Cooking my Way through the Deep Freeze
Having been though the warmest recorded winter/year in Michigan it was only a matter of time before Mother Nature said “Don’t get used to it”. This past week we got the message when the temperature plunged to around zero and I decided it was time to get the wood burning stove fired up. When I bought my house years ago it was one of the feature that came with the addition on the back of the house. The down side is that when it get on the cold side in winter we need to burn wood to keep the house warm. I remember one winter where the temperature stayed below zero for a month and I kept the fire going continuously the entire time.
What does this have to do with food you ask? Hang with me…
One winter our stove (gas) needed to be replaced and rather than rely on takeout while replacing it I got asked myself “What if I tried cooking in the fireplace?”. So I marinated some boneless skinless chicken breasts, dragged out the cast iron skillet,set it on the fire logs and,low and behold, I cooked up some awesome chicken breasts. I mean I was truly impressed/inspired! Since then I’ve cooked chicken breast,pork chops and roasted fish (mahi mahi). I‘ve also done the accompaniments (potatoes,vegetables etc…) and everything I‘ve done has turned out well. The food took on a luscious,smoky taste. Recently I got extra ambitious and decided to try a whole chicken. As with everything else I have cooked in the stove the trick is to keep it from burning. This requires almost constant attention as there are a lot of variables when working over an open flame and in the wood burning oven.
I began by spatchcocking the chicken. While this sounds like it could be complicated what it means is to remove the backbone of the chicken for roasting. I just uses a pair of kitchen shears and cut it out.
The next step, and a very important one, was to brine the chicken. Brining give you and incredibly moist and flavorful bird. My brine is just salt and sugar (although you can add spices for flavor as well) my recipe is:
1/2 gallon cold water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
I brought the ingredients to a boil and allowed it to cool completely. You could do this the night before and just leave it on the back of the stove (covered).
I then marinated the chicken in the brine for 3-4 hours (refrigerated). After which I towel dried it and sprinkled it with a mix of salt (little), cumin and black pepper.
Not to miss a step but I had already gotten my fire going a couple of hours before to make sure it was good and hot. I then placed my chicken in the cast iron skillet and set it in the oven,making sure it was close to the flame, but not directly on it. I then closed the doors and let the magic happen!
Not wanting to oversimplify the process it bears saying that I checked it every 5-10 minute making sure it wasn’t burning and that it sat level on a log. I also added white wine and water to create pan juice to baste with and control the heat under the bird. Constant shifting and turning were part of the drill. I also used my thermometer (calibrated) to make sure when my chicken was done. One and a half hours later I had a bird that any chef would be envious of. I mean when you go to that 4 star restaurant and they have roast chicken on the menu ($25.00 and up),this is what you get (although maybe not as good).
For those of you who say “I can’t do that!” you can still brine your bird. You can maybe try it on the grill outside when the weather gets warmer. the important part is to have fun with the experience! I know not everyone has the equipment to take this on but cooking is an adventure and the journey is what make the experience memorable.