Chicken Paprika (We Return)

We appear to be nearing the end of renovations on our house–and since I do not appear to be a blogger who soldiers on in the face of adversity, this also means the end of our hiatus. I’m looking forward to getting back. It’s been a long slog to get in a place where we finally feel at home again.

The house includes a new kitchen, one for which I’m exceptionally grateful because for about 10 weeks I had no kitchen at all and no appliances except the refrigerator. Have you ever considered how wonderful it is that the faucet in your kitchen rotates? Or that you can rinse a pot in it? If not, try washing your dishes in your bathroom sink for a couple of months. You will have a new appreciation for the luxury in which you live.

The renovation experience also revealed to me how dearly I love to cook. Rather than eat out, I tackled and defeated my nemesis, The Grill, and set up shop in the living room using my great-grandmother’s pie safe, pictured below.

Luckily, summer lends itself to salads, sandwiches, wraps, and many other items that don’t require a stove. I also concocted several nice cold soups and determined that indeed you must seed cucumbers before pureeing them.
But the best discovery of the summer was paprika chicken. This was Fred’s favorite. His aunt recommended this dish to us ages ago, but I was prompted to try it only recently because I was desperate for something I could put together on a countertop the size of a handkerchief. I never wrote down a recipe but this is a dish that doesn’t really need one. The zest of the paprika, the crisp chicken skin, the juiciness of thigh meat, and the smokiness of the grill all come together in a simple but unbeatable combination. 
You can make this dish in a 350 oven and finish under the broiler, but only the grill gives you a crispy exterior and a properly thick coating of the sauce.
Grilled Paprika Chicken
Four servings (one chicken thigh per person)
Grill directions are for a large kettle grill. Make a medium hot fire. I use a big pile of lump charcoal. Once flames have died down I cover the grill and open the vents, and wait until there are red embers. The whole thing usually takes about 30 minutes. My grill has a thermometer & the temperature needs to be about 450 for this to work well. 
For the chicken, salt four chicken thighs, bone in & skin on and set aside. Make a paste of paprika and oil. You can use smoked or regular paprika and whatever oil suits you. We have tried canola and olive with success. Use about a quarter cup of oil and three tablespoons paprika. Spread over the chicken breasts. Grill, covered, for 20 minutes or so, turning once.

CSF Saves Griller

The CSF previewed on this blog over the summer has arrived, and it is delivering great happiness to our home. Called Walking Fish and started by a group of Duke students at the Nicholas School, it is now delivering fish caught by North Carolina fishermen to members once a week. (Shares are sold out; watch the site for opportunities for next year.)

CSF stands for “community sponsored fishery.” It works much like a CSA (community sponsored agriculture), in which you purchase a “share” in advance and receive weekly deliveries. (We pick ours up at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.) The advantage for the fishery is that they are guaranteed a certain level of income. The advantage for us is fresh fish at a decent price. For $11.67 per week, Fred and I receive between 1 and 2 pounds of fish, or roughly $7.78 per pound.

Fred forgot to pick up the first week’s delivery, but I have begun to forgive him. After that disaster, however, we have so far received shrimp, yellow-bellied spot, and mullet

which we prepared like this

The side dishes are mashed potatoes with roasted squash, zuchhini, onion, and tomatoes. But those are unimportant. The important thing here is that the fish is GRILLED–deliciously, beautifully, wonderfully grilled.

My days of embarassingly inept grilling may be drawing to a close. Thanks to a Saturday spent watching my friend Bebe, an expert griller, prepare salmon, I quickly discovered a painfully obvious reason for my failures.

I was excited when Bebe invited me over for fish one Saturday, and even more excited when I realized I’d have a chance to watch someone who knew what she was doing work the grill. I had planned to watch her technique closely: how she laid out the fire, whether or not she covered it, how much she opened the vents once lid was put on.

I stood in her backyard, wine glass in hand, ready to take notes as she gathered her charcoal and implements.

“I’m really glad I have the chance to watch you do this,” I said. “I just can’t figure out why I can’t get my food to cook right on the grill.”

“Well, there’s nothing to it,” she said. (All grillers say that, but if there were nothing to it, poor Fred would not have suffered through multiple servings of simultaneously charred and raw steaks.)

