly awkward thing about the whole affair was that I, uh … won my own contest and trophy. I felt a bit like Stephen Colbert accepting applause on behalf of his interview guests. But I graciously accepted the award with an appropriate degree of humility.

A couple years passed between the first and second installments of BBC. In 2007, Esme was born. And in 2008—well, dealing with a 1-year-old’s nap schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But by 2009, I had run out of excuses. The Golden Gob was to go up for grabs once again. And alas, it fell to foreign hands, as the diabolical Dr. H became the first Austrian national to take home the vaunted prize with a chicken he describes as simply, “The Bruno.”

Confused, disappointed, and frankly a little embarrassed, I immediately began plotting my revenge. The anticipation reached a fever pitch with this year’s BBC III, as official entries rolled in from defending champ Dr. H and foodblogging juggernaut Rice and Wheat, who had previously ghost-written recipes for her husband (“Wheat?”) that were good enough for 3rd and 2nd place in the first two competitions. Game on.

Both Dr. H and r+w employed what we refer to as the “giant chicken” strategy, which is simply: Use the largest bird you can find. According to this school of thought,  larger birds will be juicier when done. Also, if grill space is shared with a less attentive competitor, a smaller bird may dry out if not removed early. Indeed, r+w’s entry (described by one onlooker as “Gigantor”) weighed in at a whopping 6.5 lbs, requiring a beer can reminiscent of a pony keg to hold it up. And this time, the two heavyweights went on the grill together.

The remaining entries were all in the neighborhood of 4 – 4.5 lbs. Asian flavors dominated this year, with 4 out of the 6 entries sporting flavors from our planet’s largest continent.

Equipment I cannot say enough good things about the Classic Old Smokey Barbecue Grill (#18), which we used to cook all 6 chickens. What makes this particular make and model ideal for this competition is its 10.5″ of clearance above the grill, which accommodates vertical placement of virtually any chicken we are likely to use. Because the lid is cylindrical (rather than domed), you get this amount of clearance regardless of the lateral position on the grill.

I mocked my friend Reid for bringing a wire beer can chicken holder. Normally, a chicken should be able to stand up with its legs and can in classic, tripod formation. However, I quickly ate my words when I realized that my marination strategy had left my chicken too floppy to be free-standing. Reid was kind enough to let me use the holder, which I now grudgingly recommend.

Grilling instructions None of us is an expert at barbecue, so we worked together to share grill master duties. Though a proper beer can chicken calls for indirect heat, we knew we had to get 6 birds out by lunch, so we put 3 each on 2 grills, which covers much of the usable surface. That’s worked well for us in the past. The target temperature for the grill was 350F. At this temperature, a 4.5 lb bird takes about an hour and a half to cook (with the larger ones taking about 2 hours). You can go as low as 250F, but it takes longer. Fresh coals were added at the one hour mark. Doneness was determined by each individual, but the consensus temperature was about 170 – 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

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THE RECIPES

As you might imagine, I can provide the most detailed information about my own entry, which was called “I wish I were short ribs.” It is essentially my sister’s homemade kalbi marinade, which I once used on my weekly oven roast chicken because I had a lot of the marinade around.

“I wish I were short ribs,” a kalbi-style beer can chicken

A 4 – 4.5 lb, high-quality chicken
1/2 onion
1/4 C Chinese or Korean rice wine
2 T brown sugar
1/4 C usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 T dark sesame oil
dash of fish sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
togarashi (Japanese red chili flakes) to taste
1/4 whole, ripe kiwi
kosher salt
1 lemon
1 can beer (it matters not what kind)

Let me know if I’m crazy, but I dry brined and then followed with the marination. Could I have simply added salt to my marinade? Possibly. But I wasn’t sure how much to add, and I knew that my way would work. So I patted the chicken down with paper towels and rubbed about 1.5 T of salt inside and out. I let it sit in the fridge, loosely covered, for 2 days.

To make the marinade, puree onion and mix with rice wine. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar with soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Stir into onion-wine mixture. Add fresh crushed garlic and togarashi to your liking. Mix well.

Then take 1/4 of a whole, ripe kiwi. Mash with a fork, and stir vigorously with 1/2 cup of the marinade. Using your hands, massage this kiwi-marinade mixture all over the chicken, being sure to put plenty underneath the skin. Put the well-rubbed chicken into a giant zippered plastic bag, and pour the rest of the marinade on top. Refrigerate 24 hours, turning once.

The kiwi will make the chicken extremely floppy and tender, so it does help to have a wire beer can chicken holder. Drink about 3/4 of the beer. Using a “church key” style can opener, punch a number of additional holes on the top of the can and liberally add marinade and juice from 1/2 of a lemon. Use the other half of the lemon (trimmed if necessary) to fashion a plug at the neck hole to trap steam.

Grill @ 350F over indirect heat for about 1.5 hours, or until the temperature reads 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

Some notes from the rest of the field:

“Bruno 2.0: Bigger, juicier, tastier …” [pictured above]

Ok, here it comes:
dry rubbed the night before (not brined) with the following spices:
sweet paprika
some salt
some celery salt
garlic powder
onion powder
white pepper
ginger powder
black pepper
caraway
cayenne pepper

full recipe ( in German :-)) with a not so tasty picture here

“Chicken 888”

We wet brined / marinated for ~5 hours the day before in water, sugar,
salt, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, and chinese five spice.
We then air dried it overnight on a rack in the fridge. In addition to
beer our can was packed ~1/3 full of garlic.

“Imitation Seoul” [pictured at the top of this post]

i’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats…

dry-brined for 36 hours with salt and korean chili powder
morning of BBC, brushed chicken with gochujang
made bbq sauce consisting of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochujang, rice vingear
towards the end of grilling, basted chicken with some bbq sauce to get some caramelization on the skin

we also adopted the strategy  (a la dr. h) of finding the largest chicken we could – our dream was realized at trader joe’s with a 6.5 lb chicken.

“Pho-king Good Chicken”

My chicken was just a super simple marinade with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil. Inspired by grilled chicken you get at Vietnamese restaurants (ga nuong). I think the recipe I followed was from Andrea Nguyen. Other than that, I didn’t really do much to the chicken.. and I didn’t cheat by getting a giant bird 🙂

“DNF” [Disqualified in advance for pre-cooking in an electric smoker.]

Are you speaking of my famous “Unjustifiably Disqualified Chicken”?

Brined overnight in liquid
Dry rubbed with a blend of every spice I could find (emphasis on Adobo, and some dried peppers I collected in Oaxaca in 1999)
Smoked 1 hour at low heat (200ish)
Beer can BBQ’ed 1 hour
Finished with a secret bitterness sauce!

* * * * *

THE OUTCOME

Since this is a popular vote, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is virtually zero chance of my winning this again next year. But what can I say? Revenge is a dish best served with a beer can up its butt. I think everyone agreed that all of the chickens were absolutely delicious. Not a dud in the bunch. The voting reflected that, as r+w and I required a tiebreaker (most #1 votes) to determine a winner by the smallest of margins. The auspicious “Chicken 888” rounded out the medalists.
I’m already looking forward to BBC IV, and hope to see everyone here again next year!

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Oh, and we also ate vegetables.[/one_half]
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chicken dance
sweet, sweet victory

vegetables on stovetop grill
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Categories
Fusion Index Japanese Meats

Sunday Dinner, Part II: Coke-braised pork shoulder

[one_half][I]t’s been a long time since I’ve regularly read The Onion. But when thinking about this post, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the numerous Coca-Cola-related articles I’ve read over the years. Particularly considering that the beverage happens only to be available at my local grocery store in an unwieldy size. Given my directive to avoid feeding the family junk, was I really doing anyone a favor by acquiring multiple liters of high-fructose-corn-syrup-water? Believe it or not, I actually grew up in a household where sugared soda of all kinds was, in all practical terms, in infinite abundance. My father was once a minister of a Korean church, which (if you lived in LA) meant that as a family we received odd gifts from the congregation in astoundingly vast excess. Around the holidays, it wasn’t uncommon for our family (of four) to take physical delivery of several crates of apples, mackerel, funeral flower arrangements, or whatever a religious small business owner might have on hand. There were several deacons who owned convenience stores, so we regularly had cases of soda stacked about ten high in our basement. And not just the regular stuff. My favorites were Cactus Cooler, Mexicola, and a long since decommissioned apple soda called Aspen. To top things off, my mother (who is, shockingly, somewhat of a bargain enthusiast) always bought soda. Give her a double-coupon and a $0.05 net price on two liters of 7 UP, and it was against her principles not to buy it. We were, of course, discouraged from drinking it. To this day, my non-soda-drinking mother always has cans of 7 UP and Diet Hansen’s in her second refrigerator, along with her kimchee, bulk greens, and the occasional entire pumpkin pie from Costco.

So when my sister mentioned the existence of a coke-braised pork, it sounded … magical. I’m uncertain on the origins of this dish, but we first learned of it from a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit in 2004. What struck me about the Bon Appetit recipe was that it differed quite a bit from my expectations. For some reason, when I heard, “coke-braised pork,” I instantly thought shoulder, and not the country-style ribs called for in the recipe. Also, when I read ginger and green onions, I immediately assumed that the dish would be spicy, since that’s the type of food I tend to associate with those flavors. But there wasn’t the least bit of heat, despite the fresh ginger. Nonetheless, the dish as is compels me to pour it over rice and drink whatever broth remains. But ultimately, I still wanted to make a dream coke pork. My coke pork. So I put together what I’ve learned about braising and took a stab at it. The results may be habit-forming.

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Coke-braised pork shoulder

4 lbs pork shoulder (I used a boneless Boston butt, but I think a picnic shoulder would also be great)
kosher or sea salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper (buy 2 or 3 to make sure you get a spicy one), trimmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 T vegetable oil
2 C of non-diet cola (Caffeine-free Coke may have less bitterness, but I used Classic)
1/4 C soy sauce
about 1 ounce of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
about 2 lbs daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 bunch of green onions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
freshly cracked black pepper

Preparing the pork  Could I, in good conscience, advise you to braise a piece of meat without salting it down first? Of course not. When it comes to things like this, my experience tells me that Judy Rodgers knows what the heck she’s talking about. The pre-treatment of the pork shoulder that I prescribe here is similar to what she calls for in her “mock porchetta.” First, trim any obviously thick chunks of fat from the pork. This may sound counterintuitive coming from me, but trust me that there is plenty of  fat in this dish. What you want is to prevent too much melted fat from accumulating in the pan in the subsequent browning step. As it turns out, there were actually very few chunks of fat in the cut of meat I bought, so it may be worth watching your butcher to ensure that you’re not paying for a lot of weight in solid fat.

Next, unfurl the meat into a continuous, branched strip. This is done by carefully separating the muscles along their natural seams with the tip of a knife and your hands. The goal here is to generate more surface area for your seasoning, but you don’t want to cut the meat into separate pieces. Rub the unfolded meat evenly with 1/2 tsp of salt per pound. Spread the garlic and jalapeno pepper on all surfaces of the pork, as well. You may wish to use more of either. If you know me very well, you can see that I really checked myself on the garlic (“The ketchup of intellectuals”). The amount of jalapeno is also your call. I always taste a small piece before using it. It should deliver a distinct kick of heat in the back of your throat, but sometimes it tastes like nothing. So it’s good to have backup—you could also use a (hotter) serrano chile, if you prefer. When I made this, I used 1/2 of a spicy jalapeno. I ended up with meat that definitely tasted of jalapeno, but wasn’t very spicy. I’ll add more in the future.

Finally, reassemble the meat into its original shape. Tie it tightly and uniformly with 5 – 6 pieces of 16-ply cotton string, with at least one long piece tied around the length of the pork. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 1 – 3 days.

Browning the meat This step takes approximately 15 minutes. Add oil to a skillet or dutch oven and gently brown the pork over medium heat, evenly and on all sides and ends. I use large, slotted spoons or turners to rotate the meat. I don’t like using tongs because they tend to tear things. I also don’t use forks for this, because they pierce the meat and cause fluid loss. It’s important to avoid scorching the meat. Trim any pieces that are overly browned.

Assembling the braise Preheat the oven to 325. Remove meat from the pan and discard all but about 2 T of drippings. Add coke and soy sauce to the pan and deglaze. If you used a dutch oven to brown, put the meat right back in. Otherwise, you could transfer everything to a large, earthenware baking dish. Add the ginger and surround the meat with daikon radish, crowding the vessel. If you’ve used a dutch oven or sauce pan, bring to a simmer on the range. Otherwise, add 30 minutes to total cooking time below.

On the daikon radish: I’ve found that radishes of this variety can truly transform both themselves and the braise. I actually prefer to use Korean radishes (mu), but suggest daikon since they are generally more available. Particularly, fresh daikon radishes are much easier to find than fresh mu. When selecting the daikon, choose firm, unsprouted radishes, and generally take the smaller ones. Incidentally, other vegetables would also do quite well in this braise—for example, carrots, onions and parsnips. But I would definitely include asian radishes in the mix.

Braising the meat Transfer vessel to the oven and cover tightly (with foil, then the lid). After about 2 hours, turn and check for doneness. Check again about every 1/2 hour until the meat is fork tender. In my case, it took a total of 3 hours, starting from a simmer.

Finishing the sauce and serving Remove the pan/dish from the oven and raise the heat to 450. Remove the meat and set aside. Remove vegetables and set aside. Thoroughly skim fat from the remaining liquid, and strain. Bring braising liquid to a low boil. Taste and reduce, if desired. Correct seasoning with salt and black pepper. Add green onions, cooking until tender but still bright green. Return the meat to the oven and brown for 10 minutes, until nicely glazed. Recombine meat, braising liquids and vegetables. Serve with rice.

Note that this dish, as most braises, tastes even better when it has been cooled and reheated at 300 (which happens faster if you bring to a low simmer while you are preheating the oven).

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And one more picture taken by my talented wife. Nicely shows off the effect of the final glaze. See you next week!

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cutting strings off of pork

braised daikon

braising liquid and scallions

coke braised pork

coke braised pork

pouring grave over coke braised pork
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