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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…

Cooking Fresh Beans

10 Nov

Every year I grow a few varieties of fresh shelling beans, and when I’m lucky I find them at the local markets as well.

A common even weeknight-fast way of cooking them is to combine beans, salty water, a splash of olive oil, some aromatic (half an onion, a shallot, a clove of garlic), a whole dried hot pepper pod (without seeds if I want it to be less spicy), and a bay leaf.

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Just low-simmering this combination for 25-45 minutes until creamy-soft (time depends on the particular beans, their size, and their maturity) and then draining and dressing with good olive oil is consistently delicious.

 

Pizza on a Charcoal BBQ

18 Nov

(quick notes, mostly jotted down to remember what worked well)

My third try in three years, and the most successful (I got the grill up to 700 degrees, which I’m sure helped):

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Grill setup: plenty of charcoal below, all air passages cleared of ash, and a pizza stone (porous side up for my glazed/porous stone) raised on two bricks to bring the pizza close to the hot lid of the ceramic grill. I let the charcoal burn for 90 minutes with the lid closed to get the entire grill up to 650-700 degrees (when I tried making a pizza earlier, it burned on the bottom before it fully cooked on the top– I think because the ceramic grill lid wasn’t hot enough– I could also try further raising the stone next time).

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The dough recipe is down at the bottom. After letting it rise overnight in the fridge, I pulled it out about an hour before the grill was ready and rolled out each crust on a floured board before transferring it to the peel (on a layer of coarse cornmeal), rubbing olive oil into it, sprinkling a little salt onto it, and then topping it.

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Each pizza only had to bake for 3 or maybe 4 minutes when the grill was at peak temperature (later in the evening the charcoal burned down and the grill dropped to 500-550 degrees– the pizzas still came out pretty well).

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We made 6 different pizzas in one evening for a small cocktail party with a group of friends– success!

Dough recipe (6 small pizzas, enough for 6-9 people):

  • 690g white* flour
  • 255g whole wheat flour
  • 21g sugar
  • 15g salt
  • 15g yeast
  • 690g lukewarm water
  • 48g olive oil

(*usually King Arthur bread flour, but this time I used a 50/50 mix of bread and all-purpose because I ran out of bread flour)

Mix all the dry ingredients except the yeast.

Make a small depression in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the yeast there.

Gradually pour the water/oil mixture into this depression, stirring in a small circle to dissolve the yeast and to gradually incorporate the flour into this.

Turn the (quite wet and sticky) dough out onto a floured countertop and knead a dozen times.

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let rise overnight in the fridge (take it out at least 15 minutes before making pizzas and divide it into 6 balls).

Corn Muffins 5 Ways (from Backyard Corn)

23 Jun

(from last winter) What do you do when you grow five different varieties of colorful heirloom corn in the back yard?

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Grind them into cornmeal and make individual corn muffins, of course:

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Some day I’ll type up some notes on the corn growing itself– it was very fulfilling and an interesting challenge (especially the hand-pollinating due to the small area under cultivation and desire to keep separate varieties from cross-pollinating).

We couldn’t really taste a difference between muffins made with different corn (as expected, I suppose), though in a blind taste test H and I did both pick out the muffin made with Oaxacan Green corn as our favorite and a bit “nuttier” than the others… and we tasted a big difference between our freshly-ground dried corn (any variety) and cornmeal-from-a-box.

Caramelized Garlic, Kale, and Cheese Tart

28 Jan

The caramelized garlic tart in Ottolenghi’s Plenty is very good. I recently made a greener tart inspired by it that combined:

  • A basic butter pie crust, pre-baked until golden
  • Three heads of heirloom garlic cloves, caramelized with a little red wine vinegar (following the general process in the recipe above)
  • Gruyere and goat chevre
  • A whole bowlful of kale from the winter garden, chiffonaded and wilted / cooked down for a few minutes in a skillet
  • 4 eggs and a little milk and yogurt to fill the tart

It worked well for breakfast the next morning, too…

Hand-churned Strawberry Ice Cream

22 Jul

For years, I’ve been thinking back to the strawberry ice cream of my youth– made from strawberries picked down the road that day and painstaking hand-cranked by kids and adults on the front porch in a wood bucket leaking salty ice.

I finally had a chance to try to recreate it, at a 4th of July BBQ we threw for a few dozen friends and their kids, and it was all I remembered and more:

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If I’m going to make strawberry ice cream, the ingredients had better be good– so we took a day trip down to the U-Pick at Swanton Berry Farm to fill a flat with about 9 pounds of berries:

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I wanted to let the strawberries shine, so after some poking around online to see what others have done I decided to stick with a simple Philadelphia-style ice cream base (cream, milk, and sugar– no eggs). Since the strawberries will bring along a lot of water on their own (I pureed them and passed them through a coarse strainer to take out some of the thicker pulp and some of the seeds), I left out the milk and went with pure half-and-half.

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I also took a hint from the Serious Eats recipe and swapped in a little corn syrup (non-HFCS) for sugar, to reduce the sweetness and add a sugar that wouldn’t easily crystallize.

