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Dry, flavorless chicken. It’s something that every backyard griller has faced at one point or another in his or her outdoor cooking career. Once it happens, even an easygoing home cook will start taking extreme measures to ensure that future grilled chicken stays moist.
Some swear by an overnight rest in a seasoned salt brine (much like what is recommended for Thanksgiving turkeys). Others choose to perch a whole chicken atop an open can of beer, thinking that the vapors help keep the bird tender. Truly, there are enough dry rubs, soy-based marinades and tangy sauces out there to fill a small stadium.
Thanks to Alex Guarnaschelli, however, and her recipe for Yogurt Marinated Grilled Chicken with Harissa, I’ve discovered that you don’t need any of that stuff. All it takes to make a gorgeously tender and burnished grilled chicken is a sturdy pair of kitchen shears, a little bit of yogurt, a few spices and some steady, indirect heat. She also includes a recipe for homemade harissa (a spicy sauce with roasted red peppers as its base) that makes this chicken positively dreamy. The whole thing is easy, nearly foolproof and just perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— You start by cutting a whole chicken in half. This step might sound daunting, but all you do is take your kitchen shears and cut down the sides of the backbone. There’s really no meat there, so you’re not losing anything. If you’re the stock-making type, tuck the bone into a zip-top bag and stash it in the freezer.
— Then you flip the chicken over and cut along both sides of the breast bone. Suddenly, you have two easy-to-manage pieces of chicken. Once the chicken is ready, mix up your spiced yogurt. I tend to do this in the roasting pan where I plan on keeping my chicken until it’s ready for the grill.
— Whisk together yogurt, grated ginger, ground cumin and some red chile flakes (sometimes I improvise and add a little grated garlic, as well). Rub the yogurt into the chicken halves, cover the pan and stash it in the fridge for a while. It’s good to let it sit at least an hour before cooking, but you can even do it overnight if the timing works better for you.
— When you’re ready to cook, get your grill nice and hot, place the chicken around the edges of the grate and close the lid. The goal is to capture the heat of the fire without directly flaming the bird. If you don’t have a grill, you can also roast the marinated chicken in the oven at 450 degrees F. It takes 35 to 45 minutes on the grill, and 45 minutes to an hour in the oven.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.