Stuffed Chicken Thighs

Stuffed thighs are better than stuffed breasts

You will find many recipes for stuffed chicken breasts. However stuffing chicken thighs produces a taster and juicier dish.  A few years ago we were set to make stuffed chicken breasts and only had a package of thighs on hand.  It takes a bit of a lighter touch as the meat is not as uniform but we won’t go back. They are so much more tender, juicy and flavorful (as well as less expensive) .  I use boneless , skinless thighs which are typically found 4 per package.

Prep the meat

Remove the fat and butterfly any thick sections slicing form the center outwards and then folding the flap out. Pound out under a piece of plastic (the top of the package they came in works well) until about 1/4″ thick.  They will be irregular and have holes – don’t worry.

Prep the stuffing

1.5 cups net of frozen spinach thawed and wrung out well. You may need 2-3 cups to start with before wringing out the extra juice.

1 c shredded cheese . We like 4 cheese mexican blend

1/3 c finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

Microwave the onion and garlic for one and about 90 seconds and let sit for another 3 minutes covered. You want them to be translucent and not browned.

1/2 tsp dried oregano – roll in your palm to crumble

1/2 tsp dried basil  – roll in your palm to crumble

Mix all of the stuffing ingredients, being sure to break up the lumps of spinach.   Having the spinach and cheese well mixed helps keep it from leaking out while baking.

Coating mix

1c Panko crumbs

3 Tbsp pine nuts crushed

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (“green can cheese” is ideal for this)

Stuff, roll and coat

Place 1/4 of the stuffing mix on each thigh, fold over and roll lightly. Place 1 wrap of string in each direction (along the roll direction and across like putting ribbon on a package) .

Dredge in flour, then in a beaten egg to which salt and pepper has been added.

Roll in the crumb mix and pat down to set the crumbs. Let sit for 10-20 min.  which helps the coating stick better.

Pan fry and Bake

Heat 1.5 Tbsp bacon grease in an oven proof pan

Brown on 3 sides , roll to the 4th side  and then place in 350 degree oven on convect for 25 min. Internal temperature should be 160F when done.

Variation – Greek style

Instead of shredded cheese blend , substitute feta cheese.

Leave out the basil and double the oregano

Add  grated zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon  to the stuffing mix

After baking, squeeze juice of  1/2 lemon over the tops

 

 

Bison Rump Roast – Sous Vide

Roast

3 lb bison rump roast split lengthwise

1 bulb garlic roasted at 375 for 20 min with tops cut off and some olive oil.  The goal is to bake them without much browning. Then squeeze out the cloves and mince them.   Note that raw garlic does NOT work well for sous vide as all of the wrong flavors come out. Roasting changes the flavor.  It should have a “sweet” garlic aroma, not sharp and pungent like raw garlic.

Spice blend

1 tsp sea salt

1.5 tps fresh ground green peppercorns

1.5 tsp dried thyme (or a bunch of fresh but now my thyme is buried in snow)

1.5 tsp dried shallots

Grind the spice blend finely in a mortar and pestle

Prep & sous vide

Smear the garlic and sprinkle the spice blend on the roast pieces. Place in vacuum bag – flattened out.

Place the bag in the water bath at 130F for 22 hours (basically you are making this the night before serving). This will give a rare to medium rare center.

Browning

Over hot coals brown on each side for 60-90 seconds. The meat is extremely lean and browns (or burns) quickly.  I overshot the perfect medium rare somewhat and ended up with medium. So much for grilling when it is minus 3F .  I was not as attentive to the grill as usual.

Slice and serve

Yum. Leftovers also make great Philly Cheese Steak style sandwiches. Teal especially likes hers “wit”  (with Velveeta).

Burnt Ends style Chuck Roast

One of my favorite things about going to a good barbeque joint or smoking my own meat is the crispy pieces around the edges.  A common restaurant appetizer is “burnt ends” made from smoked brisket. So far my own smoked brisket has been less than spectacular and I have been looking for a way to make the beef consistently good.

I wanted to try a combination of sous vide cooking and smoking to get the best of both worlds with a more predictable outcome. The idea was to use sous vide to cook the meat, break down the connective tissue with the smoking for flavor and caramelization. However, a search turned up only a few recipes of this sort with huge variability of cooking technique. So I decided to experiment on my own. This recipe was an absolute success. It yielded succulent tender beef with a nice smoke flavor (and smoke ring) and caramelized exterior.

Ingredients and prep

  • 3-4 lbs beef chuck roast, slit along fat lines and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1/4 c Chili powder
  • 2 tsp Colmans dry mustard powder
  • 1.5 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1 Tbsp Granulated garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Dried onion, freshly crushed (I don’t like onion powder)
  • 1/2 c Brown sugar
  • 4 slices Bacon cut to 1″ lengths (bacon ends and scraps work well here)

Mix the above ingredients and rub into the beef pieces.

Place everything into a bag ready for sealing for sous vide cooking including the left over rub.

  • Add 1/4 c Worcestershire sauce and toss  (adding it earlier makes a mess)

Vacuum seal the bag

Cooking

Cook in the hot water bath at 155F for 24 hours. Cover the pan or add water every 8-12 hours as there will be significant evaporation.

Remove the pieces and cut the biggest ones so nothing is more than 1″ thick.  Smoke on indirect heat at 200F for 4 hours . I use a Big Green Egg and put the conveggtor down under the grate. Keep the pieces away from the direct heat at the edges or they will burn.

Chill the juices and skim the fat. Then reduce the liquid until it is about the consistency of BBQ sauce. This took about 1 hour in a large glass baking dish at 350 in the oven (stir once or twice).

Remove the pieces from the smoker and cut down to max 1″ pieces per side.    Lightly stir them into the reduced liquid and the brush with your favorite BBQ sauce  (we use Sweet Baby Ray’s). Bake at 350 convect or put on the grill again for another 30 min. This will caramelize the sauce and meat edges. Be careful this will burn easily at this point.

The reason for incrementally cutting up the meat was to have it neither dry out or crumble to nothing. Chuck roast is really a mixed bag of meat muscle types all rolled into one and it is hard to have the leaner portions and fatty portions get done nicely and all stay together if you immediately cut to 1″ pieces.

At the start, I had wondered if there would be a visible smoke ring on the pre-cooked meat and there was – nice bright pink. Plus the smoky flavor came through nicely, which was probably helped by the sweet rub. I used several chunks of cherry wood 3″ diameter branches for the smoke (well soaked due to the rain).

Serve and enjoy

Having some of the candied jalapenos to go with them just adds to the sweet and tangy flavor.  Some fresh baked bread (I did a sourdough whole wheat / rye combo) is great to sop up the sauce.

 

Pork, Apples, Onions and Stuffing

For us, this dish is a fall and early winter favorite. Usually we make it after going to our favorite apple orchards or picking our own apples.  It is super easy to make, basically slicing, chopping and baking.  It is also a good way to use up some of your damaged “ugly” apples.

We use a 5 qt “everyday pan” or 6 quart deep skillet for this.  You want a covered pan that is a bit on the deep side to contain the stuffing on top of the pork. The stuffing will shrink down by half while it bakes.  It would also be interesting to try in a dutch oven over a camp fire.

Pork

2 lbs pork roast. We use the smaller rib end toasts which have a bit more fat and break down better than a pork loin roast. You can substitute  pork loin roast or boneless pork chops or pork tenderloin (cut cooking temp and time). Exterior fat is trimmed off and the meat is sliced about 3/4″ thick. This should yield about 8 slices. Each slice is one serving for us.

Dredge in flour – about 3/4 c with a good grind of pepper, 1/2 tsp granulated garlic and a bit of salt (1/4 tsp).

Brown well on one side in bacon grease and lightly on the second side. leave the lightly browned side down when adding the stuffing. This dish is one of the reasons we save our bacon grease.

Stuffing

3-4 apples chopped into 1/4 ” slices

2-3 medium onions sliced to match the apples

1 fist full of fresh thyme and  10-12 leaves of fresh sage chopped (if dried about 1 tsp thyme and 1/2 tsp of sage) but this dish is one of the reasons to grow your own.

3/4 bag of stuffing / stale bread cubes to fill the pan

Baking

Pour the stuffing mix over the pork

Add 1/2 bottle of apple, pear or your other favorite sweet white wine

Add 1 can chicken broth

Bake covered 90 min at 350F. At 60 min pull it out and turn over the stuffing so the top does not dry out. Pull the cover off for the last 10-15 minutes to let it brown a bit.  Teal has reminded me that the pan needs to go on a jelly sheet pan or cookie sheet to catch the inevitable dribbles of juice that otherwise makes a mess of the oven.

Serving

Serve with the same wine you used to cook it (unless it has magically disappeared in the meantime).  The pork will be fork tender.  I like about a dozen rinsed capers on my slice. This will serve 8.  A small side salad is nice.   Of course, apple crisp is the favored desert.

For those of you that live in Wisconsin, my favorite orchards are Ski Hi and Brighton Woods with Aepple Treow winery as well as my back yard.

