Light A Fire For Chicken Al Carbon

A family-style feast of chile-marinated chicken, grilled veggies and warm corn tortillas.
A family-style feast of chile-marinated chicken, grilled veggies and warm corn tortillas.

With backyard grills sure to be blazing this long holiday weekend, there’s no time like now to get your chicken al carbon going on.

This smoky spatchcock chicken with a spicy brick-red marinade gets plenty charred, so don’t be alarmed at the blackened edges. It’s the sugar in the orange juice that gives it a sweet citrus taste and makes it singe easily.

“Chicken Al Carbon” is from the new cookbook, “Tex-Mex Cookbook: Traditions, Innovations, and Comfort Foods from Both Sides of the Border” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy. Loaded with recipes that fuse Texan and Mexican sensibilities, it’s by Chef Ford Fry, a native Texan with a slew of restaurants in Atlanta, including the El Felix and Superica; and food writer and native Texan Jessica Dupuy.

As the book’s intro states, “Tex” and “Mex” were at one time one and the same, with Texas and Mexico both part of the same Spanish colony known as New Spain in the 16th century. It’s no wonder that Texas’ food traditions borrow heavily from Mexican ones. In fact, many of the Tex-Mex specialties in this book will be quite familiar if you’ve dined regularly at Mexican restaurants in California and Texas.

Savor favorites such as “Chile con Queso,” “Enchiladas Suizas,” “Whole Grilled Red Snapper with Cilantro Chimichurri” and everything in between.

There’s even a map of Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas, if you want to explore in person.

Achiote paste.
Achiote paste.

This chicken marinates overnight in a peppy blend of O.J., lime juice, soy sauce, ancho chile, chiles de arbol, garlic, cumin and a 1/2 packet of achiote paste. The paste is easily available at a Mexican market. Deep red from annato seeds, it also contains garlic, crushed chiles, vinegar, salt, and corn meal.

Because the chicken is butterflied with the backbone removed, it cooks faster. It grills up quite smoky, with a fruity and mildly spicy taste, especially on the skin.

Grill some onions and jalapenos to serve alongside with warm tortillas to make your own tacos. The recipe says to warm the tortillas in foil on the grill before cooking the chicken. But you can also do what I did, which is wait until after the chicken and veggies are done to toss the wrapped tortillas on the grill briefly. Slices of ripe avocado and some home-made or store-bought salsa would be ideal accompaniments, too, to this grilled feast.

It’s a meal that requires little labor this Labor Day weekend.

Smoky, grilled Tex-Mex chicken.
Smoky, grilled Tex-Mex chicken.

Chicken Al Carbon

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, giblets and excess fat removed

1 cup fresh orange juice

Juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 (3.5-ounce) packet achiote paste

1 dried ancho chile, stemmed

6 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed

2 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

8 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas, store-bought or homemade

2 medium onions, cut into thick rings

3 large jalapeno peppers, stemmed and cut in half lengthwise

Place the chicken on a clean work surface, breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, cut lengthwise along both sides of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Remove the backbone and save it for stock or discard. Open the bird like a book, then place it skin-side-up. Press down firmly with both hands to flatten the bird.

In a blender, combine the orange juice, lime juice, oil, soy sauce, achiote paste, ancho, chiles de arbol, garlic, cumin, and salt and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture to a large resealable plastic bag. Reserve the remaining sauce. Add the chicken to the bag and move it around to fully coat it in the sauce. Remove as much air as possible and seal. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling to come to room temperature.

Heat a charcoal grill to 400 degrees, or until the coals are ash-gray and very hot.

Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil. Put them on the grill to warm through, 2 to 3 minutes. (Or warm the tortillas in foil after the chicken and vegetables are done cooking.)

Place the chicken, breast-side-up on the hot grill and cook until lightly browned, 15 minutes. Flip the chicken and baste the cooked side with the reserved sauce. Grill for 15 minutes more. Flip the chicken and baste again. Grill for 15 minutes more. Flip the chicken, baste with remaining sauce, and grill until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. (Keep the grill hot.)

Meanwhile, lightly brush the onion rings and jalapenos with oil and season with salt. Grill the vegetables until char marks appear and the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Carve the chicken into 8 pieces and then slice the breasts. Serve family-style with the grilled vegetables and warm tortillas alongside.

Adapted from “Tex-Mex” by Ford Fry and Jessica Dupuy

More Mexican Dishes to Enjoy: Citrus-Marinated Steak Tacos

And: Chicken Adobo Tacos

And: Lamb Adobo Tacos

And: Tacos De Pescado Al Pastor

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