Short on Time and Long on Flavor, Comfort Food Takes to the Grill

May 17, 2011
Jane Byron

MD Magazine®, Volume 2 Issue 1, Volume 2, Issue 1

Now that the threat of frost has finally passed (for most of us, at least), we can venture outside to dust off the grill and try a new twist on some comfort food classics, such as grill-roasted chicken and grilled asparagus.

The brutal and seemingly endless Winter of 2011 may explain the coverage of comfort food staples—particularly roasted chicken—in the dining sections of newspapers, multiple Food Network shows, and foodie blogs. Now that the threat of frost has finally passed (for most of us, at least), we can venture outside to dust off the grill and try a new twist on some comfort food classics, such as grill-roasted chicken and grilled asparagus. The recipes collected here are designed with the busy physician— that’s you—in mind. Whether you’re hosting a last-minute gathering or just trying to whip up something quick and easy for the kids on a night when the spouse is unexpectedly away, and whether you’re a novice or veteran in the kitchen (or at the grill), these quick and easy recipes are sure to win you praise and elevate your culinary status. The secret to the main dish—beer can chicken—is, well, beer, which simmers in the can under the chicken and imparts a delicate flavor while keeping the chicken moist and tender.

Herbed beer-can chicken recipe:

1 whole chicken

1 can of beer (preferably ale or other flavorful brew)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 tablespoons herbs de Provence (or other spice/herb mixture that you like)

1 teaspoon sea salt (or ½ tsp. table salt)

½ to 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (to your taste preference)

Remove the chicken and beer from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you’re ready to preheat the grill. Pour one-third to one-half of the beer into a glass and drink (or serve it). In a small bowl, mix the oil, herbs, and salt and pepper.

With a small, sharp knife, separate the skin from the muscle around the cavity. Gently slip your fingers under the skin and loosen, taking care not to tear the skin. Spoon the oil/herb mixture under the skin and rub it evenly all over the chicken, including the back and legs. (If you tear the skin, you can use a toothpick to “stitch” it together.)

Slip the chicken over the open beer can and place it in the middle of the grill. If your grill has three burners, turn the front and back burners to high and leave the center burner off. Otherwise, cook the chicken over two burners set at medium to medium-low, maintaining a cooking temperature of 350o. Cook the chicken for approximately one hour. If you have a meat thermometer, the chicken is fully cooked when the breast meat reaches 150o and the thigh meat reaches 185o. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can check for doneness with two methods. 1) Pierce the thigh meat with a fork or small knife and check that the juices run clear. 2) Tug on the chicken leg; if it moves freely, the chicken is done.

Once the chicken is fully cooked, carefully remove it from the grill. To avoid spilling the boiling beer, you may need some help with this process. Using a long pair of tongs, grab the chicken under the wings and slide it onto a platter or cookie sheet. Let the chicken rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

While the chicken rests, you can take advantage of your preheated grill and cook up a pound or two of fresh asparagus, which is in season right now and is at the peak of flavor and nutritional benefit. At just 25 calories per serving, asparagus is a great source of dietary fiber, as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, and 13 additional vitamins and minerals.

Easy grilled asparagus recipe

1 pound asparagus, washed and woody stems trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus and toss to evenly coat the spears, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the asparagus spears across the grill grates and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your preference for crispness. Turn the asparagus at least once while cooking.

Rounding out the meal

You’ll probably want to serve at least one more dish with your chicken and asparagus. Spinach—another vegetable that’s now in season—packs a nutritional wallop with vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K, carotenes, folate, manganese, calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and many valuable amino acids. Spinach is also an excellent source of protein, supplying as much as you would get from the same quantity of meat.

Raw spinach offers the greatest nutritional value and the greatest ease of preparation. Simply toss well-rinsed spinach with vinaigrette or a mixture of fresh lemon juice and olive oil (1:3 ratio) and serve immediately.

If you like to include a starch with your meals, you can do so without turning on the oven or the stove. These potatoes are a real crowd-pleaser.

Grill-roasted potatoes

4 russet potatoes

4 tablespoons cold butter, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and dry the potatoes. Make about 10 slices in each potato, being careful to not cut all the way through. Gently fan out each potato and slip in the diced butter, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap each potato in heavy duty aluminum foil and cook on the grill alongside the chicken. The potatoes will be done in about 45 minutes, so add them to the grill about 15 minutes after you start the chicken.

NOTE: For best results, use a fryer chicken. If you’re serving a crowd, you can use a larger roaster chicken but be sure to allow for at least an additional half-hour of cooking time.

Once you try these grilling methods—especially the beer-can chicken—start experimenting. Instead of herbs de Provence, try a Mexican-style dry rub with cumin, coriander, chili powder, and garlic salt. If you like Asian flavors, mix together some Five Spice Powder and red pepper flakes, and substitute sesame oil for the olive oil. The possibilities are nearly endless, so why not get started today?

When You’re the Host with the Least

We’ve all had it happen: you suddenly find yourself hosting an impromptu gathering. Of course, you haven’t had time to get to the grocery store. Now you’re hanging on the open doors of your refrigerator and hoping, beyond reason, for something that could serve as dinner. With just a few eggs and the dregs from some of those mystery jars on the door, you can throw together a quick, healthy, and tasty meal.

Clean-out-the-fridge frittata

2 to 12 eggs (2 to 3 eggs per person)

Grated cheese (If you have a cup, great; if not, use what you have.)

Any or all of the following: Jarred pimentos, artichoke hearts, chopped

olives, capers, onion, mushrooms, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat eggs well with a splash of water (about 1 tsp. for 2 eggs and up to 2 tbls. for 12 eggs) and beat for another second or two. (The water helps lighten the eggs.)

Heat an oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the quantity of eggs you’ve prepared. Heat the pan over medium heat with 1 tbls. butter and 1 tbls. olive oil. When the fats start to sizzle, add the beaten eggs and cook for 3 minutes. With a rubber spatula, gently lift the edges of the omelet and tilt the pan so that some of the raw egg mixture coats the bottom. Repeat along the edges of the omelet and then remove from heat.

Spread the items you’ve chosen to fill your frittata and top with grated cheese. Bake the frittata for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the number of eggs and size of your skillet). You’ll know it’s ready for prime time when the eggs are no longer jiggly and the cheese is melted. This dish won’t win you any culinary awards, but chances are you have the ingredients, and you’ll leave your guests wondering how you pulled it off!