I love a good challenge, and for our Memorial Day weekend trip back to the stunning Timothy Lake, I wanted to try a whole chicken roasted in a roaring fire. The first couple of days were blanketed by overcast skies, but luckily the rest of our stay made up for the lack of sunshine.
The hike into our designated site was only about 10 minutes in from the car and after a few trips, we were set for the long weekend. For the first night we grilled up some squid over the open flame to be added in a puttanesca sauce and served over fresh spaghetti. After setting up camp it was easy to put the pasta together with the few hours of daylight we had left.
Searing the chicken
I recently learned about a great technique to accelerate the browning/maillard reaction when searing protein. Since I was going to sear the chicken right on the coals’ direct heat I wanted to cook it just long enough to crisp up the skin, without getting a burnt exterior.
For the maillard reaction to happen, heat must break down proteins into amino acids and carbohydrates, which turn into reducing sugars. For this, I made a mix of finely minced garlic and shallot, anchovy paste with honey and rubbed the inside of the skin and the cavity (the cavity mostly to add flavor) after tucking the wings in and trussing the legs. Then I lightly coated the bird with some oil, and sprinkled some salt and ground pepper before placing it right on the fire.
We made some coals ahead of time to sear the chicken with, and placed it on top of a bed of hot embers for about five minutes per side.
The crispy char is important upfront before the extended cook in the Dutch oven.
Hay-roasted dutch oven chicken
Roasting the chicken in hay or wheat straw allows for it to retain maximum moisture while developing deep and earthy flavors. It is important to use untreated and unsprayed straw from a farmer’s market or local feed store.
Once the sear was done on both sides, I placed the chicken on a bed of hay with some lemon and orange rinds, fresh lavender, a fistful of fennel seeds, and about 5-6 star anise.
The hay acts as a barrier for the chicken and prevents it from burning from the constant heat coming from the cast iron. It also helps to impart some smoke right into the meat.
Tip: Since organic and untreated hay could be a bit tricky to come by, you can supplement it with a bed of fresh herbs such as rosemary and a few oregano sprigs, about an inch tall. Bear in mind that the protein will be fully infused with these aromatics, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when combining with lemon rinds or marinading the meat with some lemon juice ahead of time.
After laying down the chicken on the bed of hay, I placed the Dutch oven on the hot embers and inserted my iGrill2 thermometer in both thighs before closing the lid. I made sure to move the dutch oven around from time to time to get an even roast.
It took about an hour and a half until reaching the temperature of 155 ºF. I pulled it out at that point since the Dutch oven would keep cooking the chicken for a bit longer after removing it from the fire. At 160 ºF, after checking for clear liquids, I pulled it out and let it rest for about 6 minutes prior to cutting into it.
veggies with bagna cauda dipping sauce
I served the chicken with a vegetable medley simply blanched in hot water for about a minute before shocking in iced water to retain that al dente crunch. The veggies were sprinkled with some lemon juice and sea salt in the end, and served with a bagna cauda dipping sauce, which translates to warm bath.
The bagna cauda was comprised of butter, white wine, anchovy paste, ground garlic and shallot, lemon juice, and EVOO.
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
- 1/2 of a small shallot, finely minced. Shallot is optional
- 4 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed well with the backbones removed and finely chopped. Alternatively use anchovy paste
- 3 quarters of a stick of unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
- 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Kosher salt, to taste
Typically this is done in a mortar and pestle to really extract the flavors even more, but since we were in the outdoors, I ground the garlic, shallots and anchovies into a smooth paste. For the same convenience, I opted for anchovy paste instead of fillets.
Transfer the paste to a small saucepan. Add the butter and olive oil to simmer over a low heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove or fire and add the lemon zest and some of the lemon juice in stages to gauge acidity as you taste. Season with salt and add more lemon juice to your liking.
Once the bagna cauda was done, just prior to serving, I poured it inside improvised containers from cut up water bottles since I had forgotten my ramekins at home. This sauce is amazing on a sandwich, to dip with bread, or on pasta. It is truly versatile and highly addictive.
Here comes dessert…
Burnt blood oranges with crème fraîche
I love everything my grilling hero, Francis Mallmann, does over an open flame. To channel the master, I gave burnt oranges a go.
- 2 to 3 blood oranges. Depending on size
- A few rosemary sprigs
- 1/4 cup of brown sugar
- 1/4 cup of crème fraîche, greek yogurt or mascarpone. Either work perfectly
For the finishing sauce:
- 3 tbsp of honey
- 1/3 cup of white balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup of orange juice
- 4 tbsp of amaretto to taste. Taste and add more if needed.
Admittedly, while I don’t make too many desserts at camp, this time around I had to try something special for our esteemed company. And let’s be honest, there is nothing more satisfying than a rustic treat while kicking back around a camp fire.
What really makes this dessert is the sweet and deep char, balanced with acidic and creamy flavors. It ended up being a great compliment to our entrée.
Before placing the blood oranges on the hot coals, I cut up the fruit into cubes while removing as much of the pith as possible.
I then rubbed one side with brown sugar and pierced the oranges with rosemary leaves before placing them right on the fire (sugar side down) to get a good char on direct heat.
I finished off the oranges in some melted sugar on a skillet (preferably cast iron) until they got to a dark brown consistency and flipped them on the serving plate, char side up.
Finally, I added a healthy dollop of crème fraîche and a sweet sauce I had reduced at home made out of honey, white balsamic, orange juice, and amaretto, while topped with some minced fresh rosemary. Since the sauce will thicken up quite significantly given the amount of sugars, package in a small sealed plastic container and reheat at camp by dropping it into hot water for a few minutes.
Timothy Lake, see you soon again, old friend.