Project Wonderful

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Smoked Chicken

It was my last day of a four day weekend and I decided that it was time to see how my new-found Craigslist smoker does with chicken.

I've already identified the design flaws in this smoker and will (one of these days) make the necessary mods to make this an award winning cooking device, but for right now, it's time to smoke some chicken!

As with most BBQ/ Smoked meat dishes, there are a billion different ways to accomplish anything. Here's the way I did it:

I made up a mix of apples, onions, limes and garlic to stuff inside the cavity of the bird. This should help to keep it moist and will add some wonderful flavor to the meat. Im also using applewood chips for the smoke, so Im hoping this will work well together. 

Here's my bird all trussed up and ready to go. I rubbed some olive oil over the skin and then sprinkled some paprika for color. 
What? You say you've never trussed up a chicken? It's really simple, actually. Chef Brian Polcyn has a fun little video that shows you how. Click the link and follow along at home. 

Applewood chips soaking in water. You could use chunks, but for a short smoke like this chicken, chips should do just fine.
ON THE SMOKE: I prepped my grill by filling the fire box with about 8 lbs of charcoal. I then put a handful of briquettes into my chimney starter (that thing in the background) and got them going, then added them to the unlit charcoal. This technique is called the Minion Method and is designed to ignite the charcoal slowly so it stays at temperature longer. You could just light them all at once and hope for the best, but you'd be replacing charcoal halfway (or more) through the process and that just seems silly. This way allows me to have a clean, even temp smoke for about 3.5 hours.

This type of smoker uses a water pan that helps to regulate the temp inside the unit. Once the coals are lit, I place the smoker body over the fire box, add the water pan and fill it with boiling water. Adding boiling water at the start prevents you from having to spend precious heat energy and time waiting to bring the water pan up to temp.

Using an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh, you're aiming for an internal temp of 175-180. However, after 3 hours, my little smoker wasnt quite hot enough to produce this, so I tossed the bird into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. This also helps crisp up the skin that smoking usually cant provide. Wrap the chicken in tin foil and let it rest for a good 10 minutes to let the juices incorporate back into the fibers of the meat.

The Verdict:

If you've never tried smoked chicken before, you really are missing out on a treat. This had a wonderful sweet smoky flavor with a hint of lime from the stuffing in the cavity. I served this with my quick roasted potato recipe along with some nice steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lime on it.  Fantastic.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

This past Spring we scavenged wood from around the neighborhood to expand the garden. Since growing anything in the soil in my area requires dynamite, raised beds are the only way to go.

This is the first time I've grown tomatillos and I was happy to see these big bushy plants producing fruit. Tomatillos (also known by some as husk tomatos) are a part of the nightshade family (just like tomatoes)  and originated in Mexico as a common ingredient in Mexican dishes. Some of the plants that I started in March were ready the other day, so I harvested a few and decided to make a salsa to top some venison backstrap I was going to prepare for dinner. 

In the jungle, the mighty jungle... Tomatillo and eggplant in the foreground, tomatoes in the middle and the vine-covered structure in the background is my gourd/ bean house. (I had an old gazebo that I wasn't using so we turned it into a growing trellis) 

Extreme measures were needed to protect my tomato and tomatillo crop from sensless bird and critter attacks. Cages, fencing, netting, and a bodyguard were all employed.

He's a little worse for wear, but Little Lurko here is always watching and protecting my crop.
Not much of a harvest, but it'll do. The tomatillos have an outer husk on them that helps to show when they are ready to be harvested. The husk grows first, then the fruit grows inside it. When the husk splits open, it's time to pick them. 
I was going to char these in the BBQ outdoors, but I chose instead to do these under the broiler in the oven. 
Just wash them, toss a few cloves of garlic and burn em till they're black and messy.  
Naturally, with charcoal you will impart an even better smoky flavor.
Believe it or not, but this is almost not cooked enough.

Here's the result of the charring. Kinda sad looking, but these little guys are flavor ninjas. Just when you think they are ruined, you taste one and it turns out to be amazing. And the flavor it imparts to salsa really makes it stand out.

Into the food processor it goes, along with some tomatoes also harvested today.

I also added a handful of basil. Traditionally cilantro would be used, but my basil plants are exploding right now, so I figured I'd use them instead.

Process this all up along with some onions, olive oil, salt and pepper and some additional garlic. (I only had four fresh cloves to roast up, so I had to break out the "emergency garlic" - a jar of pre-minced stuff from the store.

The mixture was PERFECT. In fact, it was a battle for this salsa to make it to the plate. 

And voila - breaded venison backstrap with charred tomatillo salsa. I threw a splash of balsamic on the plate just because I like the flavor. It certainly didnt hurt things!