This is a great all-in-one meal for those die-hard smokers who like to keep the smokes coming all year long, especially during the cold winter months.
SOUTHWESTERN SMOKED CHICKEN & RICE IN DUTCH OVEN
***for 5lbs chicken bone-in skin-on thighs (11 pieces), 6 quart brine container and a 6-qt dutch oven...serves 8-11 persons***
Remove chicken skin and trim lean, leaving bones in for added flavor to act as a shrinkage gauge during smoking. This also allows for less restrictive cooking guidelines (danger zone times/temps).
I'm using bone-in skin-on thighs for the start of this dish, so I'll have freshly uncovered meat for better color/surface moisture consistency, as skinless chicken
(when purchased as such) can tend to have dried areas, especially when previously frozen.
The dark meat may be a bit less healthy (higher calorie/cholesterol), but I'm after the smoke flavor in this dish, and it retains it's moisture better than white over longer cooking times as this will be.
I used a simple slightly reduced salt brine, with 1 Tbls/qt of total water:
1.5 quarts water in saucepan
1.5 quarts dilution water, cold (added after brine is heated through and removed from heat)
3 Tbls iodized salt (for dietary purposes)
1/2 stalk minced fresh celery
1/2 Tbls dried minced garlic
1/2 Tbls fresh ground black peppercorn
2 tsp cumin
1/2 Tbls dried rosemary
1/2 Tbls crushed red pepper
2 bay leaf
Heat brine to 180* + for approx. 10 minutes to release the ingredient's flavors, then remove from heat, add cold water and chill to <40* F. Add chicken to brine in non-reactive 6-qt container, making sure all meat is submerged. Cover and chill.
The strained brine ingredients:
This is a 6-quart covered food grade container...if you look closely you can see the etched marks indicating liquid level...you can easily see the 3-quart mark (mid-right of pic) just above the water is the 4-quart mark...(about 3.7-3.8 quarts, just so you know the size container to use here):
Ready for the soak:
I started with partially frozen thighs, which worked really well to remove the skin by pulling it away slowly from the meat, then trimming the stiffer fat rather quickly. It took about 2 minutes to prep the 5lbs of thighs with a sharp 5" utility knife.
Brine chicken pieces for 3-4 hours.
Dry rub chicken pieces after brining and smoke at moderate-high humidity @ ~200-210* to an internal temp of 165*, then add to dutch oven rice mixture. I'll be running a wet pan close to the coal-bed in my gourmet for this smoke, with pecan and apple chunks providing the thin blue smoke.
I'll use a simple blend of:
1/2 Tbls chili powder
1 tsp ground black peppercorn
1 tsp coarse ground garlic
1 Tbls ground red bell pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 Tsp kosher salt (for some crunchy texture)
The dry rub quantity will be enough for a heavy single dusting on both sides for the (now approx 4.25lbs) chicken thighs. My theory is that with a single application of dry rub instead of two as I often do, the differing flavors contained in the brine and the pecan/apple smoke should come through nicely on the meat, while the seasoned rice mixture brings out more of the southwest flavors. And for that purpose, it's a bit finer grind than the rice seasoning blend:
Start diced carrots, rotels and rice in the dutch oven first (with water and spice blend), then add celery and onion after 60 minutes (it cooks quicker). I'm not worried how much the ro-tels cook, as they will impart tons of flavor into the liquids and rice...that's why they're here for the ride. I'll start the DO just prior to the start of smoking the chicken. The rice mixture should take approx 3-3.5 hours total, so with a reduced smoking temp, the chicken should be up to temp just as the rice is nearing it's finish.
The rice mixture for 12" 6-qt dutch oven:
2 quarts + 3 cups water for slightly aldente' rice (1 cup less for very aldente', 1 cup more for softer rice)
4 cups rice
6 stalks cross-sliced celery
2 cups small diced carrots
1/4 cup dried chopped onion
1 - 10oz can Ro-tel diced tomatoes and chilies
1 Tbls chili powder
1/2 Tbls fresh ground black peppercorn
2 Tbls ground red bell pepper
1 Tbls dried minced garlic
1 Tbls kosher salt (sub with iodized)
2 cups grated pepperjack (preferred) or, sub with co-jack, cheddar, mozzarella
The rice seasoning is blended and ready:
My dutch oven firing/cooking method today:
Cover DO and build briquette fire (bottom only) for a 270-280* oven from a cold start using the (-)2 / (+)3 method, allowing for ambient temps/wind. A relatively slow cooking for tender but firm rice and veggies is what I'm looking for here. My typical stove-top rice steaming (w/o steamer) is a 30-minute process, and is very reliable.
Here, I am dealing with melding the flavors of the veggies/chilies/spices into the rice, so a 30-minute steaming will not work well. Overcooking the veggies is highly probably. The lower cooking temps will allow me to check the rice periodically as it nears the desired finished texture. A slow simmer just before adding the chicken pieces is desirable.
Today, I'm starting cooking with a very light breeze, snowing off and on, and ambient temps of ~16-18*F, which will be dropping into the single digits before dinner is finished and ready. My cooking will be protected in my outdoor kitchen, so I started with 6 briquettes for a baseline temp of 250* (dropping from 350* with 10 briqs), then added 3 to compensate for the ambient temp drop of ~50* below 70*F. So, I'm starting with 9 briquettes, and will add approx 1/2 that amount every 30-40 minutes to maintain heat as the briquettes burn down until the dish is finished.
