Seasonally In Sync

I received a link to Fete Accompli, Austin, Texas caterers currently garnering raves for their handmade specialty appetizers based on local and organic products. It’s a fine example of the commitment and flexibility necessary to consistently provide high caliber cuisine. Produce doesn’t always materialize as planned due to unanticipated variables such as weather, economic influences, supply/demand, and distribution. Unforeseen circumstances happen, and customers should understand in advance that substitutions are inevitable, but in all likelihood, they will not be dissapointed and the outcome will be just as good – perhaps even better than anticipated.

This style of commercial cooking is all about being in sync with the season and with local farmers and purveyors, and in creatively designing specialties that will showcase the very best available at their peak.

The home cook can do the same; here it’s about living in harmony with nature, the season, and our farmers – who can be as convenient as our local Farmers Market. We can also participate on our own level, by growing a pot of tomatoes on our deck, or in a hanging basket. We can claim a square of soil and transform it into a patch of lettuce or any other specialty that works. There’s a real sense of wonder and fullfillment experienced when we pluck and savor our first ripe tomato, pepper, or strawberry that we have planted, nurtured and watered.

These days, I am completely enamored by the idea of self-sufficiency: to bake my own bread, to make my own chutney, to brine and smoke my own chicken, and perhaps, to grow my own lettuce. That was the scenario that played out this past weekend when I had the magical good fortune of discovering all of these riches in my fridge at the same time. The results: a simple-yet-elegant smoked chicken sandwich on cornmeal loaf bread, with apple-cranberry chutney and butter crunch lettuce. Superlatively uncomparable!

Simple Smoked Chicken
4 pound chicken
1/4 cup sea salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cloves garlic, slivers
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tools and props: apple or other wood chips, vertical chicken roaster, grill with smoker hood

Rinse the chicken and allow it to drain. In a 2 cup measurer, place salt, pepper and 1/2 cup very hot water, allow salt to dissolve. Add the garlic and cool the hot water with approximately 1 cup cold water. Pour the water into a large zip lock bag, add the chicken, and pour in enough additional water to cover the chicken. Swish around and seal the chicken well, removing as much air as possible. Place the bagged chicken into a deep bowl large enough to hold the chicken snug for storage purposes. Chill for 4 hours or longer, turning once or twice if not fully covered.

Prepare grill with smoker hood. Cover the wood chips with water, and soak in a small bowl for at least 20 minutes.

Drain and pat dry the chicken, rub it with olive oil and place on a vertical chicken roaster. Fill the bottom pan of the chicken roaster with water, beer, wine or any preferred liquid.

When the grill is very hot, sprinkle the white coals with 2/3 of the woods chips, replace grill rack and place the vertical roaster and chicken carefully onto the hot grill. Cover and roast the chicken for about 1/2 hour. Carefully remove lid, add additional coals if necessary, add remaining wood chips, add water to roaster pan if necessary, replace smoker hood, and roast for at least 30 – 45 minutes longer. The chicken should be deep mahogany and internal temperature should register 160-170 degrees.

Remove chicken from grill and let stand 5-10 minutes before removing it from vertical roaster. Allow to cool 10 – 15 minutes longer before carving.

Note: for bread, chutney or further recipe references, please refer to index.

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