“Maybe for you,” I said, and blathered on as I watched: “I wonder if I’m putting the lid on too soon? Oh–I see you’re opening those vents underneath. I do that too, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And you’re using self-lighting charcoal–well, we can’t do that with our grill because it has the option of using a propane tank to light the charcoal and if we ever want to do that we can’t use the self-lighting grill or we’ll blow ourselves and the entire neighborhood sky-high.”

Then she put a pile of charcoal on the grill. A big pile.

“You use THAT MUCH charcoal?”

“Yeah, you need to make a pretty big fire. And it needs to get hot–wait until the flames die down and all the embers are red.”


So for the mullet, I got me a big pile of charcoal–roughly three times what I’d been using before. I completely filled that damn starter and fired ‘er up. And the mullet was great.

Grilling Myself

It’s a little embarrassing to have been cooking as long as I have and to have such a poor command of the grill. Frankly, I’ve always been bewildered by cooks who say they love the grill because it’s so easy and cleanup is a snap. These must be people who also enjoy pounding their laundry clean over rocks in a river, or mucking out the barns of their cattle, or perhaps mowing the lawn with a pair of hand shears.

My experiences with our new grill over the last few weeks have typically gone something like this:

1) Crumple newspaper and stuff into bottom of chimney starter.

2) Set starter on bottom rack of grill and add charcoal. Forget that black dust has adhered to fingers. Wipe fingers on white shorts.

3) Light newspaper. Wait in hopeful but futile anticipation for flames to erupt. Cough and wave hands in front of face when seemingly non-existent wind somehow manages to blow smoke into eyes. Light another corner of newspaper. Get more smoke in eyes. Note flames beginning to erupt.

4) Run back up stairs into kitchen. Salt and pepper meat or fish as the grill heats up. Glance out door to check on fire. Note that there is plenty of smoke but no sign of fire.

5) Continue with meal preparation. Check fire again. When there is still no sign of fire, run downstairs to stare at smoking starter in hopes that flames shooting from eyes will cause charcoal to burn at last.

6) Repeat steps 4 & 5 several times until flames actually erupt.

7) Wait what seems a reasonable amount of time for charcoal to catch fire. Turn starter over onto grill and try not to catch self on fire as flames unexpectedly shoot from all corners of the starter.

8) Watch as fire either slowly dies or continues to rage uncontrollably. Futilely move various levers and knobs on grill. Run upstairs to collect various items you have forgotten (tongs, mitt, shot of bourbon). Eventually, toss food onto roaring flames, where it will char on the outside and remain nearly raw on the inside, or set onto icy rack over barely flickering embers, where it will lie inertly until you give up, take it inside, and cook it on the stove.

Still, we remain hopeful. Even the very poorly prepared swordfish and salmon I’ve produced has beated pan-seared and baked versions for taste and tenderness. If I ever get this grilling thing right, I’ll report results.

Grilling tips, anyone?

Grill Baby Grill

Like most couples marrying later in life, Fred and I had already accumulated most of the kitchenware we needed. Knowing this, our friends and relatives flooded us with gift certificates at our wedding, most of which have long since been used.

Still, one set of key certificates remained untouched: two cards from Crate and Barrel in generous amounts, waiting for just the right purchase.

The pressure to decide on exactly the perfect way to use these cards was becoming a terrible burden for Fred and me. We are people who hem and haw over restaurant and movie choices. How could we be entrusted with such a weighty matter as this?

And so it was that shortly after our arrival in Durham, cards in hand, we visited the Crate and Barrel at Crabtree and spent an entire afternoon examining every item in the store, debating their individual merits: potholders, bed frames, pillows, chaise lounges, All Clad cookware, pickled onions. Only one item, though, really stuck with me: a grill, made by Weber, that allowed you to use propane to light the charcoal and that came attached to a handy plastic table for holding your plates of burgers and steak. (I assume the table won’t melt.) We decided, though, that the wooden screened-in porch of our apartment would not be the best place for grilling, and let it go.

But this summer, finally beginning to settle into our house in Trinity Park and freed from the confines of the wooden screened-in porch, I found myself fantasizing about seared salmon steaks and mesquite-smoked pork chops, with my equipment tidily arranged on the little plastic table and my charcoal and wood chips securely stored in the handy pull-out bin underneath. And so it was that on one of our rare trips to Raleigh recently, we took the plunge.

Here it is, safely ensconced on our concrete porch next to our brick basement. We can only hope that the weeds growing out of the patio won’t catch fire.

Louise, excited by the prospect of grilled tuna, also helped with the assembly.