Friday, June 20, 2008

First, you start with a chicken...

I do most of the cooking in our house, and have done so ever since I met my wife, so I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who complain about not having the time to cook. I don't think it's ever impossible to find the time, but as my family has grown, I've found that my time has shrunk.
I mean, before we had kids, I had all the time in the world to cook, and I can definitely remember times when we ate pretty late, since I could afford to think about cooking things that were more involved. Even after we had kids, it wasn't really until the kids started having evening activities (gymnastics, horseback riding, the pool...) that I got cramped for time. Add in the natural pickiness of kids, which turns dinner into a crap shoot sometimes (I mean seriously, the things kids won't eat is amazing, and I could easily turn this into a boring post about kids and the mysteries of their dislikes), and I can come around to the idea of quick and easy meals.

So, that's the perfect segue to lead into the subject for this post, chicken. What I want to do is show how I try to make dinner a little easier and faster in our house, and I hope to show this by doing a chicken in 3 stages. The first stage is today, hence the title of this post.

One of the great merits of chicken is its simplicity and versatility. Off the top of my head, I think you can grill it, roast it, cut it up and bake it, fry it, and a bunch of other things. For today, since I'm trying to be fast, I decided to butterfly and grill my chicken.

1. I took the chicken below, and removed the insides:

2. Then, I cut along one side of the backbone...

3. And then down the other to remove the back bone, which goes in the same bag with the "inside stuff" for later.

4. Then I took my chef's knife, and split the breast bone to "butterfly" the chicken:

5. Since I was grilling it, I decided to rub the bird down with some achiote seasoning I got in the Hispanic section of the grocery. (That's why the bird is orange in this pic).

6. Then I went to the pool, because my youngest always wants to go to the pool.

7. After I got back from the pool, I fired up the grill, and seared the breast side over a high heat for about 4 minutes or so, just to brown the skin. Then I turned off two of the burners, moved the chicken so that it would cook indirectly, and covered the grill. 40-45 minutes later, it 's done once a thermometer registers 165deg in the breast (180 in the dark meat).

8. While that was cooking, I made some easy sides, rice and some zucchini.
For the zucchini, I cut it lengthwise into 1/4" slices (or thereabouts), and sliced some onions, and then tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I grilled them on the grill for a couple minutes per side, and then mixed it all together, like so:

So there you go. An easy chicken recipe, plus rice and green veg, all in less than hour (roughly), and with not a whole lot of cleanup, since everything except the rice went on the grill.
And this is the remains of the day

Here are the formal recipes:

Grilled butterflied chicken:
3 1/2 - 4 lb whole chicken
achiote seasoning (or coarse salt and freshly ground pepper)

Remove the giblets and neck, and rinse the chicken inside and out under water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Butterfly the chicken by cutting along one side of the backbone, and then the other (to remove the backbone), and then using the tip of your chef's knife (or some other heavy sharp knife), split the breastbone (but do not cut all the way the through). Turn over the chicken and press down on the chicken to flatten. Rub all over with the seasoning of your choice. If using charcoal, build a fire on one side of the grill, and wait until coals are ready (white). If using gas, turn heat to high on all burners until grill is hot, and then clean grill with grill brush, and brush grill with an oily paper towel (using tongs). Sear chicken, breast side down, over hot part of grill until skin is browned. If using gas, turn off two burners, move chicken to that side, and cover grill. If using charcoal, move chicken to the side of the grill without coals, and cover the grill. Temperature should be 375-400deg. The chicken will be done when a thermometer registers 165deg in the breast, 180deg in the thigh.

1 cup white rice
2 cups water

Combine water and rice in a saucepan, and heat water to boiling. Reduce heat to lower, cover, and cook for 25 minutes. Season to taste.

Grilled Zucchini and Onions:
2-3 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/8-1/4" slices
1/2 white onion, sliced into 3/8" slices
olive oil
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Using toothpicks (or skewers), skewer onion slices so that they stay together during grilling.
Drizzle zucchini and onions with olive oil in a bowl, and toss gently to cover. Season with salt and pepper. (It's important to be somewhat liberal with the salt, and to use coarse salt, not table salt, or the texture won't be right).
On a hot grill (over all burners on a gas grill set to high, or the hot part of a charcoal grill), lay zucchini slices and onion slices. Grill on each side for 2-4 minutes, or until a good set of grill marks is on both sides, and the zucchini is tender, and the onions are still slightly crunchy.
Remove the vegetables from the grill, and combine onion and zucchini in a bowl, after removing toothpicks from the onions. Using a knife, cut up zucchini and onions into smaller chunks.

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