- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Sometimes I think one of my favorite things about being a chef is that I have a huge charcoal grill right in my kitchen. Like most men, I love to cook over an open fire, even if it isn’t out in the open, and the coming long Fourth of July weekend is going to bring plenty of great opportunities to grill or, as some people prefer to call the process, barbecue.

Since this is being read in many different parts of the country, and even in other countries, I should clarify my terms. True barbecue, so its fans will tell you, is a cooking process involving big pieces of meat or poultry, cooked by indirect heat - that is, not directly over a live fire or hot coals but near enough to them to cook to tenderness slowly while being scented by their smoke. It also involves barbecue sauces, which differ from region by region and may feature various combinations of ingredients like vinegar, tomatoes, spices and sweeteners such as sugar, honey or molasses.

Barbecuing, in other words, is as different from grilling burgers, hot dogs or fish fillets quickly over direct heat as, say, roasting is from pan-frying.

And that’s why many people who are used to quick grilling run into trouble when they try to barbecue. They don’t build a fire for indirect heat, which involves massing the hot coals or lighting the burners under just half of the grill rack, enabling them to sear the food’s surface quickly over direct heat before moving it to the cooler half of the grid to finish cooking, covered. To make matters worse, they apply an often sugary-sweet barbecue sauce to the food too early, before the indirect-heat phase, which causes the sauce to burn and give the food an unappetizing black crust rather than a rich, flavorful glaze.

I’ll admit that slow barbecuing isn’t for everyone. Some people just don’t have the patience for it.



But it’s easy to enjoy true barbecue flavor when you barbecue chicken. Even though chicken pieces require indirect heat to cook properly, they still take no more than half an hour. And if you sear the chicken first over direct heat and then only paint on the sauce before moving it over for indirect-heat cooking, you’ll get perfect results.

The method will work with your favorite barbecue sauce out of a bottle. For an extra-special flavor, however, please let me share my own sauce recipe. It includes a good balance of sweet, tangy and spicy tastes, and gains extra flavor and body from sauteed apple, onion and peppers pureed with the other ingredients. Be sure to heat up some extra sauce in a pan on the stove, to serve alongside the chicken.

ARBECUED CHICKEN WITH SWEET AND SPICY BARBECUE SAUCE

Serves 6 to 8

SWEET AND SPICY BARBECUE SAUCE:

3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

1 red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 red bell pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, deveined, and coarsely chopped

1 small apple, cored and coarsely chopped

3 small fresh hot red or green chili peppers, stemmed and seeded

1 cup (250 ml) plus 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2/3 cup (160 ml) red wine vinegar

1/2 cup (125 ml) molasses

1/3 cup (80 ml) tomato paste

1/3 cup (80 ml) packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

BARBECUED CHICKEN:

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, breasts and thighs boned, drumsticks and wings left bone-in

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

First, make the Barbecue Sauce: Heat the peanut oil or vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red bell pepper, apple and chilies and saute them, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, vinegar, molasses, tomato paste, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, coriander and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In small batches in a food processor or a blender, taking care to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid splattering, puree the sauce, transferring the pureed batches to a non-reactive bowl. Set aside. If you make the sauce ahead, let it cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating.

Before cooking the chicken, preheat a charcoal or gas grill, arranging one part of the fire for direct-heat cooking, the other part for indirect-heat cooking.

Brush the chicken pieces all over with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Starting skin side down, put the pieces directly over the hottest part of the fire and cook them until evenly seared a deep golden color, about 3 minutes per side. Then, with long grilling tongs, move the pieces to the cooler part of the grill not directly over the heat. With a grill basting brush, baste the pieces generously on both sides with the sauce. Cover the grill and cook until the chicken is done, registering 165 degrees (75 C) on a grilling thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, 7 to 10 minutes per side.

While the chicken is cooking, heat up additional sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat to pass alongside at table.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Also, chef Wolfgang Puck’s latest cookbook, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, is now available in bookstores.

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