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Flap Over Chicken Quit Worrying And Grill That Bird

By Kathleen Purvis The Charlotte Observer

It has come to my attention that some of you are afraid of grilling chicken.

How can this be? Chicken is cheap. Chicken is mild. Chicken is made for the grill the way straw hats are made for sunny days.

Undercooked chicken? Overcooked chicken? Burned chicken? Banish those thoughts. Draw up a lawn chair and let me tell you about chicken:

Once upon a time, I lived in a land of fried food and lard biscuits, where the cobblers oozed sugar and a stove wasn’t complete without a foil-covered can to save bacon grease. As you may have gathered, “healthy” was not a big priority.

So when I grew up and took over the grilling at my house, imagine my surprise to discover that my family’s three-generation-old chicken-grilling method was actually downright healthy. You could have knocked me over with a chicken feather.

See, here’s how a chicken neophyte might do it: Slather on a sweet bottled barbecued sauce. Slap the chicken over still-flaming coals. Roll it around until it’s covered with carcinogenic carbons. Yank it off the fire with a meat fork. Consume.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s how we do it, handed down from my South Georgia grandfather (a former tombstone carver turned barbecuer-for-hire, but that’s another story): First, build your charcoal fire. Do this at least 30 minutes in advance, so the flames die down and the coals have a nice white ash.

While the coals are getting ready, squeeze two lemons into a measuring cup, then add water to make 2 cups.

Place your chicken on the grill skin side down, unadorned and naked as another kind of bird. Brush with the lemon juice and water. Close the lid.

Now, leave it alone. Go consume your favorite beverage and let your chicken commune with the smoke. If there’s too much (smoke, not beverage), tamp down the vents a little.

After 15 minutes or so - coincidentally, the same amount of time it took my dad to consume a can of his favorite beverage - open the lid. Turn the chicken. With tongs, please, not a fork. Why spill all those chicken juices? Brush the chicken with more lemon juice and water. Close the lid. Go fetch a refill of your favorite beverage.

After another 15 minutes, check your chicken. Poke it and make sure the juices are running clear. Then, and only then, brush it with the sauce of your choice, just for the last few minutes on the fire. Remove from the grill and consume, with your favorite beverage and extra sauce on the side.

This has several advantages, as I have come to understand: The lemon juice and water seals in the juices. Keeping the lid on the grill holds down flames and ensures steady heat to thoroughly cook the chicken. And saving the sauce until last keeps it from burning, especially if you’re the sugary-sauce type. (Personally, I treat sugary sauces with the same suspicion I hold for sugary cornbread. But that’s another story, too.)

Now, I’m not going to tell you that’s the only way to grill chicken. Chicken’s charm is its adaptability, and we’ve got a whole flock of other grilled chicken recipes for you, from New Delhi Chicken Breasts to Lemon Chicken Kebabs to Chicken Under a Brick.

But all good grilled chicken depends on three key things: a simple marinade, to keep it moist; lid on, for steady heat and no flames; and no sugar.

Save it for your favorite beverage. Iced tea, of course.

Chili-Rub Chicken

From “The Summer Weekend Cookbook,” by Jane Rodmell (Cottage Life Books). Don’t let the name scare you off; this is spicy but not molten hot.

3 pounds chicken pieces

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients except chicken and mix well. (The rub can be made in advance, covered and refrigerated up to one week.)

Rub chicken pieces well with the mixture and place in resealable plastic bag or in bowl. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, prepare grill using indirect, medium heat. Grill chicken with lid closed, turning after about 15 minutes. Cook until juices run clear, about 15 more minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 355 calories, 18.8 grams fat (48 percent fat calories), 41 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrate, 124 milligrams cholesterol, 476 milligrams sodium.

New Delhi Chicken Breasts

From “The Lowfat Grill,” by Donna Rodnitzky (Prima, 1996). This is another one that’s only mildly spicy; the boneless chicken breasts stay very moist.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Nonstick cooking spray

Marinade:

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Place chicken in nonmetal bowl or in resealable plastic bag. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, turning chicken at least once.