Teal’s Orange Chicken

Background

Teal loves Orange Chicken and Lemon Chicken. However, the breading and frying is a pain as well as adding un-needed calories.  So here is a way to get the delicious flavors with much less fat and calories.

Grill the Chicken

Take 2 packs boneless/skinless chicken thighs (8 thighs). Throw these directly on the grill. These are cooked on medium high heat to give some caramelization and melt off the fat. Pull from the grill when still somewhat pink in the center. You don’t need to have them cooked completely through as that comes in the next steps. This is so much better than trying to trim the fat and cube the raw chicken.

Now cut into bite size pieces.

Mix the sauce

1/2 can orange juice concentrate

3/4 c honey

1/2 c soy sauce

1/2 c ketchup

1/2 c brown sugar

1/2 c rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 Tbsp minced fresh garlic

3 Tbsp corn starch – This is a lot more than most recipes call for but there is no breading

1/4 c sesame seeds

Mix the above ingredients

Mix the corn starch into about 1/2 c of the mixture from above and then add into the rest. If you try mixing into the big batch directly you will get lumps.  The small amount lets you whisk out the lumps.

At this point, it will look like you have too much sauce and it seems to be too runny. Don’t worry, it will cook down and thicken.

Bake

In a 13×9″ glass pan place the chicken and then pour the sauce over the top.

Bake for 2 hours at 325 F .  Stir every 30 min for the first hour and then every 15 min thereafter. When you stir be sure to scraped the caramelized crust from the edges. If you leave this browning goodness it will burn and make clean up more difficult rather than adding to the flavor.

Serve

Serve over rice with a side salad.   I add some blood orange hot sauce and tamari sauce for mine.

This makes great leftovers. So don’t hesitate to double the amounts.

Smoked pork loin chops

Today, Teal wanted pork chops and I had a craving for smoked pork chops. However the smoked pork chops at the store did not look all that appealing. However, thick cut boneless pork loin chops were on special.  So a compromise was in order, and it was still early enough in the day to get these done. So here is the experiment:

2 very thick cut pork loin chops, about 1.5 lbs. total.   These were a good 1.5 ” thick or more.

Brining

  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1.5 tsp Penzey’s jerk pork spice    You could use McCormick or others but they vary a lot in flavor, like curries do.
  • ~2 c water

Mix the brine.  Trim the chops removing the fat and sliverskin on the outside.   Poke with a paring knife repeatedly all the way through. This helps the brine to get absorbed more evenly.   Soak in the brine covered in the fridge for 4 hours or so.

Smoking

Prepare the smoker. I am using Big Green Egg. Start the charcoal with wood sticks for kindling. The “starter blocks” take too long to burn off and get rid of the paraffin odor. I added some nice big chunks (3-4 across) of cherry for flavor. Once the fire is going, set up for indirect cooking with the platesetter under the grate and set the Heatermeter to 225 degrees.   Smoke for 4 hours.

The chops hit 135 degrees internal temp at 1.5 to 2 hours, so anything in the 140-145 range at the end will be plenty safe to eat.  If in doubt, refer to Doug Baldwin’s pasteurization tables (the temps are for a sous vide water bath and therefore overkill here where I am watching the internal temps).  http://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html#Table_5.1.

Results

The smoking temp overshot a bit at first, to 245-250 for the first 45 min as I neglected to put the daisy wheel damper on the BGE.  I was to anxious to get the trike out for a test ride.  From 1 hour on, it was staying right at 225. We pulled the meat at 3.5 hours rather than the planned 4 due to the aroma of not only the pork but also of the apple crisp that Teal baked for dessert. Our apple trees are providing a nice crop this year.

When cut, the smoke ring penetrated 1/3 of the way in from the edges (nice!). This is fairly “light” smoke. The pork was juicy, fork tender and delicious. This experimental recipe is a keeper.  In the future, I plan to run more time and temp variations.

Smoked Chicken Legs and Thighs

We have become turned to chicken legs and thighs as our meat of choice lately. We have become dissatisfied with chicken breasts and Teal thinks the thigh meat also makes better chicken salad for her sandwiches.

The more flavorful and juicy meat responds well to low and slow cooking. I was then looking for a new way to brine and then smoke them. We also had a surplus of Coke left over from a party that I needed to get rid of and neither of us drinks regular soda.  So I started searching for “coke smoked chicken” and this yielded a variety of results that were all promising but quite varied in both formula and time to brine. We also had a family get together coming up so I needed a big pile of chicken. The resulting recipe was VERY well received (no left overs).

