chicken

Nearly every time we’re out grocery shopping, I pick up a whole chicken. It seems like at least once a week we end up roasting or grilling a whole bird, and using its carcass for chicken stock and its leftover meat for soup. The flexibility that comes with buying a whole chicken just can’t be beat, plus everyone gets to fight over their favorite pieces (luckily, we have varying preferences). Furthermore, it is often more economical than buying individual parts, and when buying quality chicken, every penny counts; there is probably no bigger price disparity than between industrially-raised and well-raised chicken (eggs are a close second).

A few years ago, I posted a smoked turkey recipe that continues to be popular today; we’ve smoked a turkey for every Thanksgiving since first developing this method. Similarly, I’ve come to enjoy using a similar approach for smoking chickens, which has much lower stakes since it’s not the centerpiece of a holiday meal.

While this preparation is very simple, I’ve tagged it as “moderate” difficulty in the recipe box below, if only because there are quite a few tools and techniques involved. You’ll need a grill (gas or charcoal) or smoker, smoking wood, aluminum pans to hold the wood, and a thermometer. We’re going to smoke the chicken at 300F, which might initially seem high when compared to other smoked meats, but a higher heat produces a well-flavored chicken without rubbery skin. To keep the chicken moist, I recommend brining it beforehand, and have provided instructions below.

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Arroz con Pollo is a chicken and rice dish popular in Spain and Latin America. While its origin is difficult to trace, it is likely an adaptation of the Paella, a staple Spanish (Valencian) rice dish dating as far back as the 15th century. As with many dishes stemming from Spain’s exploration and colonization, Arroz con Pollo deliciously marries both worlds; Spanish rice and technique combine with ingredients native to the Americas (namely tomatoes and peppers).

There are dozens of variations on Arroz con Pollo, and I fully expect a few comments below lamenting the fact that my version is not exactly like abuelita’s recipe. It’s understandable that this dish evokes some fairly raw emotion, as it is closely aligned with what I’d consider comfort food. I find that there is beauty in creating a personal version of an oft-tweaked recipe; I think that personalization is part of being human, and the many variations of this dish stand as a testament to this concept.

Some common extra add-ins for Arroz con Pollo include pimento-stuffed green olives, beer, and/or ham. Its flavoring paste, known as sofrito, is also the subject of some debate; some call for tomatoes, others eschew them, and still others use an added fat like lard or olive oil.

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About four years ago, I posted a recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which quickly became one of the more popular recipes on this site. I liked the recipe so much that I ended up adding it to my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and then improving it for my second cookbook, Paleo Takeout, to incorporate seasonings similar to those you’d find at a certain famous fried chicken chain restaurant (you know, the kind that comes in a bucket).

As I mentioned in that first fried chicken post, this dish is the convergence of three different events. First, the West African practice of frying chicken was brought to the US as a result of the slave trade. Second, the mass production of pork in the South resulted in an excess of lard for cooking. And finally, cast-iron cookware became a staple of every kitchen during the 19th century. It’s only natural that these elements came together as they did, to create one of the tastiest ways to prepare chicken.

Colonel Harland Sanders first started selling fried chicken during the Great Depression, in Kentucky, and opened his first franchise restaurant in 1952; his success challenged the assumption that “fast food” was limited to hamburgers. His original recipe of “11 herbs and spices” was finalized in 1940, and has been a closely guarded secret ever since. In honor of the original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe, I also used 11 herbs and spices (although, to be fair, the pinch of thyme used in my recipe was added mostly to reach 11!).

The original preparation for KFC chicken was through traditional pan-frying, but it would take upwards of 30 minutes to prepare one batch of chicken. Ultimately, Colonel Sanders modified a pressure cooker to make the first pressure fryer, which is the method they use today. For my recipe, we’ll be returning to KFC’s roots and pan-frying the chicken – no modified pressure cooker needed.

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When creating recipes, I find inspiration in several places. I’ll typically stumble upon traditional recipes while researching random food facts (quite a black hole of information, trust me). Other times, I solicit ideas from friends, or readers via my facebook page, and add potential dishes to a growing list of contenders. But how I created this dish is unique for me, so I’d like to share that story.

I recently stumbled upon a photo on Instagram from Food & Wine’s Chefs Club, a restaurant concept featuring a line-up of visiting chefs. For this particular event, they offered menu items from La Caravelle, a classic French restaurant that closed its NYC doors in 2004. One of their signature dishes, Chicken in Champagne Sauce, was a favorite of the Kennedys; the restaurant re-named the dish Poularde Maison Blanche (“White House Chicken”) when JFK was elected president.

Inspired by that photo, I set out to make my own Chicken in Champagne Sauce. Let me be clear: I did not attempt to recreate this famous dish, but rather, I wanted to make a dish that tasted as good as this picture looks. Considering I’m late to the party and wasn’t able to attend the event (or visit the restaurant before it closed), this may be the closest thing I experience to the dish, and I’m fine with that.

