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Juicy Secret: Keep Your Skin On

July 31, 2002|FAYE LEVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No matter what seasoning formula you like--a Mediterranean garlic-lemon-olive oil combo with herbs, a teriyaki-style blend of soy sauce, sake and sugar or an Indian curry-ginger-garlic spice paste--the scent and flavor chicken gains from grilling makes it a worldwide favorite.

Chicken isn't tough to barbecue, but these tips produce a better bird. For juicier meat, leave the skin on to shield the meat from the searing heat. Brush oily marinades off the chicken and put a drip pan on the coals underneath whole chickens to catch juices and prevent flare-ups. Check the chicken frequently; it can scorch quickly. If its skin starts to char before it's done, lower the heat or move the chicken to a cooler spot. Barbecue sauces containing sugar, syrup, fruit juice, tomato or ketchup will burn; brush the sauce on for the last few minutes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking whole chickens and dark meat pieces to 180 degrees and breasts to 170 degrees. Digital thermometers are sensitive even if they enter only a half-inch of food, but common instant-read dial thermometers need 2 inches; for small pieces of chicken, insert the thermometer sideways.

Seasoned in the Eastern Mediterranean style, this chicken is great with a chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions and with rice pilaf topped with toasted pine nuts. You might like to grill corn, thick onion slices, eggplant wedges, sweet peppers and firm-ripe tomatoes too; make an extra batch of the marinating mixture for brushing on the vegetables. They'll be any barbecued chicken's ideal companions.

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Faye Levy is the author of "Faye Levy's International Chicken Cookbook," (Warner, 1992).

The time given here is for assorted chicken pieces. Breasts take about 20 minutes, thighs and drumsticks about 30 to 35 minutes and a whole chicken about 45 to 60 minutes, but times vary widely.

For outdoor barbecuing I often opt for chicken on the bone, as it's moister and more flavorful. When I'm in a rush, I cook boneless chicken on a stove-top grill with the same seasonings.

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Grilled Chicken With Coriander and Cumin

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes

2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs, drumsticks or breast pieces with skin and bones, or 1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, giblets removed

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Lemon wedges, optional, for serving

Mint sprigs, optional, for garnish

Pat the chicken dry and put it on a plate. Combine the olive oil, onion, coriander, cumin, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly on all sides of the chicken, and inside a whole chicken. Let the chicken stand at room temperature to marinate briefly while you heat the grill; or cover the chicken and marinate it in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.

If using a charcoal grill, heat the coals until they're covered with gray ash and have only a hint of red; then move them to the edge of the grill. Preheat a gas grill for indirect heat according to the manufacturer's instructions, then reduce the heat to medium (350 to 375 degrees). For a whole chicken, put a drip pan in the grill's center so it will catch the bird's juices. If the grill grate is adjustable, set it 6 inches above the coals.

Brush off the excess marinade and bits of onion clinging to the chicken. Discard any remaining marinade. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and set it on the grill. Cover and grill, turning the chicken over halfway through its estimated cooking time. Check for doneness: Whole chickens and dark meat pieces should measure 180 degrees at the thigh's thickest part and breast pieces should be 170 degrees. Or, with a thin skewer, pierce the thigh's thickest part near the bone; the juices running out should be clear, not reddish, and the meat should no longer be pink, but off-white. Breast meat should be off-white at its thickest part. To keep the chicken as succulent as possible, remove it immediately from the grill to a clean platter

Serve the chicken pieces with lemon wedges and mint sprigs. Let a whole chicken stand for 10 minutes before carving.

4 servings. Each serving: 567 calories; 231 mg sodium; 165 mg cholesterol; 34 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 1 gram carbohydrate; 61 grams protein; 0.27 gram fiber.

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