Brine the chicken for 48 hours in:

  • 4 cans Coke, Dr. Pepper or Cheerwine (regular not diet)
  • 3 C water
  • 2 Tablespoons (T) granulated garlic
  • 2 T dried onion flakes
  • 1T ground ginger
  • 1T Nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1.5 T Allspice lightly crushed
  • 2 T dried thyme
  • 3T Chili powder
  • 2T Salt (yes this is a low sodium “brine”
  • 2 T black pepper lightly crushed
  • 1/2 c cider vinegar

Mix all, place in a small cooler with:

  • 4- 5 quarter family packs of chicken legs and thighs.  Cut the legs and thighs apart before brining.

Place the cooler in the fridge or put the small cooler in a big cooler filled with ice. Turn or shake vigorously at least twice per day.

Prep the smoker. I use  a Big Green Egg (Large) with a Heatermeter for temperature control. The Heatermeter is a DIY open source temperature controller that makes long smokes easy (but this was a short one) .

Start with the bottom filled with lump charcoal at one edge and two 2-3″ diameter green cherry or apple branches the width of the firebox. Get the BGE up to about 200 degrees F and then add the chicken. I used the indirect method with the ConvEggtor and the 3 layer grate to hold this much meat. The heatermeter was set for 225 degrees F. The smoke was for 3.5 hours.  Raise the temp to 325 for 30-45 minutes at the end to crisp up the skin a bit.

Remember when smoking, you don’t want to let the fire get too hot initially and then struggle to get it down to the right temp without putting it out (again).

The chicken should be removed form the brine, dried with paper towels and placed on racks 1-3 hours before smoking. If you don’t the chicken will be sooty rather than golden brown.

In the end, you have chicken that is luscious, juicy, deep mahogany brown and with a nice but not overpowering smoke flavor and a pretty pink smoke ring.  It is good hot or cold.

We did sample a couple of legs at the 24 hour mark to make sure the brine flavors were going in the direction we wanted.

If you live nearby, I have plenty of surplus cherry and apple wood for smoking.

Asian Inspired Sous Vide Mixed Ribs

Asian inspired mixed Ribs

I wanted to make some asian style beef short ribs. However the local store did not have any . However they had both boneless beef short ribs and baby back pork ribs on special. Since I wanted to try to do both sous vide,  I decided to do both mixed. I did not have scallions, but remembered seeing some red cipollini onions sprouting in the garden from some I missed last fall.

Marinade / cooking sauce

4oz orange juice concentrate

2 TB shaved fresh ginger (we keep ours in the freezer – easy to slice)

3-4 TB chopped green onion tops or scallions

1/3 c Soy sauce

1/4 c Rice wine vinegar

3 TB Hoisin sauce

1 tsp Chinese 5 spice blend (Penzey’s)

1/2 c brown sugar

2 TB sesame seeds

1TB sesame oil

1 scant pinch red pepper flakes.

Mix the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer for 5 min.

Cook

Slice the baby back ribs 3/4 of the way through for more surface area

Place the meat in 2 vac bags with the sauce. Carefully remove the air and seal without pulling out the marinade

Seal and  place in the water bath

155 degrees F. for 7 hours

The pan for the sauce holds the ribs down and reduces evaporation

Bake the ribs in an open pan at 375 convect with 1/2 of the juice for 15 min . Flip the ribs over.

Boil down the rest of the juice to a thick sauce consistency and brus on the ribs after they have been flipped

Bake another 15 min and then serve.

Conclusion

The pork ribs were perfectly done. The beef ribs needed quite a bit more time. Both were delicious, but I would like the beef ribs to be more tender. Other recipes had the beef ribs at 20-48 hours at 135-170 degrees. So more experimentation is required for them. Teal (miss picky) loved the flavor and the pork. .

 

Spatchcock Turkey

We have made several spatchcocked turkeys. Each has been delicious whether on the grill (Big green egg) or in the oven.

Oven 1

The turkey was an experiment. I took a cue from Alton Brown’s “dry brining” and butterfly turkey technique.
Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/…/butterflied-dry-br…/index.html…
However Teal vetoed the idea of roasting the bird on the bare oven racks (mess factor and the oven self cleaning cycle is broken) and she was less than enthusiastic about the root veggies.
So I prepped the bird per the recipe (but added oregano) and let it sit refrigerated for a day and a half. I then oiled a jelly roll pan, placed a mound of stuffing on (extra moist). Then put the butterflied 13 lb bird on top (well trimmed of fat and tail removed). 2 hours in the oven at 375 on convect – big end to the back, until internal temp of 155 and then rest for 30 min which brought the breast temp up to 175. Meat was super juicy and tasty (beware of lots of juice while carving). The edges of the stuffing was raided as the bird was resting by the hungry horde. Definitely a keeper recipe and a nice shorter cooking time alternative. For whole meal timing, put the sides in the oven when the turkey is at 100 degrees instead of the usual 120.