My final recipe, for 3 quarts of ice cream base (which churned up into a nearly-full 6-quart container of ice cream), was:

  • 4.5 lbs of picked-just-the-day-before strawberries, hulled, pureed, and strained (producing about 5 cups of strawberry juice)
  • 3 pints of Strauss half-and-half
  • 2 1/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of Karo light corn syrup
  • about 1 tsp of salt

I whisked these together, let them chill in the fridge overnight, then churned them surrounded by ice and many cups of salt*… and the end result was magical. Creamy, not too sweet, no ice crystals, and just the pure cold essence of a summer strawberry.

 

* Technical sidebar: The salt is there to lower the freezing temperature of the ice and help it melt (it’s really the phase change from solid ice to water that matters). Briefly: salt reduces the freezing temperature of water -> more ice melts -> large amounts of energy (heat) are sucked out of the surrounding environment during the phase change from ice to water. This cools the ice cream far more rapidly than just a cold bath of for example antifreeze (or pebbles, or anything without a phase change) at the same temperature would.

It also took me a while to find a good-quality hand-cranked ice cream maker– most of the ones for sale these days have plastic gears or are small KitchenAid-accessory ice cream makers that require you to pre-freeze a special container first (and I don’t currently own a KitchenAid). I wanted a solid, metal-geared (ideally, stainless steel) machine, both for the nostalgia factory, and to make 6+ quarts of ice cream in for a party in one go. I looked at used ice cream makers on craigslist and ebay, but finally found what I wanted through Lehman’s, an Amish supply company.

It took more elbow grease than I remembered (even with me expecting that to be the case)– perhaps 30-40 minutes of solid churning between three adults and three enthusiastic kids. But the result was worth it, 100%.

Lacto-Fermented Hot Sauce

5 Feb

After reading an essay about Tabasco sauce, getting a Sander Katz book as a present, and taking a class at Preserved Oakland, fermented hot sauce was on my mind, and I like how my first batch (a blend of 4-6 week fermented jalapenos, Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, garlic, and spices) turned out. In photos:

Jimmy Nardellos submerged in an 4-5% concentration sea salt brine with a few hot thai chilis, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, corianted seed, and brown mustard seed:

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Jalapenos, a few cayennes, and garlic and peppercorns submerged in brine:

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I left some peppers at room temperature for a few weeks, but also put some peppers in one of my temperature-controlled “fermentation fridges” (a mini-fridge retrofitted with a temperature controller, allowing me to hold it at 55-60F for a slow, long, 4-6 week fermentation even during warm weather). Also shown: a hard cider aging:

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Blending the various peppers and garlic and a bit of the drained now-probiotic / live cultures brine to make a fermented chili paste (or in a few cases, to strain to make a thinner hot sauce):img_3674img_3687

My understanding in more detail:

Traditionally, many cultures’ hot sauces were made through lacto-fermentation, the same general process behind sauerkraut, kimchi, half-sour pickles, and other live-cultured foods. Rather that using vinegar, this involves packing vegetables and spices in a salt brine, and letting a series of wild bacteria (most commonly from the skins of the vegetables) multiple and progressively transform the food and environment over the course of weeks to a few months.

There are good and bad bacteria (and molds and other undesirable microorganisms), so the name of the game is all about creating environments (salinity, acidity, oxygen or lack of oxygen) that favor the growth of the desired microorganisms and shut down the undesirables.

There are plenty of books about this so I won’t recap all the details here, but I’ve always found it fascinating. There’s not just one bacteria involved– one bacteria may thrive in a salty but neutral-pH environment and as it multiplies lowers the pH of the environment, making it more hospitable to a new bacteria that will then start to multiply and further lower the pH (shutting down the previous bacteria).

These intermediate modest-pH fermentation steps may produce strong, funky, and occasionally unpleasant smells that make you think it’s spoiling (mine did for about two weeks but then faded as fermentation progressed), and white cloudy yeasts and slimy fluids may also form from this complex colony of microorganisms. It takes some effort to get past a reflexive disgust– but given the right time and environment and vegetables well-submerged under the brine away from surface mold, these fermentations generally all end up dominated by lactobacillus, an especially low-pH-tolerant bacteria that defines lacto-fermentation and the particular (good-tasting) fermented vegetable tang. This web page has a more detailed step by step of the phases of fermentation and the microorganisms involved, and highlights how lactic acid bacteria are only present in small amounts on vegetables, but through this progressive environment change are favored to multiple and eventually take over.

There are a number of ingredients that also help prevent formation of mold and preserve the sauce, including traditionally spicy ingredients (garlic, hot peppers) as well as juniper berries and grape leaves– so fermenting hot peppers should be a bit easier than some other vegetables.

I took the approach of submerging peppers in a salt brine of about 4-5% (for every quart of water I used 2.5 Tbsp of a mix of coarse sea salt and a Japanese “moon salt” (also presumably a sea salt), but this is based on an estimated conversion between volume and mass— for future fermentations I used a scale to weigh out 4% salt).

I went through this roller coaster of smells, textures, and appearance on the first two batches of peppers– at 2-3 weeks they smelled fairly unpleasant, and I had to skim off some significant surface scum (mold?) on the room-temperature bottles (this seemed to be somewhat less of a problem for the ones in the 60F fridge). But after 4 weeks the smell had mellowed out, and at five weeks when I took off the weights and extracted the peppers they had a intense but pleasant kick of funky fermented tang, and made a good hot sauce when blended with the fermented jalapenos and garlic. I kept this hot sauce in the regular fridge after this to slow down any further fermentation.