Oh no you din’t! Oh yes I dit! That’s right, French style roasted chicken can be deliciously delivered right on your backyard grill. So. if vous avez le désir to add a little “Hon, Hon, Hon!” to your poulet rôti, then this is the technique for you.
Let me begin by telling you that I have an intense love for roasted chicken. To me, “tastes like chicken” is actually a good thing. If you’re dubious, then you’ve probably never had a properly cooked roasted chicken. There is a nostalgic comfort elicited by the smell of a chicken roasting in the oven – crispy skin, herbs, maybe some roasted veg…and then there’s the schmaltz. That’s right, schmaltz – that delicious, silky, broth of rendered chicken fat that pools in the bottom of your roasting pan just begging for a little roux and mustard to elevate it into lip smacking, heavenly gravy.
Now that I have your taste buds all ready for velveteen gravy, I have to make a confession. You won’t be getting any gravy on this technique. What you will get is a plump, grill roasted bird, bursting with herb laden juiciness and paper-thin, crispy skin.
French Style Grill Roasted Chicken with Tarragon Butter
Gather your ingredients:
- One 3-5 lb (preferably organic) chicken
- 1 bunch of fresh tarragon (dried won’t work here)
- dijon mustard
- salt and black pepper
- olive oil
- brine for the chicken (salt, sugar, spices, water)
The first step is to mix the compound butter. Start with 1/4 lb (or so) of softened butter (~1stick), 1/4 cup of chopped tarragon, 2TBSP dijon mustard, salt and pepper (to taste) and mix that with a little olive oil in a glass bowl with a fork to make a compound butter. Set this aside at room temp.
Next make a brine for the chicken. I like to use a good amount of salt and sugar at a 2:1 ratio along with some peppercorns, a half onion, and half of a lemon. For this chicken, I used 1.5 qts water, 2 cups salt and 1 cup of sugar. For more on brining check out this awesome article. Brine your chicken for at least 2 hours, but not more than 6.
About an hour before you start the grill, and about 3 hours before you plan to eat, pull the chicken from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. For best results (ultra crispy skin) let the chicken air-dry in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes on a rack (bottom shelf!).
Next, we need to add the herb butter. A good tip is to first use your fingers to gently separate the skin from the breast starting at the neck and then working your way down to the legs while keeping the skin intact. Don’t worry if you rip it – we can work with that. Carefully push the herb butter under the skin of the chicken starting at the top of the bird (breasts at the neck) and working down into the legs. Pack as much of the herb butter as you can under the skin, then massage the skin to evenly distribute the butter mixture. If you have any butter left over, spread that over the breasts and thighs.
If you ripped the skin take a toothpick and reconnect the skin without piercing the meat of the chicken. It’ll look like Frankenchicken, but it will keep the butter under the skin while its cooking.
Next, liberally salt the inner cavity and the entire outside of the bird. Salt actually helps with crisping up the skin, so don’t be shy. You can either truss the chicken with kitchen string like this, or you can tuck the wings under then use a wooden skewer to pin the legs back as I have done here.
Now go light that grill! I used charcoal (on my trusty Weber Silver) and the indirect method as you can see below. By putting coals on the outer edges of the grill and the chicken in the middle, an oven-like convection is created. I did not use smoke (soaked wood chips) for this preparation, because I wanted the herbs and the chicken flavor to be the highlight.
Cover the grill with the lid and leave the vent holes half open on the top and the bottom (gas grill: medium heat). You’re looking for a grill cooking temperature of 300 -325 F. Check periodically to make sure you’re not getting hot spots or flareups and temp the bird often after the first 45 minutes to make sure you don’t over cook. Use a temperature probe inserted into the deepest part of the breast (and not touching the bone) to check doneness. This should take about 90 minutes – give or take. Pull the chicken from the heat when the breast is 160F and the thigh is 170F. Tent with foil and allow to rest for a full 20 minutes before carving.
Serve with roasted potatoes (from the grill!) or grilled asparagus and enjoy with a nice oakey White Burgundy or Sonoma Chardonnay. Bon apetite!
What’s better than barbecued oysters, Sonoma Chardonnay and a West Coast Sunset? Not much. The great thing about Pacific oysters is that they really don’t have an off-season (months without R’s) like the east coast oysters. This is because the water stays colder and in the case of Drake’s Bay, Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, Washington state etc, they can actually lower the oysters into deeper, colder water when the warm, early Fall months hit the West Coast. So when the Altantic oysters get milky these osyters are still briny and amazing.
That said, “sans-R” months where I’m from in South Carolina mean BBQ’d oysters. And although, “raw, on the half” is my favorite way to eat oysters, barbecued oysters are not be missed. That’s why I was excited to barbecue these Drake’s Bay oysters on the houseboat in Sausalito. As you can see, these babies are big. It takes a brave soul to sidle up to a plate of these big’uns at a raw bar. Enter at you’re own peril, in other words. However, these cooked oysters shrink up nicely when you cook them in the shell, which makes them much more manageable going down.
