One of the hottest food debates in the media in recent weeks has centred on the provenance of everybody’s favourite white meat – chicken. In a nutshell, it boils down to the interests of Big Business (i.e. making lots of money fast) versus the interests of the chickens (i.e. having a safe and healthy life). On the side of the chickens we had Hugh and Jamie and surprisingly weighing in against free-range chickens was Delia Smith. Hugh even turned shareholder activist this year and tried to persuade Tesco shareholders to vote on forcing the supermarket to enforce RSPCA standards for all chickens it sells at the company’s AGM.
One of the hottest food debates in CookSister HQ in recent weeks has been whether the weather will ever be warm enough again for us to want to braai this “summer”. And it appears that we may have a small window of opportunity sometime in September. I weep.
But when that window of good weather does come, I’d hate any of my faithful readers to be stuck for recipes as to what to cook on the BBQ! So here’s the recipe for a smoked chicken we made back in the late Spring, before the drizzly summer had set in. The reason why it was the perfect post for this event is because the chicken generated a lot of discussion amongst our guests at the time. “Oooh, it’s so big, look at how yellow it is, good grief there’s a lot of flesh on that!” etc etc. The reason was that I’d bought the Rolls Royce of supermarket chickens – a free-range, corn-fed bird. Compared to its battery-farmed neighbours, it was a HUGE beast and the corn feeding does indeed make chickens appear yellow. Our guests were actually bemoaning the fact that they just don’t see these in their local Tesco (and I must admit, they aren’t always available at ours, so I buy them when I see them).
I won’t lie to you – it was substantially more expensive that the battery-farmed birds, and therein lies the rub. People like Delia Smith and others have come out in support of cheap, battery farmed chickens because they form a vital and affordable source of protein for those whose incomes don’t give them the luxury of an ethical choice. And you have to admit that they have a point – it’s fine and well to browbeat everyone into buying more expensive ethically-raised meat, but the fact is that if you are on a limited budget and your x Pounds has to buy x number of meals, you are not going to head straight for the premium-priced organic free-range aisle. Apart from telling people that their buying habits are bad, you also need to show them that there are ways of keeping costs steady while changing your shopping habits. For example, if I had bought a standard-sized battery chicken, it would have fed four comfortably but probably not have yielded many leftovers. However, this Godzilla chicken fed the four of us amply; then with the addition of a creamy sauce the leftover meat was made into a smoky version of chicken a la king; and then the carcass and its last scraps of meat were boiled up to make a delicious chicken noodle soup. So although the chicken seemed expensive, it yielded at least 6 delicious adult meals. Show me the battery bird that can do that.
And how did it taste? Fantastic. The stuffing is very lightly curried and the apple juice lends a hint of sweetness. The woodchips do a fantastic job of imparting a seriously smoky flavour to the flesh, and basting together with long, slow cooking means that the skin acquires a sticky-sweet crispy deliciousness. The free-range bird also had (gasp!) a taste – somehow more flavourful and defintitely of a better texture than the cheaper birds. Our guests agreed that it was definitley worth spending the extra money, even if you were only looking at taste and not ethics. My only word of warning would be to make sure you have lots of coals to hand – maybe even make some more coals in a separate kettle BBQ halfway through the cooking time, just to add to the chicken’s kettle. And although the recipe (from the ever-reliable South African Kettle Braai Cookbook) says to baste frequently, remember that every time you lift the lid you lose heat and smoke flavour, so try to baste only once or twice, and be prepared to add extra coals.
Kate of A Merrier World recently asked me to submit a recipe for her Let Them Eat Chicken event, which aims to raise awareness of ghastly broiler rearing systems – there is a lot of excellent info on Kate’s site here and here. Thought-provoking and often downright scary. I do believe my entry might be pushing it to the limit as regards her deadline of 18 July, but I’m hoping I can still squeak into the roundup!
SMOKED CHICKEN WITH CURRIED STUFFING
1 large free-range chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large stick celery, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
ground black pepper
40g butter, melted
100g stale bread cubes
90ml apple juice
FOR THE SAUCE:
150g smooth apricot jam
2 Tbsp apple juice
1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
2 cups wood smoke chips
Wash the chicken inside & out and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the onion, celery, curry powder, salt, pepper, butter and bread cubes. Add the apple juice to make a rough paste and use this to stuff the chicken. Tie the chicken legs togerher securely and fold the neck skin under to keep the stuffing in the cavity.
Make the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together in a small saucepan and heating gently until the sugar has fully dissolved.
Soak the smoke juice in water mixed with a little apple juice for about 30 minutes.
Prepare a large indirect fire in your Weber or other kettle BBQ. When it is ready, add 500ml water and 250ml apple juice to the drip pan between the coals. Sprinkle half the soaked smoke chips over the coals and place the chicken on the oiled grid over the drip pan. Brush the chicken with a little of the oil.
Cover the BBQ kettle and cook for about 2 hours, brushing the chickens with sauce a couple of times and topping up the liquid in the drip pan if dry. Insert a skewer into the fleshy part of the chicken leg to check if it is cooked – the juices should run clear.
We served our with the glorious and a proper South African potato bake (recipe to follow soon!)