Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chicken Thighs, Caramelize, Carbonize & Army Guys

Much to my culinary surprise, I have discovered (thanks to my pal at work) that I am a fan of chicken thighs. I love me the juicy quarter-portions of skin-on bone-in dark meat!

I am surprised because I always assumed I was a fan of the white meat, like the breasts and the loins. Some assumption, perhaps, acquired in youth and never questioned or challenged. An assumption that often led to disappointment and despair as my mouth closed in around a tough dry slab of pale bird sinew.

Thighs, however, simmering under sizzling skin, wallowing in marrow, slathered ever-so-slightly in spicy southern sauce... Good lord, I'm stuffed and I still want more.

The balance of low but direct heat is important, but the application of sauce is the key. If I'm not using my own sauce, I'm usually reaching for a store-bought bottle with a picture of a fat black man on the front. If your store-bought sauce does not come with a picture of a fat black man on the label, it is not fit for consumption and you should just throw it away.

BBQ sauces, however, are very delicate things. Most have a high sugar content, which when exposed to heat can very easily become a thin chicken exoskeleton of bitter-tasting carbon, and no one wants that.

So, time and attention must be paid to the bird bits and the flame. For me, the thighs go on pink-flesh-down, leaving the rendering skin on top. That allows the melting fat to seep into the meat. I use no sauce at this point, only sesame oil, salt and pepper. After what seems like an eternity, with the meat nearly cooked, the thighs get flipped once, skin-side-down to crispin the skin. The very first dab of sauce is applied to the fleshy parts near the end of this cycle.

The meat is then flipped again, but only for a short time with the heat turned low, as the sauce is now exposed to flame. Time must be given to caramelize the sauce, but great care must be taken to avoid carbonizing it. The skin-up side must also receive its first saucing at this time as well.

I usually follow up with a couple more sauce dabs and 30-second flips until each piece is thick and sticky all over with reddish-brown glory.

And tonight, they turned out perfectly. The clouds parted this afternoon, the breeze was soft, and as the sun set, I sat on the upper deck, bathed in billowing chicken smoke. The beads of skin fat dripped in rhythm, "tizz tizz tizz," onto the hot coals below. The meat was on its first cycle, and there was no sauce to worry about. So, I sat and re-read my 179-page camera manual for the 6th or 7th time.

I do this now and then, skimming over the sections long-since digested. I try to pick out new things each time, like Auto Exposure Lock, White Balance Compensation and User-Defined Style Settings...

The chicken bits sizzled, and my mind wandered away to thoughts of my next photo project. Hearkening back to the 4th grade, and taking inspiration form the dead squirrel photo from last week, I imagine constructing a diorama in box, and staging craftily-lit macro shots of various 12-inch action figures and fashion dolls in unnervingly compromised positions...

But I was reminded by this, of my frustration recently in finding the necessary props. I mean, what the hell, they don't make 12 inch GI Joes anymore??

By then, however, it was getting dark and the meat was mostly done. It was time to crisp the skin. So, I closed my camera manual, grabbed my sauce mop and lifted the lid on the grill.


  1. They made a new version of 12 inch Gi joe dolls called "hall of fame" from 1991-1994. I had most of them in the original boxes. What an imvestment...last time I checked ebay they were going for about 20% of the original price. I gave them to my aunt to sell at her yard sale. She may still have a few left if you would like me to send one.

    I just made myself look like the 40 year old virgin didn't I?

  2. I cook whole chickens on my grill. Usually four at a time.

  3. Lucky Red8:27 AM

    Wait...all that talk of sizzling thighs and no photos at the end of women with their legs over their heads?
    The aliens have come.
    They have Mr. G&T in a pod somewhere, likely hidden behind his couch.
    I hope they at least had the decency to give him the camera book and a full bottle of gin to keep him company.
    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  4. Try one of the many porn shops in the Portland area, I bet you could find that G.I. Joe you're looking for....just sayin'....

  5. We already think you're the 40 year old virgin Dr. B. Too late. That just reiterated it.

  6. I have a bug collection too. But, dont even get me started on space legos.

  7. Dr. B you should stop, you're just making yourself look like a geek now...

  8. Geek Squad11:24 AM

    I suspect that was his point.

  9. I thought we knew Dr B was a geek?

    I have to say though, space lego sounds cool

  10. I guess I must have been waving my freak flag.

    Happy fathers day to all the Dads.

    To quote a good friend, "having my kids has given me a reason to not kill people and take drugs. That could get me thrown in jail and then they wouldn't get to see me during my short time on this planet."

    What a great hallmark card!!

  11. waive it proudly my frined

  12. My fiance makes a nice homemade goes well on thighs.

  13. All men make that same sauce.

  14. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Eww...just eww.


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