This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. A three day weekend, some warm and sunny weather in my neck of the woods, and good friends visiting from out of town will help kick off the season perfectly. Our friends Christin and Dan and their one year old daughter, whom we met for the first time were here, and each of my daughters wanted to invite a couple of friends to come over after school and stay for dinner and swimming, so last night, we needed to feed a crowd. Cooking outdoors is a must when it is warm and one of the simplest and most delicious things to make on the grill is a whole roasted chicken. We made this for the first time several years ago at another outdoor gathering in our backyard. We had invited a few friends over, and over the course of a Saturday, between running into family friends we hadn’t seen in a while and another calling to see if we were free, the dinner party doubled in size. We ended up with 20 people, and fed them all with two roasted chickens. I was very worried that we would run out, but it turned out like the loaves and the fishes; plenty for all and fabulous leftovers! Of course, there were some mighty side dishes, like coleslaw with a homemade dressing, and stewed black beans, but the roast chicken was the star of the show. What had started out as a simple dinner turned into a real summer party, and the food was at least part of the reason for the festivity of the evening. Sometimes the most enjoyable times in our lives are the impromptu: this was the spontaneous gathering of people who, in most cases, didn’t know each other, but the result was lots of laughter and merriment.
We have made this chicken many times since, in winter and in summer, and it is always a hit. You will have to plan a day in advance in order to brine the chicken overnight, and then let it roast for 2 ½ to 3 hours, low and slow. It turns out deliciously moist and flavorful, and the leftovers work well in a sandwich or as part of the filling for a burrito the next day. The only thing better than this chicken is the ability to entertain friends with a satisfying meal.
For the chicken:
2 large whole chickens
Cut each chicken up the back, on both sides of the spine, removing the backbone so that the chicken can lay flat on a grill.
For the brine:
1 ½ cups kosher salt
1 ½ cups sugar (we sometimes use part brown sugar)
1 tsp. fresh cracked peppercorn
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
In the largest pot you have (we use a large lobster pot, which, by the way, has never been used to cook a lobster), mix the salt, sugar, peppercorn, bay leaves and garlic. Add enough warm water just to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place the chickens in the mixture, and then add enough cold water to cover the chickens. Cover the pot and place in the refrigerator overnight, at least 8 hours.
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp. melted butter or olive oil
To cook the chicken:
Lay heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill grates, and preheat the grill on high. Remove chicken from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Lay the chickens down on a tray or cutting board, and then season with any flavors you like. We typically use a spice rub that Michael mixes, which consists of equal parts dried chipotle chili, onion powder, garlic, ground black pepper, and two parts paprika. Other times we have used lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil to season the chicken. When you are done seasoning, spray the aluminum foil with nonstick spray, and place the chicken on the grill, bone sides down. Close the lid, turn the heat down to low, and leave it alone for about an hour. After the first hour, baste the chicken every half hour, keeping the lid closed between. You will know it is done when the chicken begins to fall off the bone, about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Serve and enjoy!