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Vines & Vittles: The Smoky Clucker is a coop de grâce

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The ubiquitous chicken. It's probably the most overused and abused protein in the civilized world and yet, when prepared with a little imagination, that little feathered critter can be transformed into a culinary lip-smacker.

Chicken is the Rodney Dangerfield of meats: It gets no respect. Yet it is one of the world's most versatile foods, and can be cooked in a mind-boggling number of ways.

And with a little creativity, the bird can be married to a wide variety of both white and red wines.

However, cooking the meat of the chicken in a minimalist manner with token spices (say salt and pepper) can result in a dish that is best paired with tepid water. Regularly consuming chicken prepared this way may cause you to start watching C-SPAN's coverage of congressional proceedings for hours each day.

Do not fear, loyal wineauxs! As you may know, I have an affinity for outdoor cooking and an addiction to smoky and spicy foods. The recipe I am going to impart to you today will have you clucking for joy.

While the usual accompaniment to chicken is white wine, this recipe requires a red. Here are two choices for your consideration that will leave you smiling.

2007 Terra d'Oro Amador County zinfandel ($18): I admit my fondness for Amador County zinfandel, and this one has what I love most about wines grown in that hot and dry area two hours east of Napa. Rustic and earthy, the aroma is a combination of teaberry mint and chocolate while the blackberry and cola flavors make this a great match to spicy, smoky foods.

2010 Concannon Selected Vineyards petite sirah ($12): This blend of Central Coast vineyards' petite sirah is full-bodied with a flavor profile of plums and black cherries. Nicely balanced and rich, this has an excellent value to quality quotient and is a tasty pairing with the chicken dish.

We'll start with a whole fryer, which is a relatively small and young chicken. I recommend you ask the butcher to remove the backbone of the fryer so it will be able to better absorb the brine, accommodate the special rub and cook quickly. Here goes.

The Smoky Clucker

Brine:

     1     plastic gallon bag

     1     quart water

     8     ounces dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc

     6     cloves garlic, chopped finely

     1/3  cup kosher salt

     3     tablespoons dark brown sugar

     1    3- to 4-pound chicken (fryer) with the backbone removed

Rub:

     1     tablespoon smoked paprika

     1     teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

     1     teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

     3     tablespoons chopped garlic

     1     teaspoon kosher salt

     1     teaspoon chili powder

     1     teaspoon ground cumin

     2     ounces canola oil

     1     tablespoon dark brown sugar

PUT the brine ingredients in the plastic bag and stir to mix.

PLACE the chicken into the bag, seal and put in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.

REMOVE the chicken from the plastic bag, pat dry and lay it on a cutting board.

PLACE the contents of the rub in a bowl and mix together, making a paste.

RUB the paste all over chicken, placing some under breast and leg quarter skin.

MAKE a charcoal fire and spread coals to either side of grill for indirect cooking. Or, heat one side of a gas grill so chicken can be cooked indirectly.

PLACE the chicken so it lays spread-eagle on the grill but not over the coals.

COVER the grill and cook 45 to 50 minutes.

ALLOW the chicken to rest for 15 minutes, cut into pieces and serve.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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