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Oven 2   11/25/16

Variation with more aggressive dry brining. 18 lb turkey (Jennie -o). This year there was a lot of interest in spatchcock turkeys given the 80 minute turkey post on Serious Eats getting some publicity. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/11/butterfiled-roast-turkey-with-gravy-recipe.html

Here is my version.

Dry rub blend:

  •  3 TB fine sea salt
  • 1.5 TB oregano rubbed
  • 1TB thyme
  • 1.5 TB dry rosemary rubbed
  • 1.5 TB lemon pepper (Penzey’s) . Reapply 1 TB additional just before roasting
  • Fine zest of one lemon

Mix this up and then rub on both sides of the bird. Rest for 18+ hours in the fridge

In the roasting pan, place 4 carrots chopped, 2 medium onions chopped 9 fresh sage leaves, about 10″ of fresh rosemary sprigs. 1.5 c water. 1c croutons.

Add the rack and place turkey on top with legs tucked in (to not splatter the oven)

Roast at 375 for  1 hour, 300 for 1 hour and finish at 375 for 30 min. The varying temp was due to the bird not being completely thawed and the thighs needing to catch up with the rest of the bird.

This was a winner and is the family favorite so far. There are some imperfections seen in the photo. There were a few sample schnibbles taken prior to the photo.

The drippings were then used along with the carcass for soup stock. Simmer 3 hours and then put in the garage to chill over night. It is usually cold here in Wisconsin at Thanksgiving so the “big fridge” works just fine. This was the basis for the next day’s Turkey noodle soup. Probably the best soup stock we have made.

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I have revised the recipe to be gluten free and the family reviews rate it even better: Spatchcock Turkey V3 

Stuffed chicken roll-ups

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We have been making stuffed chicken roll-ups of various sorts for a number of years. They have been a family favorites, but we keep experimenting, trying new variations on the theme. We started out with chicken breasts and they were stuffed with cheese and sometimes ham or pepperoni. Breading was a triple dip: flour, egg/milk, bread crumbs with herbs and crushed pine nuts.  However, while these were good, the breasts often were drier than we would like and I wanted to reduce the amount of oil needed for a crispy crust. So there has been an evolution. Switching from breasts to boneless thighs, moving where herbs and other flavorings would reside (stuffing, base coat/ dredge, wash, crumbs). Each iteration was a bit different.

Tonight I pushed it a bit farther and we are really happy with the results. So here is the recipe to the best of my recollection (some day I will write as I cook).

Meat

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (costco). Remove the fat deposits, and butterfly as flat as you can trying for 6×8″ or so. Pound out under plastic wrap to about 3/8″ thick. The chicken will be fragile and have holes – don’t worry.

Filling

10-12 oz chopped frozen spinach. Thaw and wring out as hard as you can.

1/4c lemon juice

3/4 c shredded cheese . We used our staple mexican cheese blend. You could use feta for a sharper flavor, farmers or Monterey jack for a smoother flavor

1/4 c pine nuts

1/8 tsp salt (the cheese already adds salt)

Mix well and break up the spinach lumps

Coating batter / wet dip

1/3 c corn starch

2/3 c milk

2 tsp granulated garlic

2/3 tsp italian seasoning

1/3 tsp sweet paprika

a few good grinds of black pepper

Whisk these together and let sit (and whisk again). It should be a very thin batter, like a crepe batter. Note the mix will thicken after sitting a few minutes.

Outer coating

2/3 c grated parmesan (green can cheese)

2/3 c corn meal

1/4 c panko bread crumbs (can omit  )

Building the roll ups

Take the very irregular and pounded out chicken thighs and lay out. Place 1/4 of the spinach mixture in a line along the best looking long dimension. Roll up – yes they will have holes and not be pretty at this point. Tie with string in 3-5 places,  to make a rough log.

Dip and roll  in the batter. Then dip and roll in the coating. Set aside to rest for 5-15 minutes (longer is better for adhesion of the coating) .

Cooking

Saute, in a preheated mix of olive oil and bacon grease (about 2 TBSP each) . Place in the pre heated pan and let brown (about 3-4 min) , flip over 180 degrees, and brown again, rotate 90 browning again, and finally flip over.

Now drain off the excess grease and  then throw the pan in the oven at 325 on convect for about 20-30 min. Cook to internal temp of 175-180. Yes it sounds high, but these are thighs – you would do breasts to 160-165.

Pull from oven  and let sit 5-10 min and serve.

 

Compared to the regular panko crumb crust, there is about 1/ 2 the absorption of the fat.