Monday, December 15, 2014

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

A popular way to make "oven fried chicken" includes using a mayonnaise slather on the chicken.  The mayonnaise does a few things, such as; 
  1. acts as a binder to hold other ingredients on the meat,
  2. provides a tangy flavor similar to buttermilk marinated chicken, and
  3. it helps keep the chicken moist.
Typically those recipes go for an Italian seasoned chicken but I thought it would be good to take it in a Southwestern direction by adding Mexican crema, Cotija cheese, oregano, cilantro, and red chile flake instead.  As it turns out, this is the closest thing I have come to crispy "fried chicken" on my kamado style grills.  I was just using the Big Green Egg as a brick oven, so you could just as easily make this in your oven.

fried chicken breast, Southwestern chicken, Tex-Mex chicken

The cotija cheese and Mexican Crema used to be a little difficult to find but now most grocery stores stock these in their refrigerated Latin food section or dairy department.  Cotija is salty and nutty, similar to Parmesan and you could substitute that in a pinch.  The crema could be substituted with either sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt.  If you are a cilantro-phobe, you can simply replace it with dried parsley.

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema
  • 1/4 cup grated Cotija cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs, non-seasoned
  • 1 teaspoon Southwestern seasoning
  1. Set up your grill for indirect heat and preheat grill to 400°F.  Alternatively, you can use your oven at the same time and temps.
  2. Mix together the mayo, crema, Cotija, cilantro (or parsley), oregano, and pepper flakes to form a paste.  Slather mixture all over the four chicken breasts and place on a raised rack over a quarter sheet pan.
  3. Mix together the breadcrumbs and Southwestern seasoning.  Sprinkle this over the chicken breasts and lightly press into the chicken so it will stick.
  4. Place the chicken, rack, and sheet pan in the grill (lid closed) or oven and cook until the chicken breasts turn golden brown reach an internal temperature of 160°F, about 30 minutes.
Kamado notes:  I used my Big Green Egg (Egg #1) with the plate setter in "legs up" and the Craycort grill gate on top of that.  Once it was preheated well at 400°F, I dropped my bottom vent to about 1" open and the top DFMT vent was slid shut with the petals open to hold 400° for the duration of the cook.

Typically, I flatten and pound out chicken breast for even, fast cooking but for this recipe, I keep them bunched up in the "roast" shape as they come out of the package like shown below.

Trim off any of the excess fatty pieces.

There is no way to do this without getting a little messy, so the gloves come in handy.

We used a Southwest Seasoning from McCormick but you can use whatever brand or recipe you like.

chicken on resting rack
The rack/pan combination goes right into the grill or oven.  It lets the air circulate around the chicken so you don't have to flip it.  Spray the rack with cooking spray to make the chicken easy to remove after cooking.

The rack is a tight fit on a large BGE but it does fit if you are careful with the placement of the corners.  It fits with no problem in the Vision Classic B kamado.

As always, go by internal temperature, not time.  I took these all of the way to 165°F for the crispy crust and they were still juicy inside.

oven fried chicken, chicken Big Green Egg, kamado fried chicken
Served with corn & green chiles and Chipotle scalloped potatoes.

This chicken was moist with a flavor loaded crisp crust, just about perfect - a definite winner.  We also made the Homesick Texan's Chipotle Scalloped Potatoes on Alexis' Big Green Egg (Egg #2) and I'll do a post on that later this week. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fire Roasted Chicken with Whiskey BBQ Sauce

You can pick up a BBQ rotisserie chicken for just a few bucks at most grocery stores now.  While they are convenient when you are on the run, they sure don't taste as good as ones that you make yourself. Hand made the hard way just tastes better.

barbecue chicken plate,

This recipe comes from Adam Perry Lang .  APL is a restauranteur, a classically trained chef, celebrity pitmaster for the Jimmy Kimmel show, and the author of highly acclaimed BBQ books, such as; Serious BBQ, BBQ25, and Charred and Scruffed.

I own all three and would highly recommend any or all of them. 