Champagne is the name of a sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne wine region in Northeast France, fermented under strict guidelines; sparkling wines that don’t feature Champagne grapes, or weren’t produced under the required guidelines, cannot legally be called Champagne. For this recipe, any sparkling white wine will do. Fun fact: the bubbles in sparkling wine are a result of second fermentation, similar to how kombucha achieves its effervescence.

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Gai Yang (ไก่ย่าง, sometimes spelled Kai Yang) is a barbecue grilled chicken recipe originally from Laos, but most commonly associated with Thailand today; it is a popular street food often served alongside Green Papaya Salad and sticky rice.

This dish is quickly becoming a favorite at our house because it is super simple to put together and all of the ingredients are relatively easy to find – only one ingredient (lemongrass) isn’t available in our everyday grocery store. Luckily, we keep chopped lemongrass in our freezer, and if that runs out, our local Asian market is only a few minutes away.

I enjoy preparing this dish because it gives me an opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get physical with its preparation – by spatchcocking the chicken, pounding some ingredients in a mortar and pestle, and finally chopping the entire bird up with a cleaver at the end.

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I’m traveling this week, and feeling a little under the weather. These two events frequently coincide; that is just the price one pays for seeing new places and shaking new hands. So this week seems like an appropriate time to share one of my favorite chicken soups.

Cock-A-Leekie (sometimes spelled Cockie Leekie) is a Scottish soup likely derived from French chicken and onion soup during the Middle Ages. It was later adapted to Scottish regional ingredients (namely, leeks), and sometime down the line prunes were an added element of the dish – probably to increase the dish’s flavor and nutritional profile. The soup is often thickened with cooked rice or barley, or enjoyed plain, as in this recipe.

Fun fact: this soup is one of two items on the menu the day the Titanic sank.

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Sanbeiji is a popular Chinese dish, most often served in Southern China and Taiwan. The dish derives its name from its three key ingredients: sweet rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Garlic, ginger, fish sauce, honey, and basil round out the flavors in this deceptively simple preparation. Chicken is the most common protein, but pork, and occasionally frog, are also used.

What sets this dish apart is that there is no real trickery involved; the chicken and sauce simmer until the sauce evaporates, then it is removed from heat right when the chicken starts to sizzle and pop. The result is fully-flavored with a delightful texture – no breading or thickener required.

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I’m the kind of guy who likes to grill in the winter. Well, let me rephrase that – so long as there isn’t a ton of snow on the ground, I like to grill in the winter. Living in Florida has its perks; we still have surprisingly cold weather here in the panhandle, but it rarely snows, and so I get to fire up my grill year-round.

One of my favorite reasons to grill in the cold is that it creates contrasting experiences. Winter in the air, summer in your bowl. This idea is best exemplified in these Chicken Teriyaki Bowls, accented with apple slices and white rice seasoned with furikake (I like Urashima furikake, which is made without additives).

Teriyaki sauce can be traced back to the Edo age in Japan, which started in the 17th century. An increase in urbanization and exposure to outside cultures resulted in an influx of new ingredients, which converged to make this tangy, sweet sauce that is perfect for grilling. Japanese restaurants gained prominence in the United States in the 1960s, and teriyaki sauce became the household name that it is today.

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I’m going to keep this week’s recipe intro a bit short, because to be honest I’m a little distracted – we welcomed our second child into the world yesterday! His name is Elliott and I’m sure plenty of pics will soon be coming to my various social media platforms.

I recently asked my readers what recipes they’d like me to tackle next, and an overwhelming majority asked for pressure-cooker meals; for those folks, I have something special in store for next week. Meanwhile, a vocal minority asked for appetizers to bring to holiday parties, so I put together this recipe as a fun way to enjoy a classic Chinese takeout dish: Chicken & Broccoli. While not as celebrated as its big brother, Beef & Broccoli, I like the contrast of crisp chicken with a dark sauce. Enjoy!

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It’s starting to get a little chilly here in the Florida panhandle, which is a welcome change from our typical summer heat. At the same time, this weather has me scrambling to do some last-minute grilling before the grilling season ends. This week’s recipe is perfect for that dwindling window of opportunity to spend time outdoors; it takes a few minutes to prep the marinade (which tastes best when left overnight), then you just throw the chicken on a grill and swing by later to pick it up when it’s done.

Pollo al Ajillo (Garlic Chicken) is a popular Spanish simmered chicken dish, characterized by its generous use of garlic. It is believed that the inclusion of garlic was because this dish was originally prepared with rabbit, and the garlic masked the rabbit’s gamey taste. Pollo al Ajillo also exists in some Caribbean and Latin American regions, and is especially popular in Cuba, where they tend to roast the chicken instead of simmering it. This recipe is modeled after the Cuban version, which also uses citrus fruit (in this case, orange juice) to help tenderize the meat.

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