Smoked Barbecued Oysters with Mignonette Sauce
No mysteries here for this technique. Gather a dozen or so large, raw oysters and carefully shuck them to retain as much of the oyster liquor (liquid) as you can. Set up a grill for indirect cooking giving you a hot and cool zone (charcoal: coals on one side; gas: light one side of the grill, duh). Soak some of your favorite hardwood chips in warm water just as you light the grill so they’ll be ready when you need them.
Place the oysters close together on the cold side of the grill: Ever.So.Gently. We don’t want to lose any of that liquor! Drizzle some of your favorite BBQ sauce on each oyster with a spoon or a silicone brush. Add a handful of your soaked chips to the hot coals, cover, and let the briny, smoky magic happen. These took roughly 10 minutes for medium well-ish oysters. Your mileage may vary. You’re looking for a little shrinkage while still leaving some of that delicious BBQ-y, briney nectar still in the shell. I eat them whole, but some people prefer to use a fork. I also prefer the flinty snap of a Chalk Hill Chardonnay with this dish, but a cold IPA would go just as well.
No rocket science here. Minced shallot (brunoised, if you got that swagger like Escoffier) goes into a glass mixing bowl with a light vinegar (champagne, rice wine etc), pinches of sugar, salt and cracked black pepper (to taste) are added then whisked. Serve room temp with your Q’ued bivalved mollusks. If you have any stories from Point Reyes or Hog Island, let me know!
Cheeseplate: Podda, Point Reyes Blue, Piave, Culatello
So, how do you put together the perfect cheese plate? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: You stop at the Carnegi Deli first. Actually, you (practice x 3). And by practice, I mean eat a lot of cheese.
That said, a cheese plate is can be much more than stinky cheese on a board that you deliver to unsuspecting guests with a wearing a beret, a striped shirt and a scowl (like I do). Cheese plates can be everything from the perfect cocktail hour apertivi, a savory amuse bouche to fire up those taste buds, all the way to the final plat of your yearly 21 course gastronomical explosion extravaganza that puts Thomas Keller and Alice Waters to shame. Ahem…
The point is: it’s not rocket science. As with wine, start with what you like and work from there. Chances are if you like, it your guests will too. If you’re new to fancy pants stinky cheese, then you’ll probably want to start with some standards and maybe roll out one out-of-your-comfort-zone cheese each time just to expand your horizons. A good rule of thumb for cheese plates is a soft, a semi soft and a bleu. This “rule” is broken more often than not, however.
The best place to start your cheese buying is at a specialty grocery store. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, it’s that chain grocery stores (Publix, Bi-Lo. Stop N Shop, et al) typically do not have a good selection of quality cheeses. Good choices are: Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Fresh Market etc. If you live in a city, then I highly suggest hitting your local specialty deli. Be sure to ask lots of questions to the cheese-monger (yes, cheese-monger). Most folks who work the cheese counter really love cheese and have a deep knowledge of region, taste, milk type etc. If you’re new to it, then certainly let them know. You may get turned on to a cheese that you would have never considered or were too timid to try.
In terms of display, you can use a cutting board, a piece of slate or marble – pretty much any flat surface capable of being carried from the the prep area to the guests will do. You should definitely experiment.
As for utensils, each cheese should have its own knife so the cheeses don’t get mixed when guests are eating. It’s also a good idea to cut a few pieces of each cheese to encourage guests to do it in the same fashion. Another general rule of thumb is cut cheese off so that the original shape is maintained. So, for a triangular wedge of Brie (a soft cheese) cut a thin slice or two that leave the triangular shape to the main piece. For hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano you can either cut uniform pieces or as is more common, fleck off chucks with a cheese knife. Cheeses with inedible (or very hard rinds) are just fine. Don’t worry about removing them (assuming guests can get to the cheese without cutting). Also, any condiments should have appropriately sized spoons so your guests can serve themselves without making a mess. (e.g. No tablespoons in the ramekins).
Speaking of condiments, unless the container is very decorative, you should always put condiments in a new container like a ramekin or bowl.
Bread is usually welcome with any cheese plate, but not necessary at all. If you have a really expensive cheese (and stinky e.g. Époisses) and the quantity is therefore limited, you can certainly use nuts, honey or fruit to garnish. Also consider some premium charcuterie (aka salumi, cold cuts, deli meat), seasonal nuts and fruits along with your cheese, especially if you are using your cheese for cocktail hour.
The cheese plate is nothing to fear, especially if you have taken some time to consider your guests, the season and your own sense of adventure.
The board above:
The board above starting clockwise from the lower left is:
- Culatello (cold cut) – a cured Parma ham made from the prosciutto cut (the best cured meat on earth)
- Point Reyes Blue Cheese – blue cheese from Point Reyes California (tangy, tart, mildy stinky)
- Pears – organic golden pears from Massachusetts
- Podda -Sheep and Cow’s milk cheese from Sardinia (grana cheese that tastes like Reggiano and Pecorino combined. If you want a cheese that makes people go “wow, what was that?”, this is it)
- Piave Vecchio – Cow’s milk cheese. Tart, slightly grana, italian cheese)
- Pecorino Toscano (Pienza) – Sheep’s milk cheese from Pienza Italy