Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grilled Smoky Mountain Chicken "Cheeseburger"

I grew up on the beaches of Florida and I have missed surfing for the past 10 years but I love living in East Tennessee.

The area is full of natural and historical attractions and the scenery of the Smoky Mountains still awe this flat-lander. A few weeks ago, Trevor and I got to take a two hour zip line tour above the trees in the Smokies.

Trevor heading away.

Another thing this area is famous for is its illegal bootlegging “home based distilleries and back yard breweries” during the prohibition era (and afterward ala Popcorn Sutton). Fortunately, laws are different now and breweries and distilleries can operate in the open and under regulation. There is a legacy of home brew in these parts.

So when McCormick's Grill Mates and Lawry's Flavor Forecast came out this year...

the flavor pairing that obviously caught my attention was...

Smoke & Craft Brews – Regional American beers are gutsy partners for the BBQ inspired smoke notes that can be cleverly infused through a range of smoky ingredients and techniques.

It's no secret, most mass produced American beers are watered down lagers that don't pack a flavor punch. But micro-brews have the freedom and audacity to “bring it”. I used local Downtown Grill & Brewery's White Mule Ale. It's medium body worked well with the bold spices and seasonings in Backyard Brew.

Did they say “smoky ingredients and techniques”?   Since I was grilling this chicken and not smoking it, I used 3 tricks to infuse that smoky flavor into a beer-cheese sauce. The beer-cheese sauce is so good on it's own you'll want to just use it as a dip for bread or sausage.

grilled smoky mountain chicken "cheeseburger", chicken sandwich

Grilled Smoky Mountain Chicken “Cheeseburger”
serves: 4

4 ea chicken thighs, boneless skinless
½ cup of your favorite pale ale craft brew
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 strips hickory smoked bacon
4 slices tomato (optional)
lettuce (optional)
4 onion rolls
1 cup smoky beer-cheese sauce (see recipe)

Beer Cheese Sauce ingredients
3 Tablespoons reserved bacon fat
¼ cup sweet onion, minced
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
½ cup of your favorite pale ale craft brew
½ teaspoon McCormick's Smoked Paprika
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon McCormick's White Pepper
½ cup chicken stock
1 cup mild cheddar cheese, shredded
1 Tablespoon roasted red jalapeno diced (substitute red bell pepper if you must but it's really not that hot)
¼ cup half and half
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Mix the Backyard Brew marinade, beer, vinegar, and olive oil according to package directions and marinate the chicken thighs for 4 hours.

Cook the bacon. Reserve 3 Tablespoons of the bacon fat. (Smoky trick #1)

Sear the red jalapeno until blackened and place in a Glad zip top bag for 5 minutes. Split in half lengthwise so it lays flat. Scrape off and discard most of the charred skin on the outside and the seeds on the inside. Finely dice the roasted pepper. (Smokey trick #2)

In a small sauce pan saute the onion in the bacon fat over medium heat until just starting to turn tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add the flour and stir constantly until blended into a blond roux which should only take a few more minutes.

Add the smoked paprika (Smoky trick 3), white pepper, and salt. Whisk in the beer. It will look like your roux fell apart for a second. Don't panic and keep stirring for a minute until the consistency is smooth again.

Add the chicken stock and stir. Bring to a very low simmer. Mix in the cheese in small batches until melted.

Add the red pepper, half and half, and worcestershire sauce. Cover and keep warm over very low heat.

Remove chicken from the marinade and grill directly over medium high heat (400f) for 6 minutes a side or until it reaches an internal temperature of 170.

Toast the insides of your onion rolls.

Build each sandwich with a thigh, two pieces of bacon, ¼ cup of the beer-cheese sauce and lettuce & tomato if desired.
grilled smoky mountain chicken "cheeseburger", chicken sandwich

The grilled chicken was great on it's own. But the crisp bacon, rich sauce and the slightly acidic kiss from the tomato put this sandwich over the top.

grilled smoky mountain chicken "cheeseburger", chicken sandwich

Serve with your favorite craft brew, of course!

Standard Disclaimer:  I received the pictured Flavor Forecast kit free from McCormicks.  However, I just counted and I have over 30 McCormick's products in my spice cabinet for which I paid full retail price.