Flash in the Pan 

Fowl game day grub

Tailgate parties are rarely associated with the culinary cutting edge. While burgers, franks and cheap beer help create that special sloppy ambience of brotherly solidarity, the menu doesn't bring too many gourmands out of the woodwork. But if food is more to you than a salty beer sponge, and if your weekend plans have you in, say, the Washington-Grizzly parking lot for a second-round playoff game, you might want to consider beer-butt chicken.

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There's nothing in the tailgate party code of ethics forbidding meaningful culinary experience, but you might want to watch your step. Most tailgaters don't like to eat things with too many syllables, or named in other languages—except Mexican. (Nachos, for instance, are fine. Skip the crostini.)

Even if they haven't heard of beer-butt chicken, most tailgaters can pronounce it on the first attempt. As your parking-lot colleagues will intuitively grasp, the name comes from the fact that a beer can does in fact get shoved up a chicken's butt. The beer in the can steams the chicken from the inside as the exterior crispens. Crunchy on the outside and falling-apart moist on the inside, a beer-butt chicken can disappear very quickly.

The beer-butt cooking method can be used for other animals, too—in fact, preparation of beer-butt rabbit quite possibly precedes beer-butt chicken.

This is a recipe that shines brightly in any context (though you might want to adjust the name in mixed company). It works as well in the backyard or bistro as it does in the parking lot. A simple recipe at its core, all you need is a can of beer and a chicken. It can be prepared with elegance and imagination, using fancy spices and a local micro brew instead of cheap swill. Or it can be prepared parking lot style. Here's a recipe that's somewhere in between.

The night before, prepare the bird as follows:

Mix together 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. At both openings of the bird, gently pull the skin away from the flesh, slide your hand in, and gently separate the skin from the flesh all around the chicken, including the drumsticks, tearing the skin as little as possible. Rub the spice mixture onto the flesh underneath the loose skin. Keep the chicken in a cooler that does not contain any food that will be eaten raw. In the same cooler, store one large chopped onion and one chopped head of garlic, mixed.

On game day, set up your grill. When it's hot, open a can of beer. Drink half of the beer. Add chopped garlic and onions to the can. Place the can upright on the grill. Lower the chicken so the can enters the body cavity. Shove potatoes or onions into the neck opening to help plug it.

Place the whole business on a baking pan on the grill, making sure the chicken is properly balanced so it doesn't tip over. Put the lid on the grill and cook for two or three hours. It's done when the wings are loose when you shake them, or when the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees. If using briquettes, refresh them once or twice as it cooks. Frequently inspect the chicken to make sure it doesn't get off balance as it cooks.

If it does tip over and the beer spills, you have to open another beer and prepare it again, as above. Insert the new can of beer up the chicken's butt, and continue.

One way around the rickety-beer-can problem, and really, a necessity for regular beer-butt chicken consumers, is a specially made beer-butt rig. A beer holder—analogous to the beer can—is welded to a metal plate, which ensures the whole business won't tip over. I got my beer-butt rig from Precision Cut Metal Works in Plains, Mont., (pcmw@blackfoot.net).

When the chicken is done, pour the contents of the beer can into the baking pan, where there will be other juices, and fashion yourself a sauce. You can add some butter and stir in flour and make gravy, or add orange juice and reduce for a redneck chicken l'orange, or just serve the sauce as-is.

Fine dining practices usually dictate that food cooked with a certain wine should be served with a similar wine, and the same principle holds true with beer cookery. If you cooked it with PBR, serve it with PBR. Using a porter adds a dark sweetness, which is enhanced by a pint of the same. I personally prefer a hoppier beer, like a good IPA, which adds that zingy hoppy aroma to the chicken meat.

Food like this could get me to more games. Luckily, the technique works just as well on your back patio on chicken served at your dining room table, even if you couldn't care less about football.

Ask Ari:

Transplanting plants

Q: Dear Ari,

Our landlords have been hit by construction fever and plan to build over what has been a lovely and productive backyard garden for at least 20 years. As visions of a planned spring chicken coop vanish, thoughts have turned to rescuing the perennials.

Two complicating problems: construction may begin as early as mid-winter, and we aren't sure yet where or when anything would be replanted. Can we save our rhubarb (the plants were a gift that took root about the time our daughter was born in the house, so they have sentimental value), horseradish and hops amid all this uncertainty?

—Uprooted

A:

Things could be worse, Uprooted. It could be an apricot tree or asparagus patch you need to move out of the way of progress. Transplanting the plants you described is manageable.

Both rhubarb and horseradish are notoriously hard to kill. In fact, if you leave as much as a single fragment of DNA when you dig it up, horseradish will come back in full force to plague your landlord's new development from below, like ghosts haunting a house built on an ancient graveyard.

Your odds for success in this project depend on the ground being workable (not frozen) when you dig up the would-be transplants. The rhubarb can be transplanted immediately to its new digs, and you might want to take the opportunity to cut up the crown and spread it out.

Dig up the horseradish and shake off all of the dirt from the root, and store it in a plastic bag in the fridge until early spring, when it can be re-planted. Some people eat the main root and transplant sections of the smaller roots, which will quickly grow to full-size.

As for the hops, dig up the root ball and plant it in a large pot with potting soil. Leave in a cool place, like an unheated garage, until spring time, and transplant.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net

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