My hands-on cooking style (called "fussy" by my wife) is heavily influenced by these three books. Adam calls it "active grilling" and I like that term better. 

Adam is on a tour across the country with George Dickel celebrating American craftsmanship - things hand made the hard way like George Dickel whiskey crafted here in Tennessee. I recently had the opportunity to interview both Adam and Doug Kragel, Master of Whiskey, about BBQ and Tennessee whiskey.

In addition to the interview, Adam shared these two recipes for a hand made rub and sauce.

Making a rub from whole spices like this is an extra step or two but it unleashes a flavor that you can't get from pre-ground spices and herbs.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

BBQ Event: 2014 Pensacola Eggfest

Earlier this month we wrapped up 2014 with our final BBQ trip of the year at the Pensacola Eggfest, where we were invited as Guest Judges.  I don't think we could have ended the year on a more positive note.

Eggfest, big green egg

This Eggfest is sponsored by Kia Autosport of Pensacola and the proceeds go to Chain Reaction, a civic organization who's mission is to develop teenagers' leadership, character, and skills through volunteerism.  I can't say enough about the people we met that were a part of this amazing organization.  Their enthusiasm, spirit, and sense of civic pride was obvious in this event.

When is a better time to throw a BBQ event in sunny Florida than in November when gloomy grey skies and the first ice storms are crawling across the country? 

Sign reads:  "No Beach Setup - walk thru only.  Enforced"   I do not think that word means what you think it means...

We stayed on the Old River side of Perdido Key.

The event was held at the absolutely gorgeous Pensacola Bayfront Stadium - an amazing venue.  The cook teams were stationed around the wide walkway that wraps around most of the stadium.  It was an ideal set up for crowd flow.

I was super excited to have my sister, Rhonda (left), attend with us.  She's been an Egghead for a couple of years but this was her first Eggfest.

Moe Cason (BBQ Pitmasters, Ponderosa BBQ) gave a brisket class before the event.

I had a good time talking with Ivan D about the Smokin' In The Square BBQ Cook off that is a KCBS event in Florida in March.  It is a great early season contest in Florida - perfect way to kick off your competition season.  Sign up now!.

While I had Ivan distracted, my sister tried to "run off" with one of the trophies for this year's Smokin' on the Square.

I finally got to meet one of my online colleagues - Big Green Craig.  In addition to judging the event together, we also had a fun time together at dinner that night with our families.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

El Diablo Onion Rings

We wanted some pub style food for the weekend games so I decided to make some ribs and onion rings this weekend.  Is there anything more "pubby" than beer battered onion rings?

I made the ribs using the Apple Cider Ribs recipe from Chris Lilly's 2014 book, Fire & Smoke.  It's a great book and it would be a good present for the griller on your shopping list.

As much as I tout the advantages of the kamado grill (Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Grill Dome, Primo, Vision, Etc), there is one thing that bugs me when cooking ribs on them.  With the indirect set up using a plate setter/heat diffuser, the end of the ribs stick out over the gaps which are hot spots noted by the red arrow in the picture below.  This means those parts of the rib will cook faster and unevenly.

Sorry about the mobile phone picture.  Red arrow points out the gaps where you have hot spots while grilling indirect using a plate setter.

I thought I would try to do something about that this time.  I used a 16" pizza pan ($5.49 at Gordon Food Services) and drilled holes in it.  I placed this 1" above the plate setter.  The pan edges help deflect the heat from those hot spots so the heat can't just come straight up and hit the food.  The holes give the hot air somewhere to go besides just around the edges of the pan, otherwise I'm just pushing the hotspots out a little further.  

This worked pretty well at tuning down the hot spots just like using tuning plates on a stick burning, offset smoker. This isn't something that you have to have, I just think it makes a great grill work just a little bit better.

These loin back ribs were HUGE, weren't they?  I prefer true baby backs (2 1/4 lbs and down) but these were all that we could find at the time.

It worked well enough that I'm going to play around with that design some and make a better version with legs built in and the holes drilled symmetrically once I find the best pattern.

