Fall Flames

italian-style grilled chicken

For most, Fall conjures up thoughts of apple crisp baking and pumpkin soup making. And it does for me, too. But I also associate Fall with grilling. When I was growing up, my family didn’t own a grill. Living in an apartment complex, we couldn’t. I understood the concept of grilling but only remember my friends’ families serving up things like hot dogs and hamburgers from their fancy-dancy gas-powered contraptions. Fake grilling.

But then, there was the grilling that my dad’s friends did over fire pits, essentially. I remember showing up to cookouts with my dad, where we would eat beautifully charred pieces of meat and deeply caramelized tomatoes, skewered on thick metal rods that resembled an ancient warrior’s sword. The chicken kebabs were technicolor yellow thanks to a liberal dousing in turmeric and Persian saffron — the good stuff. And the taftoon (bread) and large beds of fluffy Basmati were the perfect carbs for absorbing all of the flavorful juices from the meats of the red variety, which were always cooked well-done but somehow still juicy. I don’t remember wondering why we didn’t eat this way at home. All I remember was the smell of the fire, the food, and the wet grass. Oh, and it was always chilly. You know, big sweatshirt after dark weather.

The Swords

When we moved, we bought a humble little charcoal grill. It was square, sat low to the ground and could never accommodate both proteins and vegetables. By this age, I knew that gas grilling wasn’t “fake grilling”, but I also knew that there was something about the flavor and smell of charcoal (and carcinogens, perhaps) that I preferred. Now, my family owns a standard-sized charcoal grill, but we’ve never gone gas.

Even though summer’s unofficial start (Memorial Day) and unofficial end (Labor Day) are typically celebrated with grilled goodies, early to mid fall is, to me, the best for charcoal grilling. I love standing over the flame and having it warm my hands and face. I get a thrill out of cooking in the dark. The smell of the food charring is heightened by the cool, crisp air.

To celebrate grilling season– well, my grilling season– I thought I’d post a recipe that I regret ever having made. I regret making it for other people, that it, because I have yet to hear the end of it. It’s all anybody wants to eat. “Oh, this chicken is good. But it’s not the other chicken.” Or better yet, “Great salmon, but when are we going to have that chicken again?” Clearly, this is not a dish which inspires the famous, “chicken. again?” line.

The bird that seems to be on everyone’s brain is the Italian-Style Charcoal Grilled Chicken from the May/June 2009 edition of Cook’s Illustrated *, and it is quite possibly the best chicken I have ever eaten, grilled or otherwise. It’s an under-the-brick-style recipe that turns out superlatively succulent chicken with skin so crisp, you could sharpen a knife on it. Since the chicken is butterflied and flattened, it cooks in a mere 40 to 50 minutes.

There are several reasons why this recipe simply just works. The chicken is salted instead of brined prior to grilling so that there is no excess liquid to cause flare-ups and to inhibit the creation of crisp skin, which to me is a requisite. The chicken practically does gymnastics on the grill, because you’re to cook it in different positions and flip it at certain intervals over a modified 2-level fire for even cooking and, again, crisping. The chicken is seasoned, no perfumed, by the garlic and herbs because of some pre-cooking in oil. The oil, which is infused in the process, becomes part of a lemony-vinaigrette, which finishes it off. These are very resourceful people.

I want you to celebrate Fall with this chicken. Afterwards, when you think of Fall, you might not think about the crackling of blushed leaves beneath your feet, but the crackling of chicken skin between your teeth. Instead of craving a bite of a juicy honey crisp apple, you might crave a bite (or two, or three) of Italian chicken. And instead of the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg filling your kitchen, you’ll long for the scent of rosemary and garlic wafting through the night air.

And if you do own a charcoal grill, there is a recipe for Italian-Style Gas-Grilled Chicken, too.

*I made no changes to this recipe. You must subscribe to the Cook’s Illustrated Website to view this recipe.

4 responses

  1. Yum. I’ve made the grilled butterflied chicken with a few of the optional sauces before, but haven’t tried this one yet. Luckily I have a membership to CI.com. I will probably always go charcoal–gas just doesn’t seem right to me.

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