It's perfect. It's quick and easy, relatively cool, cheap and readily available, ideal for just about every summer meal.
What is this magic formula? You may already have it in your refrigerator and your back yard. It's chicken on the grill, and its hour has come.
"Chicken is particularly good on the grill," says Thomas Ingalls, co-author, with David Barich, of the new book "Chicken on the Grill." It's lean and tasty, and it's easily enhanced with other flavors through marinating and basting.
Grilling, Mr. Ingalls and Mr. Barich note in their introduction, has a long history in the United States, "from the planked and smoked fish of the Northwest Indians and the cowboy campfires to the country pit barbecues, family campfires, and '50s patio parties. Grilling partakes of the ancient mystique of cooking in the open air, with all the rustic appeal of the fragrance of charcoal and wood smoke."
"I think that grilling really adds a flavor to food that you can't get anywhere else," Mr. Ingalls says. That can be true even on a gas grill, he says, though he prefers the flavor of "real charcoal." He also prefers the flavor of "free-range," or organically raised chickens, though he says that's not essential for a successful dish.
Grilled chicken is great for family meals -- "I think even most young kids will eat it," Mr. Ingalls says. And, he adds, "If you're entertaining, boneless chicken breasts are really good value." The preparation time is brief, and the breasts cook rapidly on the grill.
And chicken is so versatile, Mr. Ingalls says, that almost any combination of ingredients will work with it. "The recipes in the book are just suggestions of how to put things together," Mr. Ingalls says. If the recipe calls for asparagus and it's not available, or you don't like it, substitute something you do like -- broccoli, or green beans, for instance.
This is Mr. Ingalls' favorite recipe from "Chicken on the Grill" (HarperPerennial, 1992, $17).
"I basically tried to clone an American barbecue sauce," he says, "and then I put an Asian twist to it."
Hot barbecued chicken
Serves four to six.
5 bacon slices
2 tablespoons oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili paste
fresh lemon juice, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
2 frying chickens, cut in half and backbones removed
1 cup apple wood chips
In a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until it is crispy; remove the bacon to paper towels and to drain. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and saute the garlic until it is transparent. Add the ketchup, vinegar, onion, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, hoisin sauce and chili paste to the sauce pan. Crumble the bacon and add to the sauce. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Reserving a small amount of the sauce to brush over the chicken, place the saucepan over low heat, cover, and let the sauce cook for 1 to 2 hours to develop the flavors, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, light a charcoal fire in a grill with a cover. Brush the chicken lightly with the reserved sauce. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Soak the apple wood chips in cold water to cover for at least 30 minutes before grilling.
Place the chicken halves on the cooking rack over red-hot coals and sear on both sides for a total of about 5 minutes. Drain the apple chips and sprinkle them evenly over the coals. Turn the halves bone-side down, cover the grill, partially close the upper vents, and cook for 30 minutes. Turn the halves skin-side down and cook for another 5 minutes (a total of 40 minutes), or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife, or a thermometer inserted in the inside of a thigh reaches 175 degrees to 180 degrees.
Turn the chicken, brush with the cooked barbecue sauce, turn it skin-side down again and cook for another 2 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce browns and glazes the chicken.
Transfer the chicken from the grill to a plate and cover it with aluminum foil. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or in a very low oven for up to 20 minutes. Pour the juices from the chicken plate into the barbecue sauce. Pour the bTC sauce into a bowl and serve the sauce alongside the chicken.
Notes: Hot chili paste is available at Oriental, Asian or Indian markets; apple wood chips may be available at hardware stores, garden centers or specialty food markets.
The next recipe is from "Dean Fearing's Southwest Cuisine," (Grove Weidenfeld, 1990, $29.95). Mr. Fearing is executive chef at the award-winning Dallas restaurant the Mansion on Turtle Creek.
Grilled chicken breasts with corn-apple relish
4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons peanut oil
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
sweet corn-apple relish (recipe below)