I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A few years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

Perfection!

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.

CLASSIC CACIO E PEPE

Posted: November 1, 2022 in Uncategorized

There are a handful of Italian dishes that can be considered classics. They don’t require dozens of ingredients…just a few quality ingredients prepared in a particular way. We all know their names: Pasta alla Carbonara…Fettuccini Alfredo…and Cacio e Pepe.

 

 

Carbonara requires pasta, guanciale, egg yolks, black pepper and a hard cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano). Alfredo: just  pasta, butter, cream and cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano). And Cacio e Pepe: pasta, black pepper, cheese (Pecorino Romano), and a little pasta water. Simple, but simple requires the best quality ingredients and the right method of preparation.

 

 

1 lb. spaghetti
4 teaspoons roughly ground black peppercorns
7 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until it just about reaches the al dente stage.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a dry pan and dry fry the roughly ground peppercorns until they start to release their aroma.

 

 

Add a ladle of the pasta water to the pan with the peppercorns.

 

 

When the pasta is ready, move it to the pan with the peppercorns, saving the pasta water.

 

 

Mix the pasta and peppercorns together, and then slowly start adding the grated cheese, stirring constantly. Keep adding the cheese until you use it all. If the pasta is too dry, add more pasta water. You want the cheese and pasta water to blend to make a beautiful, creamy sauce.

 

 

When you’ve achieved ultimate creaminess, it’s ready to serve!

 

BONE BROTH: MAKING YOUR OWN

Posted: October 30, 2022 in Uncategorized
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Bone broth has become all the rage…and why not? Bone broths are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, taste great and heal the body. Many people with bad digestion, or “leaky gut,” swear by it.

I use grass-fed veal or beef bones or pastured chicken bones and get great results.

Much like making a stock, the ingredients are simple and healthy. It just takes time to make a really delicious and healthy bone broth, cooking the broth ingredients for at least 24 hours…48 is better! I usually start the boiling process on a Saturday morning, letting it boil all day, literally until I go to bed that night. I turn the heat off, then restart it the next morning and boil all day again before pouring the bone broth into containers. I replace the water as needed.

 

It goes without saying that you need a large pot. I just recently bought a huge 30-quart stainless steel pot with a strainer for lobster cooking. It’s also perfect for making bone broth. I fill the pot with clean, filtered water and put it on high heat.

Meanwhile, I heat the oven to 400 degrees.

 

The pan of bones and veggies goes in the oven.

4  or 5 lbs. grass-fed veal bones
large pot clean filtered water
4 onions, quartered (no peeling needed)
4 carrots, roughly chopped (washed, but not peeled)
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped (washed)

I cook until the vegetables are slightly caramelized and their flavors are concentrated. I remove them from the pan and toss them in the pot of water. I put the bones back in the oven until they start to release their fat and flavors.

 

The veggies are ready for the pot. The bones stay in the oven a bit longer.

Once the bones have a nice brown color to them, I put them and the veggies in the pot. Any fat that was released by the bones also goes in. (This fat is healthy and full of flavor.)

Then it’s time to boil…for a very long time. I replace the water in the pot as needed, starting the boiling process on high heat, then reducing to medium, cooking with the pot covered, letting it cook for as long as I can.

 

After 48 hours, I finally get delicious bone broth that was worth all the effort: hearty, satisfying, healthy.

Rather than try to skim the fat off a huge pot of bone broth, I choose to portion out the broth in pint-sized containers, and keep them in the freezer. Then, when it’s time to use the bone broth, it’s easy to scrape the fat off the top of the frozen broth before I re-heat it. But I have to tell you: I don’t usually do that! The fat is go-o-o-d!

 

I leave spices, salt, pepper and garlic out of the bone broth, choosing to add them to the broth later, depending on what I’m using it for. If I’m simply sipping the bone broth by itself, a little sea salt as I reheat it is all that it needs.

 

A batch of bone broth that will last a long time!

I use bone broth to make tasty soups and stews, sauces and gravies, to flavor rice, or just heat it and drink it as is.

MARINATED LAMB LOIN

Posted: October 27, 2022 in Uncategorized

Lamb is such an underrated meat. It was one of the things my Mom cooked really well, so I grew up loving it, and was never bothered by the gaminess of it.

If the gaminess does bother you, look for American lamb. If gamier meat doesn’t bother you, go for the gusto and get grass-fed New Zealand or Australian lamb.

I recently got a couple of lamb loins and decided to marinate them, and then simply sear both sides of the loins in a hot pan, putting a lid on the pan to finish cooking. Simple and delicious.

Here’s the marinade I used…

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated onion

 

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. 

Place the lamb in a plastic bag and pour the marinade in, squishing it around to make sure it makes contact with the meat. Place it in a pan or a bowl to prevent accidental leaking.

 

 

Let the lamb marinate for several hours at room temperature, or in the fridge overnight.

Before cooking, bring the lamb back to room temperature.

 

 

Use some oil in a hot pan, and then sear the lamb on both sides. Place a lid on the pan, and reduce the heat to medium-low.

