Life, Chicken & Potatoes

April 10, 2009

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
~Mae West

Food and friends, past and present, in chronology.

pho-bi-a, n. a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. [1780-1790; extracted from nouns ending in -PHOBIA]

My amigo soulmate of years ago, Joe, died suddenly and unexpectedly at a much too young age. It was a spirit-shattering, life-bending, scarring tragedy for all of us who adored him. An eternal gut punch. So many things sadly unsaid and experiences lost.

Before his untimely exit, Joe schooled me on the perserverance and confidence needed to grill poultry. Until I studied him manning the ‘que, I suffered from that common, yet unfounded, psychic malady—fear of burned chicken. I listened and watched intently as he fostered patience, steadiness, forbearance and fearlessness at the grill.

A few learned tips: (1) have a somewhat gentle, but not waning, fire (2) stoically resist the natural temptation of repetitive turning, moving, pressing the chicken as this releases those ambrosial juices—potentially causing wildfires and also drying the bird; (3) open the bottom vents on the barbeque, but keep any top or side vents closed while cooking; (4) keep the lid on the kettle as much as possible as the heat and grilling smoke which is “basting” your fowl will simply evaporate into thin air; (5) somewhat contrary to (4), stand sentry—keep an occasional eye on the meat to assure no raging bonfires have developed; (6) do not apply glazes or sauces that have a sugar base until the very end of the cooking process, and paint on in layers, creating tiers of caramelized flavors. (Also, see the post On Grilling).

Since his euphemistic passing, many have unknowingly reaped the benefits of Joe’s tutelage.

GRILLED CHICKEN

Citrus glaze:
1/2 C fresh lime juice
1 1/2 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C soy sauce
1/2 C honey

In a small heavy saucepan, boil ingredients until reduced to 1 cup. Set aside.

Marinade:
1/2 C fresh lime juice
1/2 C fresh orange juice
3 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced finely
1/3 C fresh oregano, chopped
1/3 C fresh cilantro, chopped
3 fresh jalapeños, stemmed and diced
2 t dried red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together first ingredients until well mixed. Then, slowly drizzle in olive oil in a narrow stream while whisking vigorously. Set aside.

Chicken:
Fresh, organic, free range chicken (either leg thigh quarters or whole chicken cut into 8 pieces)
Several sprigs of rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken in large flat dish and pour marinade over, turning to coat liberally. A large ziploc bag works well too. Cover, refrigerate and let chicken marinade, turning occasionally for a few hours or even overnight. Bring to room temperature in marinade before grilling. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade.

Prepare grill to medium (to medium high) heat. Before placing the chicken on the grill, arrange some rosemary sprigs on the edges of the fire. Grill chicken until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Brush thoroughly with glaze and grill 2-5 minutes longer. Remove and transfer to platter.

POTATO SALAD CHEZ ARLENE

My dear friend Arlene lives in the country on a horse farm…a serene, pastoral setting with verdant pastures, specked with ponds and crisscrossed with wooden fences. Her home is perched at the summit of an otherwise flat county, sprawling with almost nothing but windows facing western skies reminiscent of Constable canvasses—blue sunrises, fierce orange, light grey and cobalt sunsets, potent anvil-head storms rolling in from the plains bearing who knows what, puffy white clouds dotting the tranquil sky, lunar bathings. All is centered around these immaculate horse stables, housing tmagnificent, neatly groomed, finely pedigreed beasts who do this ballet called dressage.

A wing of the home is devoted to music. It has soothing curved ceilings, an audiophile’s dream of a sound system with speakers larger than a grown man, ergonomic chairs—a room lined with exalted fine art, books, CDs and, of course, brimming with music. Listening to Mahler’s No. 6 there may well best a symphony hall. A night at Arlene’s is spent cooking, eating, imbibing, and retiring to the Music Room, discussing the world’s feats and woes well into the morning hours.

Arlene and I really met during dark moments in both of our lives. She coddled and helped to heal me. Along the way, she introduced to me to an unparalleled potato salad.

3 lbs red potatoes
6 organic, free range eggs

1 large bunch fresh radishes, rinsed, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2 small bunches green onions, rinsed and sliced, 2″ of tops trimmed off

1 C mayonaisse, either homemade (see Mayonaisse post) or Hellman’s prepared
1/2 C dijon mustard
3 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 C capers

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Place potatoes into a large heavy bottomed pot. Cover with cold water and place over high heat. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and remove lid. Gently simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place in an ice bath to cool, then promptly drain and dry thoroughly. Slice potatoes, but not overly thin.

Place eggs in a heavy large saucepan. Cover with cold water, cover with lid and place over high heat. At the first serious boil, remove the pan from heat and let stand 14 minutes, still covered. Drain and place in an ice bath to cool, then remove and dry. Thinly slice the boiled eggs.

In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard and balsamic vinegar to taste; then add the potatoes, radishes, green onions, boiled eggs and capers. Roll up your sleeves and mix well with both hands (or employ a friend). Season with salt and pepper early on so you can taste to your liking. You may need to add more mayonnaise and mustard to reach the right moisture level. As with all salads, the ingredients should be nicely coated, but not swimming or soggy.

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