I'm always drawn to a place that cooks with wood — for pizza, steak, chicken — anything. During recent trips to Chile and Peru, the aroma of wood cooking fires captivated our culinary imaginations. A wood-fired rotisserie filled with golden chickens literally stopped our travels in the Mexican state of Oaxaca until we purchased our fill. This summer, we stood transfixed as a vendor at a fair back home loaded dozens of spice-coated chickens set on beer cans over glowing embers in a roaster.
At home, all those taste memories percolated together into the recipe that follows: A loose interpretation of the roast chickens we enjoyed in Cusco, Peru, and Mexico with the down-home appeal of beer-can chicken. Wood fire (or at least wood chips) required.
My grill doesn't have a rotisserie, so I employ a nifty vertical chicken roaster. I like versions with a center cup to hold liquid and a perforated pan for cooking vegetables. The Mr. Bar-B-Q chicken roaster costs less than $25 (amazon.com). Weber, the grill expert, also sells a couple of versions; so does grill master Steven Raichlen. You can always assemble a makeshift version with an empty beer can and a foil roasting pan.
Lots of people grill a chicken over a beer. I prefer a combination of fresh lime juice, butter, garlic and pisco (a brandy popular in Peru and Chile) to create a delicious, permeating steam. Then I baste the chicken with more of the elixir during cooking.
Look for pisco at fine liquor stores. Dry white vermouth, a nice gin or chicken broth can be substituted with different flavor results. FYI: The rest of the pisco bottle makes an amazing cocktail when mixed with fresh citrus juices. (Try our version here.)
I always recommend all-natural hardwood charcoal for the best flavor without chemical aftertastes. It burns hot, clean and tasty. No need to despair if a gas grill is your only option; simply soak small hardwood chips in water for 1 hour, then drain and wrap in foil. Pierce the foil in a couple of spots and place the packet over the heat source of the grill to add smoke while cooking.
True, this recipe seems labor intensive: Brine, grill-roast, baste, carve. But it produces the most amazing chicken with a deep smoky flavor, moist interior and pan juices so awesome you'll be tempted to drink them.
Thinly sliced yellow summer squash can be cooked alongside the chicken set directly over the coals until golden and tender. Serve the squash diced with plenty of fresh ripe tomato for a simple side dish. After all, the limey-garlic chicken deserves top billing.
Limey-garlic chicken with pisco, potatoes
Prep: 30 minutes
Brine: 1 to 24 hours
Cook: 2 hours
Servings: 5 to 6
1/4 cup each: salt, sugar
10 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 whole roasting chicken, about 5 pounds
2 large or 3 medium limes
¼ cup pisco, white vermouth, gin or chicken broth
5 to 6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds small (2 inches in diameter) assorted potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fresh chives, chopped
1. For the brine, dissolve salt and sugar in 2 to 2 1/2 quarts warm water in a large container or stockpot. Add 4 cloves of the garlic. Submerge the chicken in the brine. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Drain well; pat chicken dry.
2. To roast the chicken, use a fine grater to grate the zest of the limes into a small bowl. Cut the limes in half; squeeze their juice into the bowl. Stir in the remaining garlic, pisco, melted butter and 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Prepare a charcoal fire; let it burn until coals are covered with gray ash. Arrange the coals on two sides of the grill leaving the center of the grill empty. Place a drip pan in the center. Set the cooking rack in place.
4. Pour 1/2 cup of the lime mixture into the liquid container of the chicken roaster (or into an empty beer can). Carefully set chicken over the container or can of liquid. Sprinkle chicken generously with smoked paprika.
5. Put the chicken on the grill. Cover the grill; cook, 1 hour. Check coals from time to time; add more as needed.
6. Toss potatoes with the olive oil and salt to taste. Add to chicken roaster pan. Cover the grill; cook, 40 minutes.
7. Baste chicken and potatoes with the remaining garlic-lime butter. (Check potatoes; if they are fork-tender remove them from the grill.) Cover grill and cook until chicken juices run clear and potatoes are tender, usually 5 to 15 more minutes.
8. Carefully remove chicken from grill taking care not to spill any juices in the roasting container. Gently remove chicken to cutting board; let rest 5 minutes before carving. Place the potatoes in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with chives. Spoon or pour any juices left in the roasting pan (or beer can) into a small bowl. Carve the chicken; garnish with parsley. Serve with the juices.
Per serving: 588 calories, 32 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 171 mg cholesterol, 23 g carbohydrates, 52 g protein, 623 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Grapefruit pisco sour
Makes: 1 drink
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, mix 1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice, 1/4 cup pisco and 1 tablespoon each fresh lime juice and confectioners sugar. Cover; shake vigorously, 20 seconds. Strain into a Champagne glass. Add 1 or 2 drops of bitters.