As there were only 5 people for Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to cook 2 chickens, instead of a huge turkey. My husband went one better, and suggested smoking the whole chickens. So we each prepared a chicken, and it turned into a bit of a contest...both were really tasty, but I have to say that the one he prepared was the winner! The way I chose to prepare mine was still good, but I think if it had just been roasted in the oven, it would have been great!
Because the chickens were beings smoked, I chose to make a small dish of stuffing that got baked in the oven. I used a chicken sausage, a pear that was getting a bit soft, caramelized onions and fresh herbs.
As un-traditional as the meal was, it definitely made up for it in taste!
The day before you smoke (or roast) the chicken, you need to brine it. This adds a bit of flavour, and a whole lot of moisture.
The brine I chose to make was :
4 cups of water
1/4 cup of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves
enough maple syrup that you can taste the sweetness without it being overpowering, about 3/4 cup
Mix well until the salt is dissolved.
Place the chicken into a large resealable plastic bag, add the brine and, pressing out as much air as possible,seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least 4 hours. We left ours overnight.
Remove the chicken from the brine, discarding the brine. Rinse the chicken well under cold water to remove as much of the saltiness as you can. Pat dry with paper towel.
My husband used a basic brine of:
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
At this point, he rubbed Dijon mustard and a rub consisting of salt, ground black pepper and garlic powder under the breast skin, and all over the outside of the chicken.
I chose to make a roasted garlic-herb paste to stuff under the breast skin of my chicken.
In a bowl, combine:
20 cloves of roasted garlic
chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme and chives
ground black pepper
Using a fork, mash the garlic, combining it with the herbs. Add enough olive oil just to make a paste.
Tuck this under the skin of the chicken breast.
Prepare the smoker, keeping the temperature between 240F and 250F.
We used maple wood chips for the chickens.
If you don't have a smoker, you can smoke your chickens on the BBQ. I am including a link with the information needed to set the BBQ up for smoking: http://www.grillingcompanion.com/smoking-on-a-gas-grill
Check the temperature of the smoker, as well as the wood chips, replenishing as needed, every 30 minutes.
I also used these 30 minute check ups to spray my chicken with a combination of equal parts dark rum and maple syrup (mix well and put in a clean spray bottle).
Cook for the first hour with the breast side down, then turn them over for the remaining cooking time.
The chickens are done when they each an internal temperature of at least 165F. This took around 2 1/2 hours, and then we left them for an additional half hour, just to be safe!
Let the chickens rest for about 10 - 15 minutes, covered loosely with foil, before carving.
While the chickens are smoking, you have plenty of time to make the stuffing.
Thinly slice half a medium onion, and cook over low heat with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper until starting to soften and caramelize.
1 sausage, removed from the casing
1 stalk of celery, diced
Cook, breaking the sausage up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is cooked through and the celery softens.
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh sage
Remove from the heat.
Add 1 cup of chicken stock to the hot pan, stirring it in and scraping the goodness from the bottom of the pan.
In a large bowl combine:
4 cups of cubed, day old, sourdough bread
the mixture from the pan
Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, and add more stock if needed. You want all the bread to have soaked up the liquid, but not to be mushy.
Heat the oven to 350F. Grease an ovenproof dish, and place the stuffing inside. Do not press it down too hard, you want it to puff up when it bakes.
Bake until the top is golden, the filling is puffed up and a metal skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- To roast the chicken in the oven, heat the oven to 350F and place the chicken breast side down for an hour, then turn it over until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165F. I like to leave it for another half hour after that, just to be safe.
- You can still baste the chicken while in the oven, but instead of spraying the maple syrup-rum mixture, brush it on with a pastry brush, or use a spoon to trickle it over the chicken.
- Instead of using the roasted garlic paste, you can make a flavoured butter by mixing soft butter with fresh or dried herbs and spices, honey or maple syrup, soy sauce, chopped olives or sundried tomatoes. You can also use Basil Pesto.
- For the stuffing, use your favourite sausage. The one I bought had roasted red peppers and asiago cheese in it. If we had made the Chicken, Bacon and Cranberry Sausage with Fresh Rosemary earlier on, it would have been perfect for the stuffing.
- I usually use dried fruit, such as cranberries or apricots, which I chop and soak in either juice or liqueur. However, the soft pear was calling out to be used, and worked very well, adding lovely sweetness and moisture to the stuffing. Fresh apples would be a good substitute for the pear.
- If you are roasting the chicken in the oven, you can choose to place your stuffing inside the chicken, instead of baking it in a dish. I do prefer the dish method, as it's easier to serve and you can guarantee that all the stuffing gets eaten, not left behind in the nooks and crannies of the chicken's insides!
- As there were only 5 of us, we have a lot of leftovers, mostly chicken and some scalloped potatoes. The chicken will be put to good use in sandwhiches, wraps and salad for lunches this week. Of course, I'm not counting out turning it into another meal....I'm thinking a chicken lasagne with spinach might be on the menu this week!
- Brining the chickens is not essential, but it does keep the meat moist. Stuffing butter under the breast skin has the same effect, as does basting the chicken during cooking. Another way to keep your chicken moist in the oven is to place it on a rack in the roasting pan, and then add liquid such as chicken stock to the roasting pan. As this evaporates, it creates steam within the oven, keeping the chicken moist. Just be sure not to let it boil dry. Replenish as needed, allowing it to dry up towards the end of the cooking so that the skin crisps nicely. Any remaining liquid, along with the chicken juices that drip down can be added to your gravy for a huge flavour boost.