Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A bird in a bag is worth two in the pot.

When I was a kid, my mom and stepdad Howard would tag-team barbecue chicken. Their recipe was  a two-step process that went something like this:

Step 1: Mom boiled the hell out of chicken until it was cooked through and then some.

Step 2: Howard would slather the boiled chicken with Gates BBQ sauce and burn the tar out of it on the grill.

Despite growing up with a poor example of BBQ cooking technique, I still have a fondness for barbecued chicken, and have yet to find a version that's not too dry/too raw/too flavorless/too saucy/not charred enough/charred too much/etc. In short, the idea of barbecued chicken far outweighs the actual execution of the end result.

Show me a BBQ joint that can do chicken right and I'll show you a good BBQ joint.


You get the idea.

So what's a girl to do when it's summer, and the sweet and spicy call of barbecue sauce and grills calls out of the humid June air? The typical girl would suffer through with whatever overcooked bird she could rustle up.

But the girl with the sous vide machine - well, she's got all the right tools in all the right places.

For your viewing pleasure, a modernist girl's guide to perfect barbecue chicken, in four easy steps:

Step 1: Brine the bird. The best way to get flavor into poultry (or pork) is to brine it. I made a solution of 4 cups water plus 1/4 c. salt, put two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts into a zip-top bag and poured the brine over the chicken. Seal and store in the fridge overnight. Rinse the chicken under cold water before moving on to remove extra saltiness or you'll be sorry.

Step 2: Sous vide the bird. It's not easy to cook chicken to the perfect doneness by any method - it's either not done and inedible, or overcooked and barely edible, unless tended to by a skilled hand. This is especially true with a grill - by the time the outside is cooked to a good level, the inside is not done at all. If you cook the inside all the way through, the outside is overcooked, tough and oftentimes burned beyond all recognition. The sous vide technique solves this problem. By cooking the chicken sous vide, it's perfectly done, moist and flavorful edge to edge - no overcooking issues to worry about.

After brining and rinsing, I put my chicken breasts in food-safe bags and added some 3 Little Pigs BBQ sauce, then I sealed them in a chamber vacuum (you can also use zip-top bags and the Archimedes' principle).

I put the bags in the Sous Vide Supreme preheated to 147 degrees and left them in there for an hour and a half, during which time I took Finnie for a walk at the park with her new backpack.

Step 3: Grill the bird. After I got home from my walk and the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the bags, added more BBQ sauce, and grilled it on a wicked-hot grill for about 2 minutes on each side, until it was nice and burnt - just how I like it!

Step 4: Eat the bird. Behold! The barbecued chicken of your dreams!

The chicken was moist, flavorful, succulent, well-seasoned and out-and-out incredible. The only thing I'll change for the next time is I'll remove the skin before grilling it. I love the burnt bits, but don't like chicken skin. Since the chicken just needs a quick scorching, the skin isn't necessary to retain moisture - the sous vide cooking method ensures moistness throughout.

Am I wrong, by the way? Are there places in town where one can get really good barbecued chicken? Other than my own kitchen, I mean.

I'd love to know.

1 comment:

  1. I recently brined whole chickens for the first time before smoking. It's obvious that this is the only way to go. Although my brine had 3/4 cups of salt, 2/3 cups of sugar and can't remember how much soy sauce per gallon of water. America's Test Kitchen had a cup of sugar and a cup of salt for the same amount of water.