Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Inspiration: A whole chicken

I love the farmer's markets around Edmonton. They are happy places for me, where, like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, I wander through the booths, picking up well-loved classics (giant bouquets of kale) and anything new (hello, tiny baby corn). This time of year, the markets are bursting with abundance and we spend the large majority of our grocery bill there.

I recently read an article about chicken processing (terrifying) and the lives of poor chickens who end up naked and wrapped in plastic in the supermarket. My new commitment, therefore, is to exclusively by chicken from local farmers who treat the birds in a humane way. It's been tough, because chicken, especially those plastic-wrapped pieces, are considerably more expensive at the farmer's market. My solution - buy whole chickens!

Did you know...that the first evidence of domesticated fowl comes from India? Some evidence suggests that the chicken was first bred to be a fighting animal, not a food animal. In Egypt, fowl appear as early as the 18th dynasty...I wonder if there are any hieroglyphic panels depicting chickens? I do know they appear on Corinthian and Greek pottery, as well as, perhaps, in said pottery. Let's just say, the Gallus gallus domesticus has been around for a good long time.

File:Persian Cock.jpg
The Persian version of the chicken 

The question then becomes...what to do with my whole gallus' (galli)? Roasting is classic and delicious method, but it's summer (for a little longer, at least), and the searing heat of the oven escapes its metal confines and turns our 7th floor apartment into a sweltering hot cauldron if left on for long periods of time. I have therefore been exploring methods to cook a whole chicken on the best of summer cooking appliance: ye olde BBQ.

Enter Beer Can Chicken (or, as my sweetie so elegantly calls it, sodomy chicken). Beer can chicken is a simple concept with delicious results - you take a can of liquid, usually beer, and insert it in the cavity of the chicken. You then place the can-stuffed chicken onto indirect heat of the BBQ and let cook for 45 min to an hour, rotating occasionally.

I used a bottle of some kind of beer I found in the back of the fridge, since the type doesn't really matter - in fact, the liquid doesn't matter. I wouldn't use water, but you could use almost anything else (lemonade, gingerale, tea, juice). I also used a combo of my favourite spices as a dry rub for the chicken. It also helps to have this handy device, shown above, with a drip tray, but it is not necessary. I will warn you, however, that buying this device may lead to your fiance calling out from the kitchen "honey, where should I put the sodomy device?" Not something one ever wants to hear from the kitchen, methinks.

The result of the liquid inside, the dry rub, and the searing heat outside, is one tender, juicy chicken. I served mine with homemade yam fries and the aforementioned fresh baby corn, lightly fried with peas. Bring on the galli!!

Beer Can Chicken a la Kisha

1 3-4 lb chicken, excess fat trimmed (farmer's market chickens do taste better)
3 Tbsp dry rub (mine is cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and sea salt)
1 can light beer, minus a good solid swig

Turn on half of your bbq to high heat. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry. Sprinkle dry rub liberally inside and out and give the outside a good rub to spread the spices around. Open the can of beer and take a good swig so there is about an inch of room at the top. If using a device, place can in the center and put the chicken on the metal rack. If not using a device, place the can on a tray and gently pull the chicken over the can, so the legs are resting on the tray. The tray is strictly to make the travel to the BBQ easier and can be discarded for cooking. Transfer the chicken to the part of the BBQ that is not turned on, so you can cook the chicken over indirect heat. Reduce the heat on the burners to medium-high. Cook until the temperature of the breast is 180 degrees (45 min to 1 hour), turning at least once during the process. Remove from heat and let stand, can intact, for ten minutes. Remove the can, carve, and serve!

Try gingerale as a liquid and five spice powder as a rub, or lemonade with tuscan herbs (oregano, thyme, red chili flake) as a rub.

Also, you can use this method in the oven. Remove the top rack and place the chicken on the bottom rack on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until the juices run clear and the internal temperature of the breast meat reaches 180 degrees.

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