Lemonade Chicken

Mmmmmm. Smoke.

I’ve been trying to cook slow-carb recipes to support my wife’s dietary interests, it’s pretty much like low-carb but with the addition of legumes, especially lentils and beans. A lot of the time, I’m right along with her, I don’t mind eating that way even though I’m not officially trying to diet or anything. Our point of reference is Tim Ferris’s Four Hour Body diet, but I haven’t discovered any important differences between his setup and other various slow-carb diets. At the end of the day, our diet has eliminated most bad carbs, has effectively reduced fat intake (unlike various Atkins permutations) and guarantees inclusion of lots of made-from-scratch vegetable dishes. Can’t be all bad.

Mostly, we do it because it works for us; for me as the person who does most of the cooking because it’s basically nutritious and offers some flexibility that low-carb diets restrict. For my wife, it’s because the diet works. The Girl doesn’t really care; she’s not very invested in food other than the normal feast or famine habits of a growing kid. And we don’t hold back carbs from her; she can have toast for breakfast if she wants or whatever. As I said, it works for us.

(I do most of the cooking because I really enjoy it and not because my wife can’t or won’t cook. She’s actually a great cook and doesn’t mind the work; I’ve just quietly taken over more and more of it over the years because it’s such a great way for me to unwind after work.)

Anyway… I was looking in the refrigerator last night to see what sort of stuff we had sitting around that I could use to grill the chicken quarters I’d picked up. The lemonade in the door leapt out at me, so I formulated a plan. The result was “lemonade chicken,” and it was surprisingly awesome. I’m documenting it here in case someone might stumble across it while they’re looking for something a little different to cook for dinner. Also because my on-the-fly cooking approach would allow me to forget how it worked if I want to try it again in 2 months.

I won’t call it a slow-carb recipe because of the added sugar and honey. The monitoring my wife does on her diet indicates it didn’t harm her efforts though; if we ate like this daily, I’m sure it would so it doesn’t happen often. Some crafty soul may spot ways to cut way back on the sweeteners without harming the recipe; as I’ve said, we just don’t use artificial sweeteners any more, but for people who are OK with artificial sweeteners there are some obvious and easy substitutions to make.

So here’s my semi-serious attempt at documenting the recipe. I’m kind of informal about measurements when I’m making things up, so definitely adjust stuff to taste. It’s meant to be cooked on a grill, and although it doesn’t take a ton of work, there are fairly specific stages that need a bit of attention.

Lemonade chicken
Serves: 3-4 people
Total cooking time: 90-120 minutes
Prep time: 10-15 minutes

2-3 pounds of chicken parts; we leave the skin on but follow your preference. I personally prefer to cook with the skin on and remove it when I eat, it seems to prevent the chicken from drying out.

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup  paprika
scant 1/4 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons onion powder (more or less to taste)
optional: 1-2 tbsp of Chimayo chile powder

1 cup lemonade
1 cup white wine
2/3 cup honey or agave nectar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon lemon salt
2 or 3 tablespoons of butter

Get your grill heated up while you’re preparing the other stuff. Set it up for direct heat – if you’re a charcoal griller, leave the charcoal in the middle and you’re good. If you’re on a 2+ burner gas grill, light one side and leave the other off or very low. You’re going to grill the chicken directly, so a good hot fire, but not volcanic, will be appropriate. However you’d normally do it to grill chicken pieces.

Next, mix the rub ingredients in a bowl with your fingers. If the brown sugar is fresh it ought to be slightly moist. It’s not vital to have it blended 100%, but you won’t want lumps of paprika or onion powder.

To start with, wash the chicken and gently pat it dry with paper towels. (You want to remove excess water, not get it bone dry.) Cover a baking pan or other convenient surface with 2 layers of paper towels and spread the chicken pieces out on top. Generously sprinkle the rub on the outside of the chicken, flip the pieces and coat the other side. You shouldn’t have a ton of rub left; you can discard the remainder or use it in the sauce.

The charcoal is in the center and the chicken is right on top.

Next, you’re going to put the chicken on the grill. If you like to add wood chunks, this is the perfect first time to do it. I add big wood chunks directly to the charcoal, not soaked or anything. Whatever you normally do will be fine. Some people brush the grill with olive oil first, I didn’t bother in this case, and as long as the chicken is cooked hot enough and long enough, it seems to release from the grill just fine without. My own preference in this case would be for milder wood smokes, so I didn’t use hickory or mesquite. I used some applewood and some cherry wood (generously) and it was pretty perfect. I imagine pecan would be at least as good. Oak too.

You’ll cook the chicken 8 minutes, flip it, and cook it another 8 minutes. If  you check at 4 minutes and find the chicken getting black already, cut the time back. (I accidentally cooked one side for 16 minutes yesterday and it was quite black, but that was all sugar caramelizing so it still tasted great. I let the burnt side cook in the sauce to compensate and I might not have needed to.)

While the chicken is grilling, get the sauce ready. In a 12″ cast iron skillet, pour the sauce ingredients and whisk them until they’re reasonably well blended. Do a sneaky finger-tasting of it. If it’s not slightly sweet and tart from the lemonade, add more lemonade. If you can’t detect the bite of the wine or the mustard in your nose, add a bit more wine or mustard. If it’s basically savory and nothing sticks out, you’re there. You probably won’t need to add any salt, but if a vague something is missing, cautiously add a bit more salt or lemon salt and you may find it magically falls into place. Don’t worry about melting or chopping the butter or even mixing too thoroughly; avoid big lumps of anything (especially the honey) and the heat and time will take care of the rest.

Getting it into a 12" skillet is easier if you don't have too much chicken like I do here. It still worked out great though.

After you’ve flipped the chicken the first time, bring out the pan of sauce and keep it handy next to the grill. After the second side of the chicken has been grilled, the skin should be dark and slightly charred – the sugar in the rub should have burnt a bit, it’s perfect that way and adds flavor. (Mine was quite black on one side because I lost track of the time and it was still great.) After the second side has cooked, gently remove the chicken with tongs and place it directly into the pan of sauce you have on the side of the grill.

This would be a great time to add some wood chips if you’re into that kind of thing, it’ll be cooking in the sauce for a while and it’s a chance to add a lot of flavor.  After the grill’s been emptied of chicken, do a quick scrape again and then put the cast iron skillet directly over the fire. If you’re controlling your vents or watching the temperature, you should have a temperature of 300 or so; if it’s much higher than 350, try to pull it gently back until it’s between 250-300. If the temperature is much below 250, try to get it a bit hotter. (

Since you’re going to cook for a while, and since the chicken is basically cooked already, and since you’re cooking in liquid, it’s not crucial. Aim for a little too cool rather than a little too hot though.

Cook it for a while, at least 30 and probably 45 minutes, but the heat in your grill will ultimately decide. As long as the temperature allows simmering, 200+, you’re fine. Don’t open the lid too often, but do flip the chicken every 15 minutes or so (the sauce probably doesn’t cover the parts all the way so it’s necessary). Cook it until the sauce has reduced by at least 50% and less than 2/3; it will have started quite thin and clear, but by the time you’re done it should be a rich amber color and have a consistency like pancake syrup – that’s how you’ll know it’s time to take it off. (The consistency will end up more like honey once it cools a bit. If it’s not slightly thickened when you’re considering taking it off, just cook it longer to reduce it more. If it’s not noticeably thicker by the time it’s been on for 30-45 minutes, you’ll probably want to get the heat higher.)

Update: Having cooked it twice in two nights, you really need to keep it hot enough to ensure the sauce can reduce. It was more windy today so it was hard to keep the heat high enough – on a charcoal grill like mine if you leave the vents open while there’s 25-35mph winds, it’ll blow the heat right through it and cool off, and if you close the vents up the fire won’t get quite enough air to really heat up. You do what you can… The sauce didn’t reduce nearly as much though.  It was still good. Like, “Hey, this is pretty OK.” But if you can reduce the sauce by 66% instead of 45%, the difference is magical. Like, “Hey, this is the only food I want to eat from now on.” My grill’s temperature hovered around 200-210 degrees, and it just wasn’t enough.

Take the skillet off the grill and let the food cool on a trivet for 3-5 minutes before serving. The sauce ought to thicken a bit while cooling, so give each piece a quick turn in the sauce so it’s coated all over. Serve it in the skillet but warn people about the handle – it’s tempting to grab it!

Enjoy! (I’m cooking it again tonight and with a little luck I’ll have a decent picture or two to add.)

Obama’s inaugural dinner will model Abraham Lincoln’s. And they posted the recipes!

250px-newmexicochilesI just read an article on ABC News’s website that described the great efforts the inaugural committee was putting into emulating what the 16th president served at his own, right down to the china patterns. It’s not the kind of article I usually come across, much less read, I’m all hung up on “real issues” and “substance” and stuff, but this one caught my eye for some reason. I won’t recap it, it’s concise and well written if anyone’s interested. 

What I thought was cool was that the inaugural staff has not only posted the menu itself, probably as expected, but also the recipes! I’m probably not going to make me any pheasant any time soon – you really ought to hunt your own if you’re going to eat pheasant, and I’m not going to hunt my own –  but I’m pretty tempted to scale down that seafood stew/puff pastry recipe my damn self. (The recipe calls for 6 Maine Lobster tails. I’m thinking of a quantity that is more in the zero-to-one lobster tail range.) My kid will probably make “that face” at me if I offer her some, she’s not big on seafood or creamy soups, but if it’s good enough for the leader of the free world (am I supposed to capitalize some of that?), it’s durned well good enough for my family. No matter. More for the grownups. Continue reading

I feel like I’m cooking all the time

It’s been a year with a lot of small but important changes. Sometimes the most impressive changes are the ones that are easiest to see – new house, loss of job, new pet, kid – but those sort of take care of themselves. They don’t happen all the time. For me, I find that I sort of coast through the big changes and it’s the apparent doldrums in between that get a little tricky. I could ramble about how my kid’s in preschool or recap the car accident I had in the summer, but my kid was in daycare before, and I didn’t get hurt in the accident and ended up with a very similar car afterwards. They make up events on the timeline of the linear version of my life, but they don’t make up real change. Continue reading