Last year I bought a shiny new Weber charcoal grill and had very big plans for it. And then I used it maybe twice all summer, because standing in the hot sun for too long makes me sleepy and cranky, and when I’m sleepy and cranky, I don’t feel like eating.
This year, I’ve decided to recommit myself to the grill, and I’ve been dreaming up ideas from my air-conditioned bedroom. As I drift off at night, I think about ribs and fish and big platters of garlicky vegetables. And I think a lot about ways to make grilled chicken better, because when it’s good it’s oh-my-god good, but when it’s bad it’s devastating. What’s the point of grilling if I get all sweaty and sleepy for some dry, depressing chicken?
Grilled chicken is much less likely to dry out if it’s brined or marinated, so every one of my chicken dreams has started from that point. I began thinking about all the ways to riff off a simple Southern-fried-chicken-style buttermilk brine, and as my Notes app filled up with possibilities, the idea I kept coming back to was brining a whole chicken in coconut milk. I thought about maybe adding some soy sauce for saltiness, maybe some sugar to help it caramelize, and the more my mind ran, the better it got. With only seconds to go before my sleeping pill knocked my ass out for good, I grabbed my phone and left “coco boy say gas call scallion too” as a Note to my future self.
When I figured out what the note meant three days later, I searched online for more inspiration and learned that Hawaiians invented this recipe long before I did. Actually, their recipe is better than the one in my Notes app, since it doesn’t have gasoline in it. So, hats off to you, Hawaii! You’ve blessed us with some grilled chicken that’s oh-my-god good.
Note: This isn’t really “my” recipe—just my ratios. Feel free to play with it as you like! You can add more ginger and garlic if you’d like a stronger flavor, or throw in some minced chilis if you’d like some heat. If you don’t want to spatchcock a whole chicken, you can do this with whatever cut you like. (Try the thighs.)
- 1 (4-6 lb.) chicken
- 2 bunches scallions (approx. 10-12 scallions)
- 4 large cloves garlic
- 2" piece fresh ginger, Microplaned
- 1 (13.5-oz.) can coconut milk
- 3 Tbsp. yogurt or sour cream
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
Spatchcock the chicken by cutting out its backbone with a pair of kitchen scissors. (Save the backbone in the freezer for stock.) Put the chicken on a board skin side up, get it into spatchcocking position, and flatten it with your hands. Put the chicken in a large resealable plastic bag.
Mince the garlic with four whole scallions (leave the rest in the fridge to use the next day); add to a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into the bag with the chicken; press out as much air as you can before sealing. Massage the bag for a bit to ensure the brine is everywhere, then put the bag into a container in the refrigerator.
Set up your grill to cook on medium indirect heat with a drip pan for the chicken (check your grill’s manual for precise directions). While it preheats, remove the chicken from the bag (do this in the sink!), shake it off just enough that the brine isn’t heavily dripping off, set it cut side down on a platter, and let it sit at room temperature.
Put the chicken on the grill cut side down, with the breast side closest to the heat. Close the grill and cook for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken, then rotate it so the legs are closest to the heat. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes, then check the chicken’s temperature by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Continue grilling until the temperature reads 165 degrees, moving the chicken around as needed to ensure the skin doesn’t burn and is crispy all over.
Shortly before the chicken is done, roughly chop the scallions and pile them on a carving board. When it’s ready, move the chicken to the board and place it (cut side down) over the scallions. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes, then rip it apart with your hands and eat it with the schmaltzy scallions.