La grande illusion, c’est la guerre. La grande désillusion, c’est la paix.
(The great illusion is war. The great disillusion is peace.)

~Marcel Achard

Some red zest for that Memorial weekend grill.

Pimentón is made from ground, dried red chile peppers (capsicum annuum) similar to that used to make cousin paprika—but it is smoked before grinding. So essential is this brick red paprika to Spanish cuisine that they carry the coveted Denominación de Origen (D.O.). One of these pepper varieties is located in Murcia, a province on the southeastern coast, while another is found in La Vera, which is located southwest of Madrid.

Both of these praised peppers came from the New World during Christopher Columbus’ ventures there. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received him at the completion of his second voyage to the Americas, they were presented with these newly discovered peppers. While their sharpness made the regal duo breathless—too pungent for the potentates—that did not hinder Extramaduran monks from cultivating, drying, smoking and then grinding them. A few centuries later, pimentón was warmly embraced by Spanish gastronomy.

Pimentón agridulce (medium) is made from dark red peppers while pimentón picante (hot) comes from several different types of long red peppers.

GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ROASTED SPICES & PIMENTON

1 fresh chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs
1 plump, fresh garlic head, halved transversely
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T fennel seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2-1 T pimentón agridulce or picante or hot paprika

Fresh fennel fronds, stemmed and chopped

Prepare the barbeque grill for to medium heat or medium high heat, moving the coals for an indirect method. In either event, create a gentle, yet hot fire. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate to reduce sticking issues.

Meanwhile, remove the giblets from the body cavities of the chickens and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry well with paper towels.

Extract the chicken’s backbone using poultry shears or a sharp, heavy chef’s knife. Position the chicken so the back is facing up and the drumsticks are pointing towards you. Cut all the way down one side of the spine through the small rib bones, not through the center of the backbone itself. Cut close to the backbone so you do not lose too much flesh. Next, cut all the way down the other side of the backbone, removing it completely.

(Backbones are good parts to use should stock be in your future so wrap well and freeze.)

Place the chicken skin side up on a cutting board and press firmly on the breast with the heels of your hands until it flattens. Tuck the wingtips to hold them in place, or simply cut them off. Rub the bird first with halved garlic and then brush with olive oil.

Roast the fennel, coriander and cumin in a 400 F oven or toast on stove briefly in a dry skillet. Take care not to burn. Then, grind the fennel, coriander, and cumin with a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder. Mix in these ground spices with the salt, pepper, and pimentón in a bowl. Liberally sprinkle this combined rub on both sides of the bird.

Grill the chicken, starting with skin side down, turning occasionally (but not obsessively) to prevent overbrowning, until cooked through, some 25 to 30 minutes total. The fowl is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 F by a meat thermometer which is not touching the bone. Let it rest at least 5 minutes before carving.

Carve, lightly shower with chopped fennel fronds and serve with freshly sliced oranges, a medley of grilled vegs and tender young greens such as mesclun, arugula, endive, or watercress lightly tossed in a sherry vinaigrette.

If God grants me longer life, I will see to it that no peasant in my kingdom will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday.
~Henri IV, King of France, from 1589 to 1610 (le bon roi Henri)

Despite popular conception, Herbert Hoover never uttered this 17th century phrase—however, the GOP did appropriate the slogan for his 1928 presidential campaign, touting a period of booming prosperity that would provide a “chicken in every pot.” (And a “car in every backyard,” to boot.) And then depression set in…

GRILLED BIRD WITH COCONUT & RED CURRY

6 chicken leg thigh quarters

Marinade:
1/4 canola oil
1/2 cup shallots, peeled and finely chopped shallots
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 T Thai red curry paste
2 (14 oz) cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 fresh limes, halved and juiced
3 t packed light brown sugar
Sea salt
2 t Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam nhi)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Cook shallots in oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not quite browned, about 4 minutes or so. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add curry paste and cook, mashing paste to combine with oil and stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Add coconut milk, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 3 cups, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in fish sauce and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups marinade in a bowl and chill, covered.

Trim and discard any excess fat from chicken, then rinse and pat dry. Coat chicken well with remaining curry sauce in a large bowl, Place chicken in large flat dish and pour marinade over, turning to coat liberally—or divide birds between large sealable plastic bags. Marinate chicken, chilled, overnight.

Let chicken stand at room temperature 30 minutes before grilling.

Prepare charcoal grill for cooking over medium (to medium high) heat.

Remove chicken from marinade, shaking off excess, and transfer to a large platter. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then grill, starting with skin sides down, turning occasionally to prevent overbrowning, until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes total. Brush chicken with marinade toward the end of the grilling process.

Heat reserved marinade in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until hot. Remove and transfer to platter or plates. Serve with curry sauce and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro.

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.