Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

We keep things simple here at the cabin. We boat. We read. We grill. We wine. It's quite pleasant. My sister makes the best Beer Can Chicken ever. This is fitting, you know, since she makes the beer and is a Smarty Pants Food Scientist who knows her way around the kitchen on a molecular level. Our very own Queen of Beer only uses the finest stuff to shove inside her poultry. It's Budweiser or nothing in this house, folks. You can use other, of course, but not around us ... at your own risk. [cue dramatic music]

This is her recipe, including her notes, which make me smile and miss her and wish she didn't live so damn far away...

Beer Can Chicken

12-oz can of beer per chicken
3.5-4 lb chicken 2 tsp vegetable oil 2+ tbs rub: 1/4 cup coarse salt 1/4 cup dark brown sugar 1/4 cup paprika 2 tbs pepper (store the extra rub in a ziploc in a cool, dark place for months)
2 cups wood chips (preferably hickory or cherry, available at the grocery store) soaked for at least an hour in water or beer to cover, then drained (as long as overnight)
Heavy-duty aluminum foil (heavy-duty as they have)
Set up the grill for indirect grilling. Preheat on high. Using foil, make a pouch for the wood chips--similar to how we used to wrap hot-beef sandwiches. Poke a few holes in the top of the pouch. Place it under the grate over one of the burners. Reduce the grill heat to medium once you see smoke or the grill is hot.  Pour half the beer over the wood chips (or drink it). Use a church key can opener to make 2 more holes in the top. I usually remove the tab, too. Set aside.Clean out and rinse the chicken, then blot dry inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle at least a teaspoon of rub inside the body cavity and the neck cavity. Drizzle oil over the outside of the bird and rub or brush it all over the skin. This is important--it keeps the bird from burning. Do NOT use olive oil--it has too low of a smoke point and you will have a flaming chicken! Pour a little oil in your palm and go to town like she's getting a massage. Sprinkle the outside of the bird with at least 1 tbs of the rub and rub it all over. Try to get some under the skin as much as possible without tearing it. Spoon 1.5 tsp of rub into the beer can--don’t worry if it foams up, that's normal. Put the beer can on a sturdy cutting board or platter. Hold the bird upright and stick 'er on the can, pretty much as far as she'll go. Pull the legs forward to form a tripod of sorts, which should allow the bird to stand upright. (The can is the rear leg of the tripod.) Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken's back.Place the bird on the unlit part of the grill. Close the lid and cook the chicken until the skin is a dark golden brown and crisp, and the meat is cooked through. I use a meat thermometer and check the thigh area, looking for it to be about 180 degrees. Should take anywhere from 75 to 90 mins, possibly a little longer depending on the heat. If the chicken starts to brown too much, tent it with foil.When she's done, don the gloves and take her off by grabbing the can with one hand and holding the top of the bird steady with the other, then place on a platter. You can usually get the bird off the can easily by using the neck opening as a place to grab and pull up while holding the can with the other hand. Be careful not to spill the beer--definitely high stain factor, not to mention really hot. Cut into sections and serve.  Perfect summer food!
I will admit, with little to no shame whatsoever, that just after that photo was taken, my mother and I made the chickens do the can-can and cried from laughing so hard. Random silliness is a genetic trait in my family, and also my favorite thing about them. Silliness happens a lot at the lake. Another reason I love it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Best. Soup. Ever.

The Feed Store is another Springfield, IL tradition.

It's located in the heart of downtown, just across from the Old State Capital and next door to the law offices where Abraham Lincoln practiced. They serve soup and sandwiches, and some of the best around. Going there was always a treat, so now that I've moved away, recreating their best recipes is a survival skill. This was printed in Springfield's newspaper, The State Journal Register, a couple of years ago, and has been made many, many times in my kitchen since.

Feed Store Wisconsin Cheese Soup
  • 6 cups beef broth (seasoned works wonders)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 ounces beer
  • White Sauce:
  • 5 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup flour
  • 14 ounces cheddar cheese (Velveeta), cubed
  • 1 1/3 cups whipping cream

Put beef broth into a stockpot and bring to a boil. While it's heating, chop onion, green pepper and celery. Add to stockpot as broth begins to boil. Measure and add spices and Worcestershire sauce to stockpot. Stir thoroughly, add beer. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. While broth mixture is simmering, grate cheese and set aside. When broth has simmered for 30 to 40 minutes, turn heat to low, keeping the pot on the burner.
Begin making the white sauce: Melt butter in pan large enough to contain all of the finished soup (including milk, cheese and broth). Put milk into another pan and place on high heat to bring to a boil. Be sure the butter has time to melt before the milk boils. When the butter has melted, keep on low heat and gradually mix the flour into it with a wire whisk. This mixture is called the roux. Add more flour as needed to make a thicker roux.
Cook for a minute or two on low heat (till roux bubbles slowly),and remove from the burner. As milk comes to a boil, pour into roux all at once. Beat vigorously with a whisk. As the sauce begins to thicken, start adding the grated cheese, a little at a time, and beat it into the sauce as it melts. Continue to beat for three to four minutes to yield a smooth, creamy white sauce.
Carefully add the broth mixture to the white cheese sauce and mix thoroughly. Add the whipping cream and the soup is ready to serve.

This obviously is not diet food, but trust me, it's well worth it. I've thought about making it with reduced-fat dairy, but then again, why?