There are many opening seasons in our country. The first ball pitched in early spring grabs the attention of baseball fans ready to root once again for their favorite team. In late fall, music lovers anxiously await the first note of the weekly Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. And for food lovers -- especially those who live where winters are long -- Memorial Day opens the season of backyard cooking and initiates the slow, easy days of summer entertaining.
On the long Memorial Day weekend, millions pull out their grills, tongs and potholders and move their kitchens outdoors. There's something enticing about the casualness of a meal cooked over open flames.
Juicy burgers and hot dogs, slightly charred steaks and ribs, and chicken slathered with barbecue sauce are a part of our culinary heritage that can always please a crowd.
I've already planned my May 26 menu. The centerpiece will be Old-Fashioned Barbecue Chicken, which will be served with a quick version of baked beans and roasted potato salad in a dill and mint dressing. The recipe for the chicken is one I found several months ago while going through some old files. I had a faint memory of the dish, which I had not made in more than 20 years, but I knew from looking at the ingredients that it had a perfect blend of sweet and tart flavors.
The recipe calls for the essentials that characterize American barbecue: ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard. Whole chickens are cut into serving pieces, then marinated in the piquant sauce before being popped onto the grill. When done, the charred chicken with its moist flesh is served on a bed of watercress.
This main course, which easily serves eight, is delicious offered warm, but it is also good served at room temperature. Should there be any leftovers, keep in mind that a piece of this barbecued chicken can make a delicious midnight snack.
Distributed by Tribune Media Services International
Old-Fashioned Barbecue Chicken
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard, preferably English mustard such as Coleman's, sifted to remove any lumps
2 teaspoons paprika, preferably Hungarian
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 (3 1/2 -pound) broiler-fryer chickens, each cut into 2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs (save extra parts for another use)
vegetable oil for oiling grill rack
1 bunch watercress for garnish, optional
In medium bowl, whisk together ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, 1/2 cup water, Worce-stershire sauce, mustard, paprika, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper until well-blended. Remove 1 1/2 cups of this mixture and cover and refrigerate it. (This reserved mixture will be used later as a sauce for the grilled chicken.)
Place chicken pieces in a large, nonreactive shallow dish or in extra-large, self-sealing plastic bags. Add marinade and mix well to coat each piece. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, turning several times.
When ready to grill, oil a grill rack and arrange 4 to 5 inches from heat source. Prepare a medium fire, place thighs and legs on grill and cook 10 minutes. Then add breasts and wings. Cover grill, leaving any vents open, and cook, turning chicken pieces often, until skin is charred lightly and flesh is cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes more. Watch carefully. Should chicken pieces start to burn, move them to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking.
When done, juices should run clear when chicken pieces are pierced with a sharp knife. (Internal temperature should be 170 degrees for breasts and 180 degrees for thighs, legs and wings.) Place cooked chicken on a large serving plate and cover loosely with foil.
Heat reserved marinade in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot. Remove foil from chicken and brush each piece generously with heated sauce. Transfer remaining sauce to a small serving bowl.
Garnish chicken platter with several bouquets of watercress, if desired, and serve with additional sauce on the side.