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Tandoori Chicken in a Charcoal BBQ

30 Nov

Earlier this fall I made some delicious tandoori-style chicken for an Indian-themed dinner party. This may be the best-tasting chicken I’ve cooked in a long time.

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I figured, I have a kamado-style ceramic-walled charcoal grill / smoker that can easily get up to 700 degrees F (which I’ve used to make pizza in the past)– there must be some way to use this as an approximation of a tandoor. I did some reading, and as often seems to be the case, there was an article by Kenji on Serious Eats on this very idea.

The keys seemed to be thigh meat (delicious, doesn’t dry out as easily if the temperature gets a bit high), heavy use of a thick yogurt-based marinade (continues to shield the surface and provide moisture), and fast cooking in a hot-on-all-sides grill/oven, above open fire that can give it some char.

For twelve people (as part of a feast with many other dishes), I made about 5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

The marinade:

Grind these spices together:

  • A few spices toasted in a skillet for 1-2 minutes:
    • 4 T cumin
    • 4 T smoked paprika
    • 2 T “extra bold Indian coriander seed”
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 T achiote powder

Add:

  • 16 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 T ginger (microplaned)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups yogurt
  • 1/2 cup(!) salt

The marination:

I slashed the surfaces of the chicken thighs deeply with a knife (to make it easier for marinade to penetrate), and marinating them in the fridge for about four hours:

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The tandoor:

I started a fire in the grill/smoker about an hour before cooking, to give it time to burn down the coals and heat up the entire chamber, I had the grill temperature stable around 600-650 degrees by the time I was ready to cook. The chicken did end up sticking a bit– I could have better-oiled the grill.

I pulled the chicken out of the fridge 15 minutes before cooking to let it warm up a bit, then put the skewers (still dripping with the thick yogurt sauce) on the grill and lowered the top so they’d cook from all sides…

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At this high temperature, they only took about 12 minutes to cook (I flipped them after 7 minutes, then checked the appearance and internal temperature a few times after that– looking for about 165 degrees for these thighs). Beautiful!

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With such a short cooking time, some of the tangy spiced yogurt was still moist on the outside of the chicken– different from what I’m used to in restaurants, but delicious– and the chicken thighs hadn’t dried out at all.

We served this with a pile of lemon wedges and fresh cilantro, alongside freshly-made garlic naan, saag paneer by H with homemade paneer, deep-friend pakoras, and multiple types of daal and homemade chutneys– a great evening eating outdoors with friends…

BBQ pork tacos with smoked salsas

1 Jan

For a small New Year’s Eve party, a meal cooked primarily in the smoker (tacos with pulled pork, homemade tortillas, and salsas made from smoked tomatillos and pineapples):

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23-hour slow-smoked pork shoulder:

  • A roughly 7lb chunk of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) from Niman Ranch
  • Dry rubbed with copious amounts of salt and mustard, smoked paprika, and black pepper and let rest in the fridge for 4-5 hours
  • Smoked very low-and-slow at 215-225F for 23 hours over lump charcoal with some fist-sized chunks of apple and pecan wood for smoke, until the internal temperature was in the 195-200 range (for overnight smokes I have a ‘baby monitor’-style wireless temperature probe I rest on the bedside so an alarm will ring and wake me up if the pit temperature gets too high or low and I can adjust the airflow or add fuel)
  • No intermediate basting, mopping, foiling, etc– just keeping it simple
  • Wrapped in foil and let rest for 45 minutes
  • It was so tender I could pull off strands by hand, and with a nice ‘bark’ and smoke ring…

img_20161231_134805It didn’t even need any sauce– I just squeezed a few limes over it.

Smoked tomatillo salsa, a puree of both smoked and raw ingredients:

  • 8 large tomatillos, smoked/roasted at about 225F for two hours
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole jalapeno
  • 1/4 of a large white onion
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Salt and minced cilantro to taste

I’ve tried a few ways of using smoked tomatillos and this is the highlight for me– I’ve even frozen excess in ice cube trays to save for later:

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Smoked pineapple salsa:

My friend judit turned me on to how well smoking treats pineapple– the low slow cook caramelizes it, and this sweetness helps balance the woody smoke.

I started by slicing two pineapples into discs and smoking / roasting them at 225F for two hours (at the same time as the tomatillos and pork– in the initial, smokier two hours). I pureed:

  • One of the pineapples
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • juice of 1 lime

And then added for texture/contrast:

  • The other pineapple, somewhat coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

The meal turned out really well, if I may say so myself.

Plus, we had a lot of tomatillo salsa and pulled pork left over the next day for breakfast…

Steak + Veg

5 Dec

How to cook thin ribeye steaks? Rub with salt, pepper, and juice from crushed garlic cloves, let sit 10 minutes, preheat a skillet over high heat with a little beef fat, then cook quickly (just over 1 minute per side), remove to a plate, and let rest under tented foil before slicing.

Melting a pat of butter + goat cheese on top is optional. As is eating with lentils and romanesco in front of a roaring fire and jealous dog.

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Smoking Brisket (on a small charcoal grill)

9 May

Two Hour Tacos? Why not Ten Hour Tacos, with a slow-smoked brisket, hand made tortillas, pickles, and a creamy BBQ sauce?

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We threw a dinner party inspired by a weekend trip to Far West Texas, and this is the story of the brisket.

I’d never actually smoked meat before, though I knew the general principle of indirect heat / “slow and low”. It became clear it wouldn’t just be a “set and forget it for 8 hours” process, and that there was a whole range of intuition, tweaking of the fire, and experience needed to get a good smoke. Well, there’s no real way to learn but by doing… so after browsing various online forums and getting pointed at this Saveur article, I had a general plan.

