Granted, any excuse and any reason can put one in the mood for grilling season. But sunny days and warm temperatures make my mind wander to dining outdoors on something cooked over hot coals.
And while nothing may be better than a hamburger cooked on a charcoal grill, I'm always looking for new ideas and ways to expand the repertoire and avoid the rut that anyone who cooks can fall into where they rely on the same proven recipes over and over.
Frankly, one of the things that keeps me out of that rut is looking at the schedule and seeing, "Oh, &#!@, I have a food page due next week."
Grilling adds to the depth of flavor found in Spicy Thai Chicken Thighs.
When I'm looking for new things to grill, I frequently turn to "Mastering the Grill," the award-winning cookbook by Andrew Schloss, David Joachim and Alison Miksch.
With a pack of chicken thighs in the fridge and folks coming over for Memorial Day to celebrate my daughter's graduation from college, I came across this recipe for Spicy Thai Chicken Thighs.
The recipe may look complicated, but it's mostly just a lot of ingredients that can be assembled easily.
Spicy Thai Chicken Thighs
1 1/2 cups Cumin, Coriander and Lime Brine (recipe below)
1 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 1/2 cups Thai Coconut Peanut Sauce (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
Mix up the brine. Put the chicken in a gallon zipper-lock bag with the brine, seal tightly, gently massage the marinade into th meat and refrigerate for 3-4 hours so the thighs can marinate.
Heat the grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees if there is a temperature gauge)
Remove the chicken from the brine about 20 minutes before grilling.
Mix the Thai Coconut Peanut Sauce and put half in a serving bowl.
Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Put chicken on grill, cover and cook until no longer pink in the center and the juices run clear, about 8 minutes per side (170 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer).
Brush the chicken with the remaining half of the Thai sauce during the last five minutes of cooking.
Serve with the Thai peanut sauce reserved in the serving bowl.
Cumin, Coriander and Lime Brine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Combine ingredients in a gallon size zipper-lock bag. Seal and shake for 30 seconds until sugar and salt dissolve.
Thai Coconut Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon fish sauce (preferably Thai-style)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoons sriracha hot pepper sauce or another hot sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
Combine all of the ingredients.
The marinade and the sauce give the dish a real depth of flavor with some of the spice and the acidity coming from the marinade, while the Thai Coconut Peanut Sauce delivers a mix of sweet and savory along with some heat. The peanut sauce is excellent, and I can see experimenting with it as a dip and using it as something besides a grilling sauce.
It's easy to tinker with the recipe to adjust it for more sensitive diners. I left the the cayenne off the chicken, but even with the full amount of sriracha, it wasn't too hot for my wife. Next time I might add a pinch of cayenne.
But there is one disadvantage to trying a new recipe for guests. Things don't always go as planned. I had a pack of larger-than-average chicken thighs and needed way more than 8 minutes per side to get the internal temperature of the chicken where it needed to be and have those juices run clear. And while a little pink - or in my case medium rare - is preferred when it comes to beef and recommended cooking times have been lowered in recent years for pork so we no longer have to incinerate a pig before eating it, no one wants to deal with undercooked poultry.
Luckily, there were enough side dishes to keep everyone satisfied until the chicken was ready to come off the grill. And it was worth the wait.