Monday, March 30, 2009

Frugal Gourmet: Recipes for a Whole Chicken

We picked up a whole chicken from the butcher on Saturday, with plans to use it as part of our sunday barbecue. I'll use it to make:

Succulent Smoked Chicken
Herbed Chicken Liver Pate
Curried Chicken Empanadas
Carrot Orange Ginger Soup

How to Smoke a Chicken

Every Sunday at my house we have a barbecue. It's a feast for the whole family, plus whoever wants to drop by, and we do most of the cooking for the week ahead.

A little after lunch on Sunday afternoon, I extracted the innards neatly packaged in the belly of the chicken I'd bought for this week.

I separated the liver from the rest, and set it aside. The neck, heart and whatever other stuff was in there went into a small pot with an onion and some celery, a bay leaf and a few herbs to make stock. I can either turn that in to gravy, or freeze it for later use.

I always keep the livers from roasting chickens in my freezer for making pate. This week I picked up an extra couple of pounds of them from the butcher. They run about eighty cents a pound on special around here.

Next I dumped the bird in a bucket of water for about an hour. About 1.5 gallons, with a cup of sugar, a cup of salt and fresh herbs from the garden (I used tarragon and rosemary this week). This is called brining. It's a quick, easy, cheap way to boost the flavour of your bird that I learned about here:

I never leave my chickens to brine as long as they recommend. I don't want the flavouring to be overpowering, plus I tend to leave things to the last minute. An hour or even 30 minutes has worked out well for me in the past.

Once we were ready to start cooking, I dropped the whole bird in to our smoker, and left it to slow roast.

The term "smoker" really makes this contraption sound a lot more sophisticated than it actually is. In reality, it's a galvanized can I bought at a local market, with a couple of wires strung from the lid to form a harness to hold the bird over the fire. It stand about 2 feet high. It's rustic, but turns out a perfect, deep golden, succulent smoked bird every time.

Underneath I slipped in a pie plate with a pound of chicken livers to smoke alongside. This is the secret to truly fantastic home-made chicken liver pate.

In total, It took me about 15 minutes of actual effort to set all this up. Fill the bucket with water, dump in salt sugar and herbs I snipped from a nearby plant, pluck the chicken from the bucket and put it in the sling, then add the pie-plate of livers over the smoking coals and wood chips.

My husband hangs out in the back yard and reads the paper or hops in to the pool with the kids most Sunday afternoons, or has a few friends over for a beer. He'll check the bird once in a while, and ad a few fresh wood chips or embers to the little can we have for that purpose at the bottom of the "smoker". All in all, it requires very little babysitting, and comes out looking picture perfect and tasting even better.

About an hour into the process, he'll pass me the pie plate with the smoked chicken livers, and I'll spend a few minutes whipping up some delicious Smoked Chicken Liver Pate, which we serve with homemade melba toast rounds and chutney or sour pickles, for people to enjoy while they wait for the main event.

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