Whole Chicken in an egg!

Since leaving London and moving to the counry I have aquired a new toy, a Big Green Egg. Having read about them I wondered if they were really this fantastic device for cooking/smoking food. I was not disappointed!

The Big Green Egg is a sexy looking piece of kit, as its name suggests it is a huge green rugby ball shaped barbeque. Inside the ceramic shell is the lower bowl where the charcoal is placed. Sitting above this is a ledge where you place the grate and used in its simplest form it will cook great burgers and sausages. But to have the egg for just simple BBQ food would be like hiring Heston to cook for you and asking him to pick up the pizza from the shop.

There are many wonderful attachments and gadgets that can be added to the egg, some really enhance the cooking experience and some are maybe directed towards the foodie collectors. All of them serve a purpose for great cooking.

The most common and in my opinion essential add on is the convEGGtor (plate setter) which transforms the egg into an oven for either low and slow cooking or roasting in one position and then turned over becomes a great baking oven.

What impressed me the most was how easy it was to achieve your desired temperature and then maintain it. Once cooking has finished the egg is then ‘switched off’ by closing the vents. Switching off may sound instantenous and of course the egg maintains the heat for an hour or two, but when cooled I was delighted to see that not all of the charcoal was used at the bottom and after a small top up was able to give it another outing.

Now these are not a cheap hobby, and you wouldnt take this to the park for a spontaneous summer picnic but they really do enhance your food and will become a serious alternative for some conventional cooking methods.

After trialling a chicken on the family on stir up sunday, I’m going to do the turkey on it at christmas. Smoking the the chicken gave it a subtle flavour that was hands up the favourite choice compare to a standard oven roasted chicken. Having brined the chicken, it was also one of the most moist birds I have tasted too.

There are noticable differences when using an egg, and its not just flavour. A pink hue can appear on all meats when they are smoked. This is due to the myoglobin in the meat, which is the pigment responsible for colour of the muscle, changing state. Because you are smoking with wood, the nitrogen combines with the oxygen to form Nitrogen Dioxide, and as this is water soluble it will set into the moist meat to form nitrous acid. All of this may not sound too appealing, but the pink ring effect is heralded among smokers as a sign of beauty.

There are many types of smoker available and those of you that are DIY fans could even upscale some equipment to make your own beast. For me being a bit of a gadget nerd I love the consistency of the egg and the shape of it sits well on the patio and allows a talking point when entertaining.

Below is the recipe for smoking a whole chicken and I will put out some other ideas over the coming months.

Smoked whole chicken in the big egg
Serves 4-6 (depending on size of chicken)

1 Whole chicken

For the brine (giving you 5%):
3 litres of water
150g salt
50g sugar
1 heaped tblsp dried thyme

For cooking on the egg:
olive oil

  1. To make the brine add the sugar and water to 500ml of the water, bring to a simmer until dissolved add the thyme and take off heat. Add the remainder of the water and cool completely.
  2. Remove any giblets from the chicken and immerse in the brine. Allow to sit for 24 hours in the fridge then remove, pat dry and rest for a further 8-24 hours uncovered in the fridge.
  3. Before cooking the chicken your green egg needs to be at a consistent temperature of 180ºC, with the plate setter positioned with legs up and grill replaced. img_2023
  4. It will take the egg approx. 30 mins to get to this temp with top vent open and lower vent fully open. Whilst your egg is reaching the correct heat, bring your chicken out to allow it to come to room temp. Once the temp has been reached close the top vent so that only the slots are fully open and close the lower vent to about 1”.
  5. Mix the olive oil with paprika and baste the chicken, sit its cavity on a vertical chicken roaster, can of beer (half empty) or a bundt/saverin tin. This will allow the chicken to cook a little more efficiently, however it can be placed into a roasting tin and cooked. However you choose ensure there is a container to catch juices. Place the chicken and your chosen vessel onto the egg grill and close the lid.img_2024
  6. You can baste the chicken up to about 4 times during the cooking time, but rememeber that when the egg is open the temparature is dropping. Duration of cooking time depends on the size of the chicken but the average 3-4lb (approx. 1.5-2Kg) chicken will take just over 1 hour and an internal temperature needs to be 75ºC, be aware that this form of cooking can sometimes give the chicken a pink hue, so check that the fibres are set too. If you are unsure it is possible to keep it in the egg for another 20-30 mins without it drying out because of the brine.
  7. Allow the chicken to rest wrapped in foil for at least 20 mins and upto 1 hour before carving. It is advisable to serve the chicken immediately after carving so as not to cool the meat too much.

