Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen: Fire It Up

This week’s guest blogger is Andrew Schloss, co-author with David Joachim of the impressive, just-released tome Fire It Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything. It’s their follow-up to Mastering the Grill, a New York Times best selling cookbook that Chronicle released a few years back.

I’ll be giving away a copy of the new book to a randomly selected person who leaves a comment below. Good luck!

The Power of Alcohol

While developing the recipes for Fire It Up, Dave and I discovered something new. Brines and marinades that contained alcohol seemed to transfer more flavor into a meat than those without alcohol. When we tried to figure out why this would be happening we found a simple logical answer in the structure of the alcohol molecule.

The flavorful parts of herbs and spices are fat soluble, but most food is full of water. Since fat and water don’t mix, in order to transfer the flavor from seasonings into the fibers of meat it is helpful if you have an ingredient that helps bind the two immiscible substances together—alcohol seems to have that potential.

One end of an alcohol molecule combines well with fats and oils, while the other end bonds easily with water, which makes alcohol effective at infusing flavor molecules into food.

Alcohol may also protect the healthfulness of grilled food. According to research conducted at the University of Porto in Portugal in 2008, steak marinated in alcohol and then grilled had reduced levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are potentially carcinogenic compounds created when meat is cooked over high heat. Researchers found that alcohol-marinated meat produced up to 90% fewer HCAs than untreated meat. They hypothesized that the alcohol prevents certain water-soluble molecules from moving to the surface of the steak, where they would be turned into HCAs at high temperatures.

Spicy Maple Sugar Chicken Legs

There’s something surprisingly sexy about the clandestine meeting of hot spice and sweet sugar—the peppers burn, the sugar sooths, igniting the palate and caressing it all at once. The spice in this recipe comes from brining, which places all of the burn inside the meat. The sweet balm is brushed on at the end in the form of a sweet roasted maple glaze. So the two elements are kept separate until they bump into one another in your mouth. Very hot. Very cool.

Makes 4 servings

3 cups Chile Brine made with dark rum (see below)
4 chicken legs, about 3 pounds
1 tablespoon canola oil
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup Maple Lacquer (see below)

Combine brine and chicken legs in a gallon-size zipper bag, squeeze out excess air, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Light a grill for indirect medium heat, 325°F.

Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the chicken dry, coat with oil, and sprinkle all over with the pepper. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Put the chicken over the unheated part of the grill, cover, and cook, turning once or twice, until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear (about 170ºF on an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part without touching bone), about 40 minutes total. During the last 10 to 15 minutes of grilling, move the chicken over the heated part of the grill to brown all over. Brush with the glaze during the last 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Chile Brine
Makes 3 cups

2 cups beer and 1 cup water or 1 cup rum and 2 cups water
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped habanero or Scotch Bonnet chile

Mix everything together and use as directed in a recipe.

Maple Lacquer
Makes 1/2 cup

1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring maple syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted. Serve warm or store in a tightly closed container for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving.

Purchase Fire It Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything.

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