More mobile phone pictures - sorry 'bout that.

The onion rings were an idea I had back when we did the tailgate party but I nixed them from the list because our deep fryer had kicked the bucket.  I thought that adding one of the El Diablo Mustard varieties to my onion ring batter would spice things up a bit.  This recipe is mild as written, to increase the heat to medium just increase the mustard to 1/2 cup.  For hot, add in some of your favorite hot sauce.

El Diablo Onion Rings

  • 4 large Vidalia onions, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rings
  • oil for deep frying
 For the batter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white corn meal
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 3/4 cup light beer (American style lager)
  • 1/4 cup El Diablo Chipotle Mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons oil

  1. Mix together the dry batter ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Whisk the wet batter ingredients and then whisk that into the dry ingredients until combined in a smooth batter. 
  2. Heat your deep fryer or oil in a Dutch oven to 375°F.  When deep frying, always follow manufacturer's instructions, use personal protective equipment, and ideally have a Class K fire extinguisher available.
  3. Dip 5-6 onion slices into the batter, shake off the excess batter and lower into the hot oil.  Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 1 minute, and then use a long utensil to flip them.  Cook the second side until golden brown, about half the time that the first side took.
  4. Remove to a resting rack over paper towels.  Lightly season with fine salt.  Keep warm in a 200°F oven*.
  5. Repeat with remaining onion slices until all are cooked.
*The ignition point of paper is about 451°F so the paper towels should not ignite in a 200°F oven but I would only do this since I am near the oven the whole time and it will only be in the oven for about 10-15 minutes total. 

You can use types of onion other than Vidalia, I just like their sweet taste and meaty rings.

This is just the wet ingredients - look at all of that seasoning from the El Diablo mustard.  If substituting a different type, look for one loaded with visible seasonings, not plain yellow or dijon.

I stumbled on to this but a straight carving fork is perfect for handling the onion rings in and out of the batter as well as in the hot oil.

Notice the texture of the batter - that's where you want it.  If it is too thick, just add a beer 1-2 tablespoons at a time until you get the consistency like this.
Excuse the blurry picture but I was holding this as I took the shot and was paying more attention to keeping my hand out of the 375°F oil.   To keep the onion ring from sticking to the basket, hold each ring like this for about 3 seconds to let it start cooking before letting go all of the way.  

The color is your guide of when to flip and remove the onion rings more than time.  Also, give your oil a chance to recover its cooking temperature between batches.  You definitely don't want the oil dropping below 350°F. 

It is best to season fried foods as soon as they come out of the oil so keep doing it in small batches.  Don't wait until the end to season them all at once.

Honestly, I ate more onion rings than I did ribs.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Taste of Atlanta - Big Green Egg Turkey Demo and Turkey Grilling Tips

Last month I had the privilege of helping my good friend and colleague, Clint Cantwell, do a turkey cooking demonstration for Big Green Egg at the 13th annual Taste of Atlanta.  This lively culinary event features more than 90 restaurants, over 300 dishes, and tens of thousands of people.  It also boasted 4 live cooking stages and one of those was entirely dedicated to Big Green Egg cooking demos like the one we did for Grilled Turkey with Citrus Herb Salt and Sage Butter and Smoked Butternut Squash and Maple Bacon Soup.

spatchcock turkey, Big Green Egg turkey,
The beautiful bird that I cooked at the Big Green Egg corporate headquarters.

The event started off Friday night with a big kick off party full of entertainment, fun, music, and of course - food.  The theme was Culinary Matrimony where select chefs prepared their unique combination of ingredient pairs that while a bit unconventional - worked together.

Some of the chef's tasting stations were in individual booths on the edges of the park...

Some were under the "big top" along with other fun stuff.

Electric Avenue played the best of the 80's hits, it felt like 1985 all over again.