Stir Up Sunday

As we draw closer to the festive season, its very likely we will hear the complaints of “Christmas comes too early, we’ve just had Halloween.” Im guilty myself of shaking my head as that red lorry appears on TV, but then conform to the joys of traditions and join the crowds and queues in the shops during the build up to Christmas. This is not a new modern day way of life but purely a sign of the times, a current state of how Christmas has always needed forward planning.

Stir up sunday is a very old tradition with links dating back to the 16th century yet it is a custom which has been overlooked as our lives become busier and supermarkets and department stores have supplied us with ready made Christmas food and gifts.

The earliest link is noted in The book of Common Prayer which was written during Britains independance with Rome and the catholic church under Henry VIII’s reign.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Stir up sunday lies on the final sunday before advent, usually the last week of November and signals to both religious and agnostic groups as the start of preparation for the festive season. For some its the time to make the christmas pudding which benefits from a little maturation or feeding until it is reheated and eaten on Christmas Day. For my family it also signals the temporary redundancy of Sunday lunches as we take a break from the normal sunday routines and prepare for the mamouth eating binge that is the holiday season.

In previous years there has been shared responsibility for the making of the pudding, and as a family there is often heated debate as to what christmas pudding recipe to follow. Whilst working at Leiths I developed a christmas pudding recipe that worked as something to make in the school and then finish off cooking at home in the lead up to the big day. A rich but less traditional take on the christmas pudding which I believe sells itself to those who don’t like the taste of the more stodgy alternatives. It uses a decadent sherry that really brings out the christmas taste of the dried fruit and gives the finished result a smoother, luxurious and less bloating finish.

As a traditionalist I love the idea of starting the build up of Christmas on stir up Sunday, not just stirring the pudding and steaming it, but assigning the tasks and errands that must be done for Christmas day. If you do secret Santa like our family it is the perfect day to dish out  who gets who, and gives you a whole month (including black Friday) to get that perfect gift for your chosen receiver.

So if you are looking for a great recipe for this years christmas pudding give this one a go.

Phils Christmas pudding
Serves 4 -8 depending on how much you turkey you eat before serving

80g currants
80g sultanas
80g roughly chopped prunes
80g roughly chopped dried figs
120ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
2 tablespoons honey
100g butter
100g soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
60g plain flour
80g fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 medium cooking apple (peeled and grated)

You will need a 2 pint pudding basin which needs to be well greased with butter. You will also need a sheet of greaseproof paper and a sheet of tin foil to tie onto the pudding basin which will create a water tight lid before steaming in a large enough pan to fit the trivet and basin and be able to put a lid onto it. The trivet can be an upturned plate, metal steamer or even a piece of card. I find that a cardboard egg tray works really well. It is best to have a dry run with all the equipment to ensure it will all fit together. Do allow for the pudding to rise during cooking by leaving 1cm gap at the top before putting the lid on.
Soak the dried fruit in the sherry and honey for at least 1 day and up to a week.
Add water to the pan and bring to a boil.
Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs in 3 – 4 additions and then fold in the flour, breadcrumbs and spices. Pour in the dried fruit and juices, lemon zest and grated apple, mix well and transfer into the greased basin. Assemble and tie up the greaseproof and tinfoil lid and then sit the basin on top of the trivet ensuring the water comes half way up the basin.
Allow to cook on a cheerful boil, making sure you carefully top up the water so as not to dry out the pan and potentially burn the pudding.
Allow to steam for 5 hours. Alternatively you can steam this for 2.5 hours which will set the pudding, allow to cool and then keep for up to 2 months tightly wrapped before steaming again for another 2.5 hours on Christmas day. This could also be frozen for up to a year.
Once steamed, remove the foil lid and allow the pudding to cool slightly. Place a plate over the pudding and invert, lift the pudding basin and the pudding should slide out easily.
If you are lighting your pudding ensure the plate is lipped and gently heat a ladle of brandy, when ready to serve light the brandy and pour over the pudding.