In cooking any barbecue meats, there are three elements which make it special,
- Preparation of the meat
- The Cooking Process
- The Barbecue Sauce
In St. Croix, regardless if from Hispanic Heritage or not the focus is on the first two steps and only rarely will anybody get totally competitive about the Barbecue Sauce because many don’t use it except as a dip on the side. Don’t get me wrong, Barbecued Chicken is extremely popular but the preparation of the meat and the slow cooking over a banked fire produce a chicken that has a very crisp skin and is extremely moist. Because everyone loves the crisp skin, we sprinkle hot sauce on it and eat it as is. Once we get to the meat, we either put more pepper sauce on it or dip it in a small 2 ounce cup of barbecue sauce for extra favoring on the very tender and moist chicken.
While my wife loved the locally prepared chicken she also loved her barbecue sauce and had a tendency to favor a honey, mustard, vinegar blend whereas I admit to having gone native. I simply love the slow cooking of the crisp skin and the juicy meat with a generous sprinkle of Caribbean Hot sauce, the hottest in the world.
Preparation of the meat is a simple process. The secrete ingredient is the soak in Lime Juice (or Lemon if necessary). This trick also works to make crispy skin on a pork roast but the topic today is Chicken and a 10-30 minute wash or soak is sufficient.
Real purists would insist on making their own spice blends but look out salt is cheap so many blends contain too much. Other spices have variable flavor depending on freshness so should be prepared by taste and not by quantity. However, the most commonly used seasoned salt is Goya Adobo a Puerto Rican style seasoned salt made with garlic, oregano, black pepper and turmeric. Of course depending on the cook, many will sprinkle additional pepper, sage and thyme on the meat and trust me Adobo is a better starting point than a poorly made spice blend.
There is some debate about the best charcoal, but locally made charcoal is getting rare and expensive as a smokey charcoal kiln in the back yard is the fastest way to brink out the Fire Marshal, and local EPA. Still there are a few experts who are able to comply with modern standards and do a pretty good job of making smoke free charcoal and other vendors simply import it from countries with lower standards. This is the same as America’s save the nation hybrid cars being made with imported steal from countries with low standards of occupational safety and environmental protection. Oh well, when local charcoal is not available from vendors I know, I buy American to do my little bit to save the world.
After the meat has been picked clean of excess fat, washed with lime and seasoned the job is mostly done. A banked fire is made with the minimum amount of Charcoal and the chicken placed about 8-12 inches away from it on a grill or homemade rotisserie. Then you walk away and join your own party. The easiest way to understand this is to go to a local Barbecue shack in the Caribbean and closely observe the art form.
The picture is of a barbecue rack at The Le Reine Chicken Shack in St. Croix run by my friend Millin. On a busy day he can cook hundreds at a time and repeat the process almost continuously with the chicken remaining on the grill for an hour. Take note that no chicken is above the coals so there are no grease fire flare-ups on the chicken to scorch and blacken the chicken as it cooks.
For those who still want to try a mustard honey sauce this is the one we use at home. We cook all the chicken the same way and at the end use a paint brush to paint both sides of the piece with barbecue sauce and then let it dry out on the almost cold coals. Those who want honey mustard get this, those that want red sauce can have it and those who want it crisp for hot sauce can have it their way. To each their own!
Honey Mustard Barbecue Sauce
1 T Dijon Mustard
1 Tablespoon Honey (just poor an equal amount to the mustard into the mixing bowl)
2 T Balsamic Vinegar
1 T Brown Sugar
Mix the ingredients until uniform,. This should not be a thick paste but a rich liquid to paint on the finished leg and let dry so as not to destroy the crispness of the skin.
A slight tasty glaze on the leg pictured above shows the finished effect.