 

Cook the lamb until you get the lamb to a perfect medium. Cooking to 145 degrees will get you to medium-well, so I back off that a bit for medium. But cook it the way you like it!

 

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes, always Hellman’s mayo.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. However, nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. (Morton’s Kosher salt, for example, is heavier than Diamond Crystal.) I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine this dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry cure
1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a gooey brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, you’ll be able to tell the pork belly has cured because it feels firm. Wash the brine off the meat well with cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the belly in the fridge for an hour or so and it will develop a tackiness to the touch. This is a thin layer of proteins known as a pelicle, and it helps the smoke stick to the meat.

Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly (without smoking it) at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. But this isn’t bacon…it’s pancetta.

I place the pork belly in my digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips. Now it’s bacon.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Beautiful bacon!

 

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

PASTA WITH FIVE CHEESES

Posted: October 20, 2022 in Uncategorized

Al Forno in Providence, RI, is a legendary Italian restaurant that was established in 1980 and has graced the pages of many a food magazine ever since. Chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon made it a culinary destination, creating dishes that many have copied, but never equaled. 

One of those creations was the grilled pizza. These days, you can find grilled pizzas just about anywhere in the country, but it was Al Forno that started it all.

Sadly, George Germon passed away in 2015, but the restaurant continues. And although the menu offers a wide variety of dishes, the one my daughter and I crave–that isn’t on the menu–is their 5-cheese pasta dish. It’s not baked ziti. It’s not lasagna. It’s something way beyond. (They do offer a four cheese pasta dish with pumpkin, but it’s just not the same, as far as I’m concerned.)

 

Taking the recipe from one of Johanne and George’s cookbooks, my daughter and I decided that we would re-create this magical dish at home as best we could.

One element obviously missing in our home is a wood-fired oven, something Al Forno uses.

And looking at their list of 5 cheeses (mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, fontina, ricotta and gorgonzola), I found that gorgonzola was a bit of a surprise. Having had the 5-cheese pasta dish at least 4 times at Al Forno, I never detected even a hint of blue cheese. In fact, if I would have, I don’t think I would’ve ordered it again. So we chose to remove the gorgonzola and add another favorite, sharp provolone, instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

 

Other than that, we stayed true to the recipe, using shell pasta because that’s what we always got at the restaurant.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree (San Marzano’s, if you can get ’em)
4 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1.5 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1.5 oz. coarsely shredded Fontina cheese
1.5 oz. grated Provolone cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 lb. conchiglie (medium shell) pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced thinly
Shavings of raw scallion for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500°, or as close to it as your oven will get.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pasta and the butter. Stir well to combine.

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and parboil it for about 4 minutes. Drain it in a colander and add it to the ingredients in the mixing bowl. Combine it well.

Divide the pasta mixture into small ceramic dishes, or just use one large baking dish. You want it to sit in a relatively shallow 1-inch layer.

 

Dot the top of the dish with the butter, and bake it until it’s bubbly and brown, about 7 to 10 minutes at 500…a little longer at lower temperatures.

Funny how help arrives when it’s all about pasta and cheese!

It’s the creamiest, cheesiest pasta dish you’ll ever have…and everyone will fight over those little charred pasta shells!

Optional: When I ordered this dish at Al Forno, they would top it with thin shavings of raw scallion on top. I loved that touch and do that at home as well.

 

Instead of opening a nasty can of Manwich or other similar product, the classic Sloppy Joe sandwich is easy enough to make from scratch.

My version takes on a Mexican twist (hence the name Sloppy José), using seasoned taco meat and a great barbecue sauce. Putting them together with a sprinkling of Mexican cheese on a bun with lettuce and tomato makes for one sloppy but delicious sandwich!

sloppy jose

 

For the barbecue sauce…

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

 

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

 

For the seasoned taco meat…

1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
olive oil
2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef

 

Combine all the spice ingredients in a bowl.

Sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add the beef and sauté until cooked, mixing in the spice mixture a little at a time until you’ve used it all.

 

For the sandwich…

Take some of the taco meat and place it in a small non-stick pan and heat it on medium. Squirt in as much of the barbecue sauce as you like, mixing thoroughly. Sprinkle some grated Mexican cheese on top. (I like Cotija, which is like a Mexican feta, but a bag of mixed cheeses works great, too.) Mix thoroughly, letting it all melt together into one warm, gooey mess. Throw it on a bun. Add lettuce, tomato, avocado slices, whatever you like!

 

RISOTTO

Posted: October 13, 2022 in Uncategorized

Good things come to those who wait. Risotto makes you wait!

 


When I recently made my slow-cooked braised beef short ribs, my daughter requested more than just a simple starch to go with it. One of her favorite dishes in the whole wide world is risotto, and though I’ve never made it before, I knew it wasn’t difficult…just time consuming. Well, a recent rainy Saturday was the perfect day to give it a try.

