Maple-Miso Grilled Chicken raids Asian and North American pantries to produce subtle, satisfying depth while claiming no one nationality. Recipe—and some ingredient substitutions—below.
I occasionally talk about the varied places inspiration comes from when I’m cooking. The inspiration for this subtly flavored grilled chicken came from these very pages, sort of. In last week’s Five fresh reasons to check out my blogrolls post, I included Maple and Miso Scallops from Kevin’s Toronto-based Closet Cooking. When Marion saw that recipe, you could almost hear the wheels turning. Soon she was saying, “I bet those flavors would be good with grilled chicken or maybe some pork.” Soon after that, she was emailing me some recipes she’d found. And a dish and a post were born.
We’re great borrowers in the kitchen, appropriating seasonings, spices, sauces and techniques from various cuisines around the globe, mixing them up and using them in unconventional ways. The marinade for this grilled chicken is a perfect example. It uses miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar and mirin from Japan. Sesame oil and hot chili oil from China. And maple syrup from America’s Northeast.
Despite the heavy borrowing from Asian pantries, there’s nothing even vaguely pan-Asian about this chicken. Just a subtle, mysterious depth of flavor that makes for a welcome change of pace from straight grilled or barbecued chicken. And there’s no need to get all matchy and go for Chinese or Japanese sides. This chicken will play nicely with just about anything you throw at it.
Maple-Miso Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 with possible leftovers
1/4-cup each, maple syrup, soy sauce, white or red miso paste [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin or sake [or dry vermouth—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hot chili oil [or 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper]
10 to 12 pieces chicken [I used drumsticks and thighs]
Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly to dissolve and incorporate miso paste. Trim excess fat from chicken pieces and place them in heavy, sealable plastic bags [I divided the chicken between 2 1-gallon bags]. Pour marinade over chicken and seal bags, turning them to coat chicken thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours, turning bags occasionally to make sure all chicken pieces remain coated.
Start coals if you’re using charcoal. For this dish, I use the indirect grilling method to keep the marinade from burning as it would if the chicken were placed directly over the coals. This also made for some very juicy chicken, a bonus when grilling. With a gas grill, set it up however it’s recommended for indirect grilling—I’ve never used one, so I won’t pretend to know what to do here.
When the coals are hot, arrange them on both sides of the kettle, leaving an open space down the center section. If you want to get all uptown, place a disposable aluminum pan in the middle to catch the grease drippings from the chicken. I didn’t. Put the cooking grill in place and lightly oil it—I used grilling tongs to rub a wadded paper towel dipped in oil quickly over the grill surface. Arrange the chicken skin side up over the center so they are not directly over the coals. Put the lid on, with all the vents above and below completely open for maximum airflow and heat.
Now here’s the hard part: Leave it alone. Go have a drink, mingle with your guests, make a salad or whatever. Do not open the grill. You know how when you’re baking or roasting something and you nervously check it every 3.2 minutes and it takes for freaking ever to get done because you’re constantly reducing the oven’s temperature by opening the door? With indirect grilling, it’s like that times a thousand. Pretty much all the built up heat escapes, every time you take a peek.
After 20 minutes, go back out to the grill with your instant read thermometer. Open the grill, take a moment to admire the beautiful burnished skin on the chicken, then stick the thermometer in the center of the biggest thigh without touching bone. It should register at least 165ºF to be done [if you don't have a thermometer, pierce the biggest thigh with a cake tester or sharp knife point—if the juices run clear, it's done]. If not, cover the grill and let it cook another 5 minutes or so and check again. But it probably will be done after 20 minutes, unless you didn’t have enough coals or they weren’t completely hot when you started.
Transfer chicken to serving platter, let it rest for a few minutes as you pull everything else together and serve.
Miso. Miso—or miso paste—is a concentrated, savory bean paste made from soybeans. Infinitely versatile, it is a mainstay of Japanese cuisine. It is used in sauces, marinades, salad dressings and—as most of us might recognize it—in miso soup. White miso has a lighter flavor; red miso is earthier, more intense. I used white in this recipe, but either would be fine. This is a key ingredient in this dish, so I unfortunately can’t offer a substitute here. But you should be able to find miso in Asian markets or many larger supermarkets.
Mirin. This is a Japanese cooking wine. Sake will also work, as will dry vermouth.