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I’d use a charcoal grill with the coals on one side and a pan of water on the other, a whole 5lb brisket with the fat still on, with lid vents above the meat to draw smoke across it, while adjusting temperature primarily with the bottom vents to try to keep the smoker between 200 and 250F. Since I didn’t have good intuition (or experience with the grill I was going to be using), I splurged on a dual probe wireless thermometer where I could leave one probe in the brisket itself and another in the air within the grill/smoker, to let me know when the temperature was getting too high or low:

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I also spent a few evenings before the weekend  getting sucked into web sites discussing the pros and cons of different styles and types of wood (for example: “Amazing Ribs: The Zen of Wood“) and even the Wikipedia page on charcoal itself. I settled on a common approach of using charcoal for the steady heat (since the porosity and composition of charcoal makes it much easier to adjust burn temperature by modulating airflow, compared to wood which would burn hot and fast), combined with a handful of wood chunks to produce the smoke (not chips which would require too frequent replenishment over what I expected to be an all-day affair). For the wood I chose a mix of mesquite for traditional flavor, cut a bit with milder hickory and sweeter applewood as there seems to be active debate whether an all-mesquite-wood smoke imparts too much bitterness over a long slow smoke like a brisket.

Many hardware stores only carried charcoal and wood chips, but I found chunks of mesquite at the Cole Hardware on Mission St, and the OSH in Berkeley had an impressive entire aisle of wood chunks and chips of various types. For future smokes– I also read about BBQ Galore in San Rafael and Lazarri’s in Bayview (SF), though Lazarri’s is only open weekdays and I didn’t have time to make it over.

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The night before the smoke, I made a dry rub for the brisket (I considered keeping it salt-and-pepper-simple for my first time, but ended up with a light rub mostly from that Saveur article– salt, pepper, paprika, brown sugar, mustard, cumin, coriander, and thyme):

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The next morning, I was ready to go. After a few hours letting coals burn down and fiddling with the fire (the inlet vents on the old Weber were rusted open, making it hard to restrict oxygen flow enough to get the temperature down below 300F, which would have been disastrous for slow-cooling– eventually I wedged sheets of foil into each inlet vent which I could move side to side with a chopstick to control airflow) I was able to toss on wood chunks and the brisket and start the smoke. A few hours from the course of the next 6 hours as I fiddled with airflow and added wood whenever the smoke died down:

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Out of curiosity, I kept notes on the temperatures of the smoker and the internal brisket temperature over most of the day–  here’s a graph of those notebook scribbles:

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Once the brisket hit an internal temperature of 160F, I took it out, poured half a beer over it, and wrapped it in thick aluminum foil before tossing it back onto the smoker. This helped it cook the rest of the way through and form a nice crust around the edge:

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Finally, after 8 hours outdoors in the mild sunny Bay Area weather tending meat with a beer on hand, it was done. I let the brisket rest an hour still wrapped to reabsorb its juices, then opened up the foil and diced it into cubes for the tacos.

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Moderate success! It tasted great, with a strong but not overpowering or bitter smokiness, and when paired with some handmade tortillas, onion, cilantro, and barbecue sauce it was an excellent part of the meal:

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The texture was certainly “chewy”– not unreasonably so, but not as tender as I’d imagined, so I still have plenty to learn…

Side note– the barbecue sauce I made was a hit, so I’ll jot the recipe down here. As a Northerner I claim no authenticity, but it was loosely based on a few online recipes for Texas BBQ sauce that highlighted tomato + vinegar + sugar as the base:

  1. Saute half a diced onion in a substantial amount of butter (maybe 3 Tbsp)
  2. Add a bottle of ketchup, plus perhaps half a cup of cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika, cumin, and marash chili flake
  3. Puree with an immersion blender

I don’t have quantities as the spicing was done to taste, but the vinegar, paprika, marash chili, and butter in particular came together to make an interesting, rich sauce with a background of slow-burn smokiness.

Steak, zucchini-hazelnut-basil salad.

1 Oct

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Starting to cook weeknight dishes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty. The salad was simple but surprisingly good.

Korean-style Short Ribs

28 Jul

I impulsively picked up some grass-fed korean-style shortribs at Olivier’s Butchery, marinated them in a mix of shoyu, toasted sesame oil, red chiles, and crushed garlic for a few hours, then cooked them on a hot dry cast iron skillet (3 minutes each side) and tossed them on a bed of rice and toasted nori.

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Note a bad dinner for 20 minutes of actual work and $6.

Roasting a Chicken

14 Apr

I made a moist, tasty roast chicken for 4 tonight. Tip of the hat to ei-nyung for the recipe and low-temperature tips (I added fennel, as I tend to do):

roast chicken

roast chicken

I picked up a local, pastured chicken, peppered and salted it (about 2 tsp sea salt), put it in a Dutch oven, and surrounded it with 8 cloves of garlic, two minced shallots, minced carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, and a sliced bulb of fennel.

I browned it breast-down on the stovetop for about 6 minutes, then flipped it for another 7, stirring the vegetables around the edges to cook them.

Then I covered it with both foil and the lid for a tight seal and slid it into a 250F oven for 80 minutes.

I took it out, rested it under foil for about 15 minutes before carving, and made a simple gravy: I took out the roasted vegetables (to serve on the side, minus the bay leaves, as almost a vegetable jam), strained out most of the fat, and cooked the juices down with the juice of two meyer lemons, making about a cup of brightly tart/rich sauce.

A spinach and farmer cheese salad, some very sweet first snap peas of the season, carrots, baby radishes, and a friend’s excellent shaker lemon pie rounded out the meal. It’s good to be back in springtime.