Like many great Italians dishes, risotto requires love. It requires patience. And it requires few ingredients, but they need to be the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice (basmati is a good substitute)
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups chIcken or vegetable stock, kept warm on the stove top (homemade is best)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano 


In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. 

 


Add the onions and sauté them until they’re translucent.
Add the garlic and sauté for 10 seconds.

Add the rice and stir really well, so that every bit of the rice gets coated with the butter and oil mixture.
Add the wine, and stir gently, letting the rice absorb it.

 

Homemade chicken stock really brings the flavor!


Add a ladle of the stock to the rice, stirring gently, letting it absorb all the stock. Only once the stock has been absorbed do you add another ladle of stock. Repeat this process until all the stock has been used and the rice has softened. This should take about 25 minutes, and you need to be standing there, stirring gently, the entire time.

 


Just before the last bit of stock has been absorbed, add the parsley and the peas.

 


Stir for a bit and then add the grated cheese.

 


Serve immediately!

 





AL MILUKAS

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BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS

Posted: October 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

Although beef short ribs can be an expensive dish at many a fine restaurant, the expense is not in the ingredients, but in the time it takes to prepare it. But it is definitely worth the effort!



I used grass-fed beef short ribs for my recipe, and I think it made a huge difference in taste. But use what you like, and can easily find. Short ribs can be extremely fatty. Although you want to keep some of the fat, remove any excess fat that will only make the final braising liquid taste greasy.

I didn’t have a Dutch oven, which is really the right tool for this recipe, so I seared my beef and cooked the veggies in a pan, and then transferred everything to a deeper oven-safe pot with a lid when it was time to cook.

In doing my research for this recipe, I found dozens of variations. I wound up going with a hybrid of two, both from Food Network chefs: Ann Burrell, and Robert Irvine. Burrell’s recipe was heavy on the wine, and used water. Irvine’s was heavy on stock, a little wine, and no water.



3 to 5 lbs. grass-fed beef short ribs, trimmed
3 large carrots (200g)
3 stalks celery (200g)
1 medium onion (200g)
3 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Bacon fat (optional)
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 cups red wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon
3 cups chicken or beef stock (homemade is best)
Kosher salt and pepper

About an hour before cooking, trim the beef short ribs and season them all over with Kosher salt. Set them aside.


Pre-heat the oven to 325.


Place the carrots, celery, onion and garlic in a food processor and process until you get something that resembles a paste.
Right before searing the short ribs, re-season them with salt and pepper.

Heat a large pan on high, and when hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Sear the beef short ribs in the oil, making sure they’re nice and brown on all sides.


Set the beef aside in a bowl, pour out the fat in the pan, and replenish with new olive oil, (and some bacon fat if you have it and want to use it), just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.


Pour in the veggies from the food processor, season them with salt and pepper, and sauté them until they really caramelize. You want them to start taking on a brown color. 

 


If the veggies start sticking to the pan, turn down the heat, but the stuff that sticks to the pan is full of flavor. Let that happen! It will all come off later when you deglaze with the wine.

 

You want those sticky brown bits!


Add the tomato paste and let it cook down for 5 minutes or so.

 


Add the red wine, and you’ll see how it deglazes the pan and cleans all those tasty brown bits off the bottom. Add the stock and continue stirring.

 

See how the wine cleans the bottom of the pan? It’s all about flavor!


Place the beef short ribs (and any juices that may be in the bowl) into a Dutch oven or large oven-safe pot. Pour the pan with the veggie-wine-stock mix over the top. Add water if needed to cover the beef.


Cover the pot and place it in the middle of the oven. Cook for 3 hours, flipping the beef ribs once halfway through. Add water at the halfway point if it looks like the meat is exposed.

 


After 3 hours, remove the lid off the pot and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour. This allows the braising liquid to reduce and concentrate its flavors.
You can turn the oven off at this point and just leave the pot in it until you’re ready to serve.

 


Serve with the braising liquid.

The risotto I made to go with it will be posted in another blog.

Bulgogi is the name given to the most common form of Korean barbecue. Unlike the daeji bulgogi that I cooked in a previous blog, this one is not based on a chili sauce that can take the roof of your mouth right off.

I used chicken, though this would work with pork as well, and for the best flavor, it’s best to marinate the meat in the fridge overnight.

 

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2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped scallions
6 tablespoons sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
5 tablespoons fresh garlic, grated or through a garlic press
5 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 lbs. chicken pieces (I use skin-on thighs)

 

Combine all the ingredients except for the chicken in a bowl and mix well.

Place the chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag and pour the marinade in. Seal the bag well and squish it around to make sure the marinade makes contact with the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl (to prevent accidental leakage) and keep it in the fridge overnight. Squish the bag around every few hours to make sure the marinade does its job.

When you’re ready to cook the next day, pre-heat the oven to 350 and remove the bag from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Place the chicken on a sheet pan (discard the remaining marinade) and bake it for an hour.

Light a hot grill and push the coals to one side of the grill. Place the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill and close the lid, opening the vents. Every few minutes, turn the chicken pieces over so they get nice grill marks but don’t burn.

 

 

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