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Grilling Chicken on the Bone

wolfgangNowadays, someone who's never been to a farm might be forgiven for thinking that chickens are miraculous creatures without any bones or skin. Walk past the meat cases in supermarkets and most of what you see in the poultry section seems to be packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs.

I can understand why many home cooks want the quickness, convenience, and healthfulness of starting with chicken pieces that have no bones to slow cooking or clutter up the plate and no fatty skin. And when it comes to cooking rapid sautes or stir-fries on your stovetop, boneless, skinless chicken can definitely work to your advantage.

Especially when I grill, however, I always prefer to start with a whole chicken. Cooking chicken on the bone and covered with skin helps keep the meat more juicy and flavorful, particularly over the intense dry heat over a backyard barbecue fire. Starting with a whole chicken has the added advantage that you don't pay a premium for the time the butcher spends cutting up the bird. And if you prefer the chicken free of skin or bones, you or your guests can always remove them easily just before eating.

That doesn't mean that I don't do some prep work before I cook the whole bird. First, I'll butterfly it, a nicely descriptive term for the process of cutting out its backbone and then spreading and flattening the chicken so it will cook more quickly and evenly. You can do the job easily yourself. Cut through all the skin, meat, and tiny ribs along both sides of the backbone to remove it; then, on a sturdy work surface, pull the cut sides apart and press down firmly on the center of the breastbone with the heels of your hand -- or pound with a meat pounder or mallet -- to flatten the bird. In markets that offer custom service, you can also ask the butcher to do the work for you.

Just as I suggest that you cook the chicken whole for juicier results, I also recommend that you seek out an organic, free-range chicken, one that was raised without chemicals in their diet and allowed to roam around the farmyard. Not only will its meat be more flavorful, but you can also feel good about the fact that the bird was raised more humanely.

Before you start cooking, let me share one more tip with you. I always like to marinate chicken overnight before grilling it, which not only adds still more flavor but also gives it a beautiful color. The marinade in the recipe I share here has just the right combination of sweet, tangy, fresh, and pungent flavors to make your whole butterflied grilled chicken truly memorable.

SWEET ORANGE BARBECUED BUTTERFLIED CHICKEN

Serves 6

2 large shallots, minced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 whole organic free-range chicken, butterflied, 3-1/2 to 4 pounds

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup orange marmalade

3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, stir together the shallots, garlic, and rosemary.

Starting at the neck side of the butterflied chicken, carefully and gently insert your fingers between the skin and meat to loosen the skin over the breast and thighs. Evenly distribute about 2 tablespoons of the shallot mixture underneath the skin.

In a large sealable food storage bag or in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the flattened chicken, combine the remaining shallot mixture with the orange juice, marmalade, vinegar, and oil to make a marinade. Add the chicken to the bag or dish, turning to coat it evenly. Securely seal the bag or cover the dish with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.

Prepare a fire in an outdoor grill for indirect-heat cooking, with the heat source either underneath just one side of the cooking grid or forming a circle around an area large enough to hold the flattened chicken. When the fire has reached moderate heat, hot enough for you to be able to safely hold your hand above the coals for just 3 seconds, carefully place a pan under the area where the chicken will rest on the cooking grid.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Place the chicken skin-up on the cooking grid directly over the drip pan. Brush the skin with some of the reserved marinade. Cover the grill and cook for 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so to make sure that the chicken isn't burning. Then, using long-handled tongs, turn the chicken over, skin down, over the drip pan. Brush with more marinade and discard the remainder. Cover again and grill until the chicken is done, 20 to 30 minutes longer; its juices should run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a metal skewer, or an instant-read thermometer should register 170 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. With a large, sharp knife, cut it into 6 pieces.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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