Here’s how I like to do a whole chicken over the coals—the grill it & skillet method. This technique combines the best aspects of grilling and roasting—a nicely browned and smoky piece of poultry, and really flavorful pan juices that flavor the other things cooked in said skillet (vegetables, mushrooms), which can also be deglazed for a simple sauce. How it goes is: you butterfly a bird by cutting right down the backbone with poultry shears, then bash the poor creature a bit to flatten it out. Season well—more on this below. Build a hot fire of natural charcoal, or actual wood, my choice. Brown the bird nicely all around, then put it in a big skillet to finish cooking, during which time you can add those accompaniments mentioned above. This method requires minimal supervision, and prevents those harrowing grease fires that nearly always come with grilling chicken over direct heat.
It was a hot and steamy day, and I had a hankering for spicy, garlicky chicken. The original inspiration for my marinade came from a Saveur magazine article from some years back, about a region in
(I think) where the specialty was grilled chicken with a very piquant
marinade/sauce, and there were whole restaurants devoted to this single
dish. They used a special kind of chile
grown in Portugal Africa, piri-piri, I think it was
called. At any rate, that was the
inspiration, but I took a very simple, wing-it approach. All I wanted was spicy, garlicky, and
I started by making some quick-pickled chiles by breaking a half dozen dried red chiles in half and dumping out the seeds. Into a small saucepan I placed the seedless chiles, along with about a half cup of apple cider vinegar. I brought that to a simmer, turned off the heat, covered the pan and let the chiles steep. Once they had softened and plumped up I chopped four of the chiles (an arbitrary number, I didn’t want it too hot). I chopped a load of fresh garlic, maybe five or six decent cloves. To the chiles and garlic I added about ¼ cup of the soaking (spicy!) vinegar, a couple tablespoons olive oil, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and lots of coarse salt, maybe a teaspoon and a half to two teaspoons. Smeared that all over the chicken in a big bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours.
At grilling time, then, I cleaned up my grill grate, lifted the chicken from the bowl letting the marinade drain back—we want this for later—and started grilling bone side down. It took a few minutes to brown the bottom nicely, and then I flipped it. Watch carefully for the first few minutes of skin-side cooking to make sure your fire is not too hot. The skin lying flat over the fire will brown very nicely, of course, but there are folds and crevasses where the legs and wings meet the body that require a little manipulation to get brown—arrange birdie on either side to get those parts nicely seared.
I do a couple, three turns from bone side to skin side to get it really well browned. Then into the skillet it goes, and you cook it, turning a couple times, once again, until done. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast, near the bone, should read 160. I have found that the legs actually cook faster than the breast in this method, and the breast is usually very moist and flavorful. Just the same, we eat the legs and wings first, and save the breast meat for sandwiches.
Add accompaniments to cook in the skillet for the last half hour or so. In this case, it was just Chinese broccoli. Mushrooms, wild or otherwise, are great cooked this way. Potatoes should be cooked most of the way, and only finished and browned in the skillet—they won’t have time to cook from raw. When everything was nearly done I poured the marinade remnants over the chicken, and some of that dripped down and sizzled in the pan, making a nice base for deglazing into a pan sauce. Add a little water if the drippings are threatening to burn. Turn the bird a couple of times in those juices.
Just before serving I returned the chicken to the grill over direct heat to re-crisp the skin a bit. I deglazed the pan with nothing more than water (Chateau Sink, as Jacques Pépin says…). We served it with a lovely couscous pilaf that Mary made, and drank cold, white Spanish wine. We dined al fresco, and though we are in the longest days, it was already too dark to get a decent photo of the table. A quite Iberian dinner hour. I am certain that you can use your imaginations.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw