There's a time and a place for burgers, ketchup, and paper plates. But there are also warm summer nights when the backyard grill has to anchor something more ambitious; when even the most accomplished pitmasters need to step it up and orchestrate a great outdoor dinner party with style. And that's where Michael Chiarello comes in – the Northern California chef behind the grill-centric Napa restaurant Bottega and the new cookbook 'Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors.' "The trick to throwing a terrific outdoor dinner," says Chiarello, who entertains regularly around the open fire pit in his backyard in Napa, "is getting everything set up so you can be a guest at your own party." You want to be drinking beer and talking to friends while calmly delivering a great spread to a well-laid table. Friends come to hang out with you, to enjoy your company, not just to watch you bolt back and forth between the Weber and the kitchen.
The key to a Chiarello-style cookout lies in chef's tricks like offering just one great, self-serve cocktail to set the mood without stressing yourself out; creating an easy-to-execute menu that still feels impressive and generous; and turning the grill itself into a social hub, to anchor the whole party. Most of all, it's about making everything look easy: Chiarello breaks the evening down, with an easy-to-follow action plan that takes you from marinating the beef to sitting down with your own plateful.
Lemon-Garlic Chicken With Tapenade.
By leaving chickens whole, you avoid having to do all that flipping, one leg at a time, and maintain the juices. Crushed-olive tapenade, tucked under the skin, jams flavor right into the flesh while lemon-garlic marinade adds even more flavor on the exterior. Flattening the birds under a cast-iron skillet (weighed down by a brick) means they cook more evenly and retain flavor.
For the Kalamata tapenade
• 4 tbsp pine nuts
• 4 cups pitted Kalamata olives
• 4 tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
• 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably gray sea salt
• 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the lemon-garlic marinade
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 4 tbsp grated lemon zest
• 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
• 4 tbsp minced garlic (12 cloves)
• 2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the tapenade, toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium burner, tossing occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly colