Julia K. Ellis
[Note: This entry is about the best recipe for spicy grilled chicken on Earth. But I don’t rush right into it. If you’re in a hurry, skip to the bottom.]
I am what you could call a recreational cook. Other than a summer spent as a pantry cook*, my cooking has been done in my own kitchen.
So, with no formal training, I’ve indulged my interest through cookbooks and magazines. Lots of magazines. Cook’s Illustrated, Gourmet, Saveur, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Bon Appétit – I’ve subscribed to them all. Most of them find their way, ultimately, into the recycling bin. But the very best issues find a home on the shelf near my embarrassingly large collection of cookbooks. There’s the Cook’s Illustrated with the decadent brownie recipe; the 2007 Latino food issue of Gourmet; and then there’s the July 2003 issue of Bon Appétit – the all-time greatest summer issue of any cooking magazine ever (at least in my opinion).
Focusing on “who’s who in American barbecue,” this magazine has enough recipes for you to try something new on the grill every weekend for an entire summer. In July 2003, my wife went out of town for Independence Day. Several of my college buddies descended on our house, and we stocked up on enough meat and beer to get us through the holiday weekend. We also drew on the new issue of Bon Appétit for inspiration.
We made the Caesar coleslaw. We made the watermelon, green onion and mint salad. We grilled the Dixie chicken and the Napa Valley Cabernet burgers. We even made the banana betty for dessert. It was all good, but the Dixie chicken was amazing. It quickly became a standard at our backyard barbecues and, over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe a few times to suit the palates in my household.
My version is spicy, but not as spicy as the original recipe. My revised recipe is below, and I’m including a link to the original recipe as well. Try them both and let me know what you think – there’s still plenty of grilling to be done!
* I spent one summer as a pantry cook at Berret’s Restaurant in Williamsburg. I learned the proper way to slice an onion and shuck an oyster. I witnessed the dessert wizardry of the amazing Charlie Little. And, not incidentally, it’s where I met my wife. It was a good summer.
Ship’s Revised Dixie Chicken Recipe:
2 big pinches kosher salt
2 teaspoons cracked/ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons creole (or Cajun) seasoning
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 4-pound chickens, quartered (or a family-size package of chicken leg quarters)
Mix everything but the chicken together in a small bowl. Be sure to do a thorough job (I use a whisk), but keep your face away from the bowl – one whiff of that cayenne pepper and there will be more tears than the opening night of Steel Magnolias.
Sprinkle spice rub over both sides of chicken pieces, and rub it in. Arrange chicken pieces on waxed-paper-lined baking sheets. Cover chicken with more waxed paper and let stand at room temperature 1-2 hours.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Be sure to oil or grease the grill itself before putting the chicken on. I usually fold up a paper towel, dip it in olive oil and rub it over the grill—re-dipping the paper towel repeatedly—just before putting the chicken on (I know other oils would handle the heat better, but I just like olive oil—okay?).
Place chicken on grill, skin side down. Try to keep it away from the center of the grill where the heat is highest. (This will make the skin dark, which I like (but not charred). If you don’t like slightly burnt skin, start with the skin side up.) Grill 20 minutes. Turn chicken over. Grill until golden brown, about 20 more minutes. The chicken should be done when its juices run clear and no red shows when it is cut at thigh bone. That being said, I usually check the temperature using a meat thermometer. The USDA says the temperature should be AT LEAST 165°F, measured at the thickest part of the chicken thigh and breast.
Serve it up and eat!