Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Chicken alla Diavola, a Comedy of Errors

It's no secret that I love America's Test Kitchen. In fact, you should buy their cookbooks, follow them on Twitter, and sign up for their weekly emails. Their dishes are excellent and foolproof. The secret to their recipes is to follow them to the letter, using the exact same ingredients and the exact same techniques and the exact same cooking times. Their Chicken alla Diavola came over in the weekly email and looks fantastic. I will, however, be attempting this dish in my usual form: cheap, lazy and arrogant. This should turn out just fine, right?
I love how 1970s and overexposed this photo is because that's exactly how it looked in my kitchen with the desert sun blazing through the windows when my husband and I sat down to eat together.

ATK's brine recipe called for no sugar, and two whole heads of smashed garlic and two bay leaves. Friends, I only had half a head of garlic and wasn't about to use the whole thing up on one dish. Also, because I was too lazy effort-economical to bring up the video again, I just assumed they were using a typical brine. And I was wrong.
Flavored Brine:
2 c water
1/4 c table salt
1/4 c sugar
2 c crushed ice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 bay leaf

1. Combine the water, salt, and sugar in a small pot. Heat until salt and sugar have dissolved.
2. Add ice, garlic, and bay leaf. Let ice melt and brine cool before putting chicken into it. 

*Brines, of course, work by the miracle of osmosis. Cells with highly concentrated solutions, when presented with cells of less-concentrated solutions, will attempt to even things out. As this happens, the chicken ends up seasoned from the inside out with salt and sugar.

I used about half the black and red pepper that ATK called for, afraid that after all that time and effort on the meal the chicken might be too hot to eat. As usual, I was wrong. If you'd like you may double the peppers and garlic as they suggest or halve them as I have here. 

Pepper Oil:
1 t pepper
1 t red pepper flake
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1/4 c olive oil

Combine all ingredients and heat on the stove only until the garlic begins to sizzle. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

*Can be stored in an airtight container overnight if you burn your hands cutting jalapenos without gloves and have to spend the night with your fingers in cereal bowls full of milk. Handy tip, huh?
If you prepare this step and let it sit overnight (intentionally or otherwise), the oil turns dark orange and would taste great on, well, anything.

Chicken alla Diavola 
(Click here for printable recipe.)

1 half chicken
Flavored brine
Pepper oil
Lemon for garnish (optional)

1. In a large zip top bag, combine the brine and the chicken. Put the bag in a bowl and brine the chicken in the fridge for 1-3 hours.

2. Heat the grill.

3. Pull a tablespoon or two of the chunkiest bits from your oil and reserve for serving.

4. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.

5. Loosen the skin of the chicken, and place the rest of the pepper and garlic mix under the skin, working it around so that it coats the meat evenly. Paint any remaining oil over the skin and on the underside of the bird.

6. Grill over indirect heat, skin down, for 20-40 minutes, using a thermometer to check internal temperature. (In fact, don't get married to the cooking method; use what works for you. I wouldn't hesitate to use this recipe on the grill with a hot cast-iron pan on top or even for an oven-roasted chicken.)

7. When done, remove from grill and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

8. Slice the meat off the bone, drizzle with the reserved pepper and garlic mix and a squeeze of lemon juice.

This poor bird was doomed to fail. First, massive recipe differences. Then, I put it into the brine Saturday afternoon expecting to cook it a few hours later. Unfortunately, but I got a little tied up with the whole jalapeno disaster (see above: "hands in milk bath"). I poured the brine out of the bag before bed and put the chicken back in the fridge, planning to cook it the next day. The next evening, Sunday, I went about my happy business grilling this beautiful half-chicken.

And then remembered Sunday was the day we were celebrating Matty's birthday with the traditional hamburgers and homemade french fries.

Cue meltdown. Cue emergency trip to store. Cue starting dinner all over again and putting that beautiful grilled chicken in the fridge, to await dinner another night.

Finally, on Monday night, I served Chicken alla Diavola:
No, I did not use all of the reserved pepper oil. Fearing it would be too hot (it wasn't), I served the rest on the side.

I know, I know. After the last few posts that found homes only under the "disaster" tag, I'm sure you were expecting another half-assed, awful meal. And that would have made two of us. The secret is that it's the combination of flavors here that's foolproof, and as long as you can figure out how to cook chicken you will have a success. If I can change every component of this recipe and serve it a day after cooking it and still have it taste incredible, then it should definitely be in your culinary rotation.

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