Prepare grill using direct, medium-hot heat. Coat grill with nonstick cooking spray before placing over fire. Place chicken breasts on grill, cover and cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning several times.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 151 calories, 5 grams fat (30 percent fat calories), 21 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 194 milligrams sodium.

Lemon Chicken Kebabs

Adapted from a National Broiler Council recipe.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks

24 lemon wedges

Combine oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, marjoram, thyme, oregano, basil, pepper and garlic. Place chicken chunks in nonmetal bowl or resealable plastic bag, pour marinade over them and refrigerate up to 1 hour. (Don’t marinate too long or the acid will “cook” the chicken, making it mushy.)

Remove chicken from marinade, drain and place chicken chunks on skewers, alternating with lemon wedges. Place skewers on grill over direct, medium-high heat. Cook about 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally so it doesn’t burn.

Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 217 calories, 7 grams fat (29 percent fat calories), 35 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 88 milligrams cholesterol, 281 milligrams sodium.

Ginger Lime Marinade

From “Marinades - The Secret of Great Grilling,” by Melanie Barnard (Harper Perennial, 1997).

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 large limes)

3 tablespoons fish sauce (see note)

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons hot chili sauce (see note)

3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (see note)

In small bowl, combine all ingredients. Place chicken or seafood in single layer in nonmetal bowl or dish. Cover with marinade and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours for chicken, 30 minutes to 1 hour for fish and 30 minutes for shellfish such as shrimp or scallops.

Yield: About 1 cup, enough to marinate about 1-1/2 pounds of chicken.

Nutrition information per cup: 291 calories, 14.3 grams fat (44 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 43 grams carbohydrate, 113 milligrams cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium.

Note: Asian fish sauce, also called nam pla, and hot chili sauce are available at Asian markets, gourmet stores and some larger supermarkets. When grating fresh ginger, use the medium or large holes on the grater, or you’ll get ginger juice.

Chicken Under a Brick

From “Italian Grilling,” by Jean Galton (Broadway), this method of pressing the meat while cooking yields very moist chicken and crispy skin. Although the original recipe calls for halving a whole chicken, we found it also worked well with bone-in chicken breasts.

1 (3-pound) chicken

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 lemons, washed and sliced

6 large cloves garlic, smashed

Nonstick cooking spray

1 teaspoon salt

2 bricks, wrapped in aluminum foil

Place chicken breast side down on cutting board. Split along one side of backbone. Place chicken skin side up and press down with your hand to flatten. (Or just use 4 bone-in chicken breasts, pressing with your hand to flatten.)

Place chicken in nonmetal bowl or resealable plastic bag. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper flakes, half the lemon slices, and the garlic cloves. Place in refrigerator at least 2 hours, or overnight, turning occasionally.

Prepare grill for medium-low fire. Spray grill rack with nonstick cooking spray before placing over fire. Remove chicken from marinade, discarding lemon and garlic, and sprinkle with salt. Place chicken flat on grill, skin side down, and place bricks on top. Cover and grill 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, replacing bricks, and grill 15 minutes longer or until juices run clear.

Remove chicken from grill and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Place remaining slices of lemon on grill for 2 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Garnish chicken with lemon slices before serving.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 570 calories, 31.8 grams fat (50 percent fat calories), 61 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrate, 186 milligrams cholesterol, 715 milligrams sodium.

Grilled Cured Chicken Breasts

It’s amazing what a short time in a salt cure can do. This recipe, from chef Jim Cohen of The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., was in the June issue of Food & Wine magazine. The chicken is amazingly succulent and juicy.

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1/2 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

8 bone-in chicken breasts (or other pieces)

Nonstick cooking spray

In small bowl, combine salt, sugar, thyme, pepper and garlic. Arrange chicken breasts or pieces in large glass baking dishes and rub them all over with salt mixture. Cover and refrigerate 20 minutes. Rinse off salt mixture and pat chicken dry with paper towels.

Prepare grill for direct, mediumhot fire. Coat grill with nonstick cooking spray before placing on fire. Grill chicken, skin side down, about 9 minutes. Turn and grill until cooked through, about 10 minutes longer.

Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 504 calories, 26.8 grams fat (48 percent fat calories), 60 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 185 milligrams cholesterol, 751 milligrams sodium.

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