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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Picnic Fare

Love me a good picnic. We recently attended one with just the right number of people (6 families, plus a few extra folks), just the right weather (not too hot, not too chilly), and lots of good food. I took three things to share: Picnic Chicken, Three-Bean Salad, and The Thin (crispy buttery chocolate chip cookies--perfect if, like me, that's the kind of chocolate chip cookie you like, although even the folks who claim to love gooey chewy cookies didn't exactly struggle to get them down). No pictures because we were in a hurry to get out the door, as usual.
Picnic Chicken
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Jul/Aug 2006

5 lbs or so chicken pieces (I cut up two 3.5-pounders, saving the wings and backs for stock), breasts cut into 2-3 pieces, trimmed of excess fat and skin (leave some skin on each piece, just cut off the hanging fatty flaps), short slits cut into remaining skin but not into the flesh

2 T kosher salt
3 T brown sugar
2 T chili powder
2 T sweet paprika
2 t ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 t cayenne (less if you're serving kids)

Mix dry ingredients, then coat chicken pieces, under skin as well where possible without completely dislodging skin. Put chicken on wire rack over rimmed baking sheet, tent with foil, and refrigerate 6-24 hours. It must be at least six hours, or the moisture will not have had a chance to migrate back into the meat (I can explain at greater length if you're puzzled, but trust me, this is a crucial step to the recipe and cannot be shortcutted).

When ready to cook, heat oven to 425. Roast chicken until thickest part of smallest piece reaches 140 on an instant-read thermometer, about 14-20 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 500 and roast until thickest parts of breast pieces reach 160, 5-8 minutes, removing pieces as they finish and transferring to clean wire rack. Roast dark meat until thickest parts register 170-175, 5 minutes or so longer. Transfer to rack and let cool completely before refrigerating or serving.

The next time I make this recipe, I will probably eliminate or nearly so the cayenne pepper (too spicy for the kids), and I will either try it on the grill or use a broiler pan. Cleaning the baked-on chicken juices from my cookie-cooling rack was a major chore (lovingly undertaken by my husband). And for sure I will line whatever I cook it on with foil--my cookie sheet will probably never recover.
Three-Bean Salad
adapated from Cook's Illustrated Jul/Aug 1999

1 C red wine vinegar
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C canola oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 t salt
freshly-ground black pepper
8 oz fresh green beans, stemmed and cut into one-inch pieces
8 oz fresh yellow wax beans, stemmed and cut into one-inch pieces
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red onion, chopped fine
1/4 C minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat vinegar, sugar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Transfer to a large nonreactive bowl and cool to room temperature.

Blanch green and yellow beans in salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness of beans. Shock in ice water to stop cooking, then drain well.

Add all beans, onion and parsley to dressing and toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight to blend flavors, then let come to room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

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