Chef EJ Hodgkinson's team made Grilled Chicken with Alabama White Sauce and Collard Green Salsa Verde.
 Some of the other dishes included bold offerings, such as;

Trio of Oyster Shooters and Champagne
Pulled pork, homemade pimento cheese, and Granny Smith Apple Slaw
Smoked Chicken Sausage with Hot and Sour Green Tomatoes
Venison Meatballs with Chipotle Cranberry BBQ Sauce
Twice Baked Potato with Lobster, Grained Mustard, and Saffron Aioli

Of course there were some ingredient pairings that evening that made Clint give the "wonk eye".

The entertainment included gaming's all legal for charity.

I absolutely loved this serving set up for Jim and Nick's BBQs pulled pork nachos.  I fully plan to use this idea at some point in the future.  

The Big Green Egg crew was at the kick off party serving the crowd some great food off of the Ultimate Cooking Experience.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Product Review: Thermoworks DOT Remote Probe Thermometer

Sometimes the best recipes are ones that are simple but well executed.  For example, a perfect steak doesn't need much other than quality beef, salt, pepper, and maybe garlic. 

Tools can be that way too.  Sometimes tools get so over-engineered that you forget what the original function was supposed to be. 

Dude #1:  Check out my new screwdriver.  It is made out of titanium, has surround sound, GPS, three USB ports, and comes with OnStar service!
Dude #2:  Cool!  How well does it drive screws?
Dude #1:  Screws?  

Just in time for the holidays, Thermoworks has come out with DOT - a well-designed remote probe thermometer with streamlined functionality*.  It is simple enough that anyone can use it but it is engineered for the commercial kitchen. 

First let's look at the simple functions.  
  • It displays the current temperature.  
  • It has an alarm.  
  • It has two buttons that raise the alarm temperature up and down.  
That's it. Compare it next to my favorite remote probe thermometer, the ChefAlarm, and you can see how streamlined the functions are.

No key pad, no volumes, no timers, no data logging, no tenths of degrees, no low temp alarms, and no backlit displays.  Not that there's anything wrong with those things, I love my ChefAlarms (all three of them!).  This is just a matter of preference.  Some people are tech geeks like me and want things to fiddle with, adjust, and to entertain my ADHD brain.  Other people just want the thing to do it's damn job without having to mess with it.  The DOT is the latter. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Giveaway: Char-Broil Big Easy Oil-Less Turkey Fryer

It is November which means a few things are coming...
  • Some disappointed football fans will switch their focus and start talking about "next year",
  • People will be commenting on Facebook lament about how stores used to wait until after Thanksgiving to put up their Christmas displays, and
  • Your local news team will do a feature with the fire department about the dangers of frying a turkey and will start by showing a Youtube video of someone burning their house down.
Yes, deep fried turkeys became popular in the 90's and have been providing viral videos of "Hold my beer and watch this" pretty much ever since.  Personally, I like to just spatchcock (remove the backbone and flatten it out) a turkey and cook it on the grill like I did with this Apple and Sage Turkey

But I get that some folks want it easier.  Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I am going to give away a Char-Broil Big Easy™ Oil-less Turkey Fryer.   That's right....oil-less.  No burning down the house required.

The Big Easy's claim to fame is that it is faster, cheaper, and safer than deep frying a turkey.  The cook time isn't faster, but the start to finish time is because you don't have to wait for the oil to heat and cool down. It is cheaper because you don't have to use a large amount of cooking oil.  That makes it safer too, you aren't lowering a turkey into a boiling vat of oil over open flames.

The Big Easy™ is easy to use, as its name implies.  Not a lot of dials or settings to mess with.  No temperature gauges.  No fussing with positioning the turkey.  No trussing the bird required.  No large roasting pan to contend with.  It is as simple as putting your bird into the basket, lowering the bird into the preheated cooking chamber, and waiting until your bird is done.

The design is very simple yet highly effective.  The cooking chamber is a stainless steel drum with a wire basket that holds your turkey (or roast, or chicken, or ribs, or....) in perfect position.

Notice the hole at the bottom - you'll see what this is for later.

A gas burner coils around the bottom of the unit to heat it evenly.

The controls are basic, just an igniter to start the Big Easy™ and a single heat control knob.  Not rocket surgery here.