August 10, 2010

When I was in college, I worked at this record store (OK, soI’m old), and I would often get asked what my favorite album was. And I wouldgenerally answer Joy Division’s Closer(OK, so I’m an old, pretentious anglophile). And this was a belief I persistedin until very recently when I was confronted by the cold, hard facts of the “Played”column in my iTunes Library (this tracks the frequency that you listen to aparticular song). According to the data, Closerisn’t even close to my favorite album. As it turns out, Creedence ClearwaterRevival’s Platinum is what I listen to themost. This makes sense, as it’s one of my default choices when I have nothingspecific in mind, but I just want to jam some tunes. Similarly, ever since I’vecooked professionally, I’m often asked what my favorite food is. Vealsweetbreads has been my stock response to this query, and like Closer, consumption of theselittle morsels when conditions are right is a sublime experience to be savored.Trouble is, as a working parent, the stars are rarely aligned (i.e. me and themissus getting gussied up and dropping a few hundred bucks on dinner and ababysitter) for sweetbread enjoyment.

So I got to thinking about what my real favorite food (i.e. the one I cook and eat themost) is, and I’m pretty sure that if there were a “Played” column on my dinnertable, grilled chicken drumsticks would be topping the charts. Now there are anumber of foods—pork tenderloin, shrimp, eggs--that deliver a healthy amount ofbang-for the-buck as far as ease of preparation to level of eating experiencegoes, but the drumstick has a few unique things going for it. Much like CCR’sswamp-blues-rock, there’s a back-to-basics satisfaction to eating grilled meatsin general, but drumsticks have the added bonus of being the originalmeat-on-a-stick. Yes, you could argue ribs here, but the one-handed ease-of-usefactor pushes the drumstick over the top. Texting and driving? Major no-no. Textingand eating a drumstick? That’s just multitasking (in fact, I’m eating one rightnow). Sick of fighting with your 4-year-old about eating pasta with theirfingers? Get young Odin’s elbows up on the table and let ‘em have at a chickenleg. 

And between football practices, guitar lessons, and justgeneral child maintenance, on-the-fly dinners are a major part of our family’slife. So not only is it’s ease of consumption working in it’s favor (it’s greatfor standing or even walking meals), grilled chicken also belongs to thepantheon of foods—along with pizza and brownieswhich are equally deliciousserved hot, cold, or anywhere in between. Now as busy as we stay during theschool year, sometimes the application of heat to food is an option that goesright out the window, so a plateful of grilled chicken legs on hand in thefridge is not only great for dinner, but it also makes afternoon snacks andschool lunches a breeze. And in the every-second-counts morning race againstthe tardy bell, throwing a couple of these in a sandwich baggie takes even lesstime than a PB&J. Oh, and you’re sending your precious angel(s) off toschool with a healthy, home-cooked meal, blah, blah, blah… 

And in these times of great economic uncertainty…OK, thisisn’t going to turn into one of those columns. Seriously, though, you can getan absolute boatload of these suckers for cheap. Let kings and queens feast ontheir expensive chicken breasts, I’ll take the quotidian majesty of a drumstickany day. In fact, I never cook less than a dozen. You definitely don’t want torun out before you’re ready. I generally fire up the grill on a Sunday night,throw about 15-20 on, and that’s enough to get our family to about midweek. Honestly,the picked meat of that last, lonely one on top of a simple salad on Wednesdaynight makes a fantastic dinner. 

Finally, as summer comes to a close (but tailgating seasonis just around the corner), I’d also like to say that in its capacity as adelicious, easy-to-eat, serve at any temperature, megacheap by the dozen, andtop-quality leftover foodstuff, drumsticks make the ultimate party food foryour next cookout. Just load up your grill with 20 or 30 or 40 (the sky’s thelimit, really), throw together some quick and easy dipping sauces (see below),and you’ll have an international chicken buffet par excellence in no time. They’re a real crowd-pleaser much like(trust me on this one) CCR instead of Joy Division on the stereo. (Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs pictures here).

Notes on cooking: I just toss the drumsticks in a bowl withsome olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill them on high with the longer side(the one with more skin) down for about 10 minutes to get the skincrispy, and then turn them over, reduce the heat to medium, and let them gowith the lid closed 15-20 minutes to give them a good, slow roasting. You dohave to pay pretty close attention, as the grill will definitely flare upoccasionally with skin-on chicken. 

Dipping sauces:All of these are super easy and will keep in the fridge forat least a week. Just whisk together the ingredients in whatever proportion yousee fit. They’re almost impossible to mess up. The only thing you might do isget too much ginger in the Asian one, but I would just say that by the time youget sick of grating it, you’ve got enough.

Sweet and sour: sweet chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, soysauce, sriracha, lime juice, scallions, grated ginger, minced garlic

Sunshine sauce: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sriracha,cider vinegar

Mexican: Mexican hot sauce, sour cream, cilantro, lime juice


BBQ: your favorite 


For more easy, no-cook sauces, see 6 Simple Saucesfor Chicken 

And check out this article on busting Nutrition Myths where weexplain how you can splurge with skin-on chicken from time to time.

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