Tag Archives: chicken

My Kind of Fast Food

When I left for La Varenne cooking school back in the summer of 1989, I thought I had a tidy 9 months ahead of me. But what already was clearly going to be a fascinating adventure became even more so when the excursion got extended a few different times and became 2 1/2 years of French bliss. I finished my degree as planned, but stayed on for new opportunities that presented themselves. It became something of a bohemian lifestyle, moving a lot, often back and forth between Paris and the northern Burgundy countryside where the school’s Château du Feÿ is located (and currently for sale, if you’re in the market for an amazing château property!). Even in Paris, I lived many different places: a spare room in a family apartment, a spare apartment in the La Varenne building, even on a friend’s couch in the Austrian Embassy for a week or two (he was the chef and I was between gigs).

By far my favorite spot, though, was the tiny apartment where I hung my chapeau for 6 or 8 months while working for Patricia Wells and still keeping my fingers in some La Varenne work (just prior to Anne Willan having begun the Look & Cook book series, which kept me in France for another year). The bed in this very small nook of an apartment, on Rue de Trois Frères just below the basilica Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, was on a platform raised above some of the living space. The kitchen so small I had an under-counter fridge and just 2 electric burners with which to cook. Did I mind? Not in the least. To have any Paris real estate to call my own was like heaven, and my windows looked out onto a backyard garden with a peek-a-boo view of the Eiffel Tower.

Needless to say, I did very little cooking in that kitchen. I became a quick

the fixings

the fixings

regular at the nondescript café Le Favorit on my block and took advantage of amazing to-go foods available at nearby markets. I did come up with one “signature dish,” however, inspired by this experience: chicken with endive. Now and then, on my way home from work, I’d buy half of a rotisserie chicken from a streetside vendor and pick up a few heads of Belgian endive. With just a skillet, a dab of butter and a few splashes of white wine, this became such a satisfying meal for such limited resources.

sauteing the endive

It was with that dose of nostalgia that I recreated the meal a week or two ago. I bought a whole rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and a bunch of endive, reliving for a moment the delicious simplicity of that slice of my life back in Paris. I halved the endive heads and cut out the core at the base of the leaves, which harbors bitter flavors.  Then halved each piece again into quarters. After heating a combo of butter and olive oil in a skillet, in goes the endive to saute for a bit. I don’t stir much, more just gently swirling the skillet and carefully turning the endive pieces; ideally I try to keep the portions together as much as I can. Though the random few leaves that separate? They’ll just caramelize a bit more and bring some extra, lovely flavor to the dish. It’s all good.

When the endive had started to soften and seemed about half cooked, I topped it with the portioned chicken. I drizzled a good 1/3 cup or so of dry vermouth into the pan, topped it loosely with a piece of foil and reduced the heat to low. Twenty minutes or so later, the endive will be tender, the chicken will be gently reheated and dinner will be ready to serve. If there’s liquid left in the skillet or the endive looks a bit pale, crank up the heat for a minute to polish things off.


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Dinner at Home: Grilled Whole Chicken

Great minds think alike, don’t you agree? My food-writing cohort and friend Nancy Leson spelled out a few days ago–in delicious detail–the steps she (and her husband Mac) uses to turn out perfect whole chicken roasted on the backyard grill. I’d served at home last Saturday night very much the same thing. Minus the Lawry’s Salt (though I do have a bottle on my shelf) and using a brine instead.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, a classic (oven) roasted chicken is a staple in this house, some nights absolutely nothing could taste better. But with heat like we had last week, no turning on the oven in this house. Grill-roasted chicken it was.

chicken and potatoes

Grill-Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

I brined the bird in a very simple mixture of water, salt (about 1/3 cup per quart of water), grated lime zest, crushed garlic cloves and a few dashes of Tabasco (could have used more!). I started the brine with just half the water, warm, stirring with everything else until the salt was dissolved. Then, because I was in a hurry, I added ice, stirring until melted and the brine was cold. In goes the rinsed chicken, then into the fridge for 24 hours. Wonderful mysterious transmogrifications happen in that time. (By the way, possible flavor combos in the brine are endless: herbs, spices, citrus zest, chiles, wine, onion, ginger, you name it.)

Like Nancy, we’re Weber kettle grill folks in this household and also swear by the chimney contraption to perfectly get the coals a braisin’ without using that awful lighter fluid. When the coals were good and ready, I spread them to opposite sides of the grill, in slender piles right up against the side of the grill. I also made a foil pan (triple layer, fold up the edges; or buy a foil pan at the store) to put between the coals. The chicken’s going to drip fat during cooking, this just helps tremendously with clean-up.

After taking the chicken from the brine, pat dry and set it in the center of the grill grate, right above that foil pan. Set the vents each about half-open, cover, and make a gin and tonic. Or open another bottle of Chinook rose. Or both, in succession. I don’t fiddle much with the bird while it roasts. It keeps the leaner breast meat farther away from the heat of the coals and avoids tearing the skin. I did turn onto the breast about halfway through for 15 minutes or so, just to amplify the crispy-brown character of the skin.

One important point is that the coals will likely need some replenishing along the way. And don’t wait too long; consider that a handful of new coals added to the glowing ones will take a good 20 minutes to kick in. Hopefully your grill grate has those little hinged openings; just lift them up and scatter 5-7 coals on top of the existing ones. After that, you deserve another glass of wine.
Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Also on the menu, some grill-roasted potatoes. I cut some Yukon Golds into big wedges, tossed them with a little melted butter, sliced garlic and salt and wrapped in a couple layers of foil. They went on the fire after about 45 minutes; also in the center, if possible, away from direct heat.

The menu was rounded out with a simple tomato salad, tossed with regular chives and garlic chives from the garden, in a simple vinaigrette. And red chard that I quickly sauteed with garlic. A colorful, delicious, aromatic, relaxing meal to have out back on the cool patio on one of Seattle’s longest and hottest days.

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