Monday, May 2, 2011

Walden Weekends: Wine and Dine

This weekend’s story all started a few months ago, when I went up to my family’s cabin in Twain Hart to drop off some firewood and clear out some brush. I cut up a bunch of Manzanita from the property and took it home, hoping it would be good to use for smoking. After I got home, I did research… by which I mean I typed “smoking with manzanita” into google. As with just about everything I try to research online, most of the results that came back were links to various blogs, message boards, and forums related to the subject, all of which are filled with the smartest people the world has ever known, who have the only opinion on any subject that is worth having. Anyone who disagrees with them is obviously inexperienced, or a moron. What I did, however, learn from researching manzanita on it’s own, without regard to smoking, is that it (and it’s big brother, Madrone) are in the same family as Mesquite… which, as roughly ¼ of the people in internet forums and anyone from the great country of Texas will tell you, is the only wood worth using in your smoker. I would like to get some of these people, smoke one meal with apple, one with mesquite, and see if they can tell which is which.

So it was, with this fresh supply of free hard wood, that I started thinking of a meal to smoke it with. Having made a previous foray into the world of smoking ( ) and emerged victorious, but realizing that the only thing which had been missing was my girlfriend, I began working on a recipe of sorts, and decided to try it out the first time that she would be in town during warm weather.

To keep with the theme of my weekends lately, and to really show her how beautiful it is up in the mountains around here, I planned a rvery nice day for us, starting with a walk through Big Basin, wine tasting with my mom, older brother, and brother-out-law at Savannah Chanelle winery,

then more wine at Mountain Winery,
Mountain Winery: Now with more Douchey-ness

and capping it off with chicken smoked over free manzanita (and madrone that I may or may not have stolen from a turn out along the road inside the state park).

The chicken, as I’m sure you’d remember was the case with the pork even if I hadn’t linked it for you to read about up there, was entirely experimental, and I had my family bring other dishes to go along with it just in case it turned out horribly. They were my guinea pigs. I figured I’d try it out on them before I bring some to a guy I know who competes in barbecue contests every year, and another guy I know who owns Blue Rock BBQ and judges barbecue contests. If my family liked it/didn’t get sick, that would be good, but if two barbecue experts like it, that’s a horse of a different color. (I have since given them each half of a chicken, and am awaiting their responses).

If you don’t care about the ingredients or smoking method, skip until just after the picture of the chickens where I’ll tell you how it turned out. Or, if you’re one of those weirdo’s who reads the end of the book first, skip down there and then come back. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

Ok, ready?

On Tuesday, I went to Los Gatos Meats (because I like the idea of buying meat from an old fashioned butcher shop, instead of a big super-market chain. Safeway’s good and all, but Los Gatos Meats is just a little more local, so……) and bought three whole chickens (plucked, beheaded, gutted, sans feet. It’s a butcher shop, not an asian market), and brought them home to marinate. The recipe, which I hope you won’t steal and make money off of, because I plan to use it at my pub some day is as follows:

*Put chickens in a bag or other air-tight/water-tight container
*Peel the skin away as much as you can without tearing it, rub between skin and meat with crushed rosemary, garlic salt, lemon pepper, onion powder, mint, and paprika to taste.
*Douse in extra virgin olive oil, but not to the point where they’re swimming. You don’t need as much if they’re in a bag.
*Smash up a handful of mint leaves and throw them in, under the skin, inside the body. All over.
* Cut open and juice a lemon and an orange, pour in juice, and throw the rest in the bag for good measure.
That was Tuesday. I let it sit in the bag, in the refrigerator, til Saturday, making sure to flip the bag over twice a day so the olive oil mixture would soak in evenly. Meanwhile, because I had planned for the day to be so full, and knew I wouldn’t have much time to smoke the birds slowly, I soaked some of the manzanita in a bucket of water. That way, after I have the heat going, and some of the wood smoking, the wet wood would be making steam, which would help keep the chicken from drying out. Instead of 12 to 18 hours at 140 to 200 degrees, I would be doing about 4 hours at 250 to 300.

On saturday, I prepared the chickens for glory by rubbing their skin with non-iodized salt (because I was afraid the iodine would turn them pink) to help the skin crisp without burning, tying the wings down (and sticking in some sprigs of rosemary) and filled two soda cans with ShockTop (a Belgian style wheat beer with hints of citrus and coriander), and another with water mixed with more lemon and orange juice (because, believe it or not, there are people in this world who don’t like the taste of beer, even if it’s just a minor element among a multitude of others in their food). This not only added a hint of flavor, but helped keep the chicken moist (I’m sorry. I know, you probably hate that word as much as I do) and tender. But this was all in theory. Again, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was merely going off of what I guessed would work, and hoped for the best.

Here they are, ready to fly or fail.


It would, perhaps, serve you better to talk to the other people who were there, if you know them, to find out if the experiment was a success. The consensus was overwhelmingly positive on both the beer-butt and orange-lemon-water-butt chicken, and I agree that it was good, but I didn’t fully enjoy it because I was concentrating on what I would add more of, or take away a bit of from the recipe. I think that more mint and lemon pepper are in order next time, as are lower heat and longer cooking time. However, nobody threw up that I know of, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Even Lucky said it was the best chicken she’d had all day… but, considering that the only other chicken she’d had was frozen solid, and she licks her own privates on a regular basis, I don’t tend to take her advice on culinary matters. I prefer to listen to the human guests who said things like, “this is really delicious” or “I think this is actually the best chicken I’ve ever had” or better yet, nothing at all because they were too busy enjoying the meal.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the read and wished I was there to partake. Maybe we'll be lucky one day. Aunt Jeanine