Also, I like to lightly touch the sides and lid of the oven, or at least "palm" the radient heat near-by to get a true feel for how hot it's getting. This helps to estimate the rate at which the food is heating through and cooking without messing around with cracking the lid to insert a temp probe.
I'll slowly and gently stir the rice mixture about every 15-20 minutes for more even heating and to reduce to possibility of clumping/sticking.
The smoked chicken thighs (165* I/T) will be laid on top of the rice mixture, sprinkled with grated cheese, covered, and hot coals added to the lid for ~250* oven on top, and ~200-210* on bottom for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melting down off the chicken thighs...it should be a nice looking finishing touch, I think.
Let's get that DO fired up, shall we?
Water, carrots and seasoning blend is in and I'm just putting the hot coals to it now:
While the carrots are begining to heat through, I grabbed the brined chicken, drained 'em up and gave a good dose of the dry rub:
Here's a look at how the brine grabbed onto the membrane over the outer muscle of the thighs...should be a great flavor judging by the amount of color change:
Into the gourmet charcoal with pecan/apple, and about 3/4" water in the pan...cold today, so I need a bit more punch out of the coal bed to get enough usable BTU's...too much water just kills the heat...lower grate @ 4" below the upper grate with a mod:
Upper grate is in, so let's get smokin'...:
Well, smoke is on, and it's time for the rice, celery and onion to hit the DO...lots of free-water still, but that will change as the rice cooks and absorbes it's share:
Oh, and I time the addition of a half-dozen hot coals under the DO just prior to adding the rice, so the shock of the cold food hitting the liquid wouldn't last so long. Cast iron holds it heat pretty well, but it's been my personal experience that adding large quantities of cold ingredients will zap any cooker:
About 2 hours into the overall rice project...rice is slightly firm, but almost ready. I want a slightly aldente' texture, just for a bit more chew than the typical rice. For me there's three textures of edible rice, being, mushy/soft, aldente' and very firm/chewy...I want about the mid-point between soft/aldente':
And, time a peek at the chix thighs while I'm at it...tons of steam showing with the now 5*F ambient temps:
154-156* on a couple I probed, so not long 'til they hit the rice...if I didn't know better, I'd say these still had the skin on...but they don't...hmm, I've smoke whole birds without the skin before, and they came out great...not dried out and a really deep smoke flavor...I think skin on birds is over-rated, unless it's fried and super crispy:
165* (+) and onto the rice...:
...then, I topped it off with coarse fresh grated mozzarella...nothing else in the fridge which met my liking, but this will be good as well:
...after looking things over, I suspected I had a few cups too much in the DO, but I took advantage of the domed center of the lid when placing the thighs and cheese...popped the lid back on, feeling it not resting tightly on the oven (yep, she's FULL), and tossed some remnent coals on the lid from the smoker...I rotated the lid about every 3-4 minutes, and...
...checked the bottom coal base one last time...still enough hot ashes and coals to finish it up...won't take long anyway, and the cast iron holds onto heat like a frieght train holds onto speed...even though the ambient temps have now dropped to 2*F, I'm confident that with this short stretch I have left, all will be just fine and dandy:
..I could feel the cheese sticking to the lid when I lifted it slightly just to rotate it, but within a few minutes I felt it release after the lid got a bit hotter, and, after about 15 minutes or so of lid rotation, the cheese had mostly settled in and dropped away from the lid, so all was well again.
..................................cheese are strings still hanging from the lid below...about 18-20" of stretch...talk about hang-time...ha-ha-ha!!!
For a moist rice, done to your preference, in the case of slow cooking instead of high heat steaming, there should be a bit of liquid left in the pot as there is here...tons of flavor here, so just mop some up with a small spoon full of rice, or ladle a bit of it out and drizzle it over the rice...mmm-mmm-mmm...also, you can see by the vertical wall that the rice is bonded just a bit, which can indicate it's degree of doneness to some extent if no oils/fats are added during cooking. A very soft rice will not slough off until fluffed with a fork after steaming, but this rice just needed a nudge to break it loose:
So, we have a nice, loose rice and veggie trio, topped with smoked thihgs and melted cheese for...
...another dynamite meal, all in one dish, from a relatively simple and easy two-cooker prep for the finish...:
If you look closely, you can see a slight smoke ring...deep, but faint in color:
The recipes I put together just today for this smoke and DO run are pretty simple and down to earth. Had I though about it a bit more, I could have added frank's red hot, chipotle hot sauce, datil hot sauce, or habenero hot sauce to the brine for bit more kick in the hinder. Of course the dry rub and rice mix could be kicked into over-drive with tons of other heat provoking fire-spices as well, but this has just a wee bit of spicy heat from the crushed red pepper in the brine. I think some finely chopped fresh jalapenos in the rice mix would be great, too. As you can imagine, there are countless variations which could be done with any of the three recipes, so have fun with it!
The chicken thighs had a deep spicy flavor from the brine, carrying itself very well. I hadn't really used brines alot in the past, so today I decided I'd put some extra touches into a brine to flow with the southwestern flavors, and this really came through with a nice spicy heat...not over-powering at all.
The smoke combo was very nice, and the dry rub being a chili/red bell pepper base, kept up with the brine and smoke to finish a truely unique flavor combination.
The rice, carrots and celery were all cooked aldente' with a light crunch in some of the celery, and a soft chew to the rice...very interesting texture variations, IMO...all in all, it made a great meal.