19 August 2010

Good Grillin' : Quick-Roasted Herbed Chicken

It's approaching the tail end of grilling season -- though some of us can still be seen at the BBQ in the middle of January -- and it would be a shame to miss out on the last month or two of comfortable time on the patio, tending your grill.

I love roasting a whole chicken on the BBQ — with or without the beer can — but the time to do it means planning far ahead and being sure you've got lots of propane (one day, we're going to get a natural gas grill and the line to feed it!). So instead, I've started making split roast chicken. In about 35 minutes you can have a great full chicken for dinner. And while I normally don't advocate using dried herbs, this recipe makes great use of whatever you've got on hand. The rule for dried herbs and spices is that they should still smell like something when you open the jar they're in. If they just smell like random herbs or they all smell the same, it's time to re-stock your spice rack!

Skip the pre-split seasoned chicken in the supermarket. Those things are about as over-salted and overpriced as you can expect from pre-fab food. So instead, for about half the price, step to your right or left and pick up a standard roasting chicken.

To start, about 20 minutes before you're ready to cook, mix the following in a small bowl or glass dish:

1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
3 or 4 hearty grinds of black pepper
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil

Give it a stir and set it aside. Your dried herbs will come to life in the lemon juice and oil. If you have fresh herbs available, use them in whatever combination you like -- thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano would be great combined or on their own. Wash and dry the herbs, chop them up nice and fine, and mix them in with the other ingredients as above. Just be sure to use more rather than less!

This is a good time to preheat your grill. If you have a good big BBQ, just heat half of it. Otherwise you'll want to put all your burners on. Get it good and stinking hot to start.

Now for the chicken. Take a good set of kitchen shears, which you ought to own. Not oversized sewing scissors. Real, cut-through-just-about-anything scissors with sturdy handles and thick blades are what you need. Make sure they're clean.

Working on a cookie sheet or large cutting board, clear out the cavity of the chicken. Flip it over. Use your shears to cut through the bottom of the chicken from the open cavity through to the other end. Ta-da. You just split a chicken. Now turn it back over and flatten it onto your cookie sheet. It will look like Wil-E-Coyote succeeded at dropping an anvil onto your bird.

Take your herb mix and start spreading it over the entire chicken, rubbing it into the skin. Flip it over and put some more on the back side, ensuring you rub it into every surface and crevice. Put the bird back to be skin-side up on the sheet.

Take a roll of tinfoil and your chicken out to the grill. Turn the heat down to medium. Put the chicken skin side up on the upper rack, or over a burner that's turned off. Loosely cover it with foil, patting the foil down around it just a bit. Plunk down the lid of the BBQ and walk away for about 18 to 20 minutes.

After this 20 minutes, come out and take the foil off — it's not needed any more. Flip the chicken over, still away from the flames. Leave it another 10 minutes. Then, put the bird down over the flames - still skin side down. Turn the flame down to low. Give it no more than 5 minutes to crisp up and give you some nice grill marks. Any longer and the oil will cause it to burn. [If you feel the chicken isn't done yet, put it back on the upper rack, skin-side up.]

Transfer the chicken to a nice big cutting board or platter. Slice it up if you wish, or just hack it into quarters. This is great served al rustica with some garlic bread and corn on the cob. But really, it will go great with anything.

And hey, if you're out of propane, or it's pouring rain, this cooks up even easier in the oven. Throw the cookie sheet with the bird on it covered loosely with foil (you want to let the steam escape, but protect the skin from burning) into a preheated oven set to 350. After 30 minutes, remove the foil, then put it back in for another 15 minutes or so, until it's cooked. The skin will crisp up a bit in this time, and yet the chicken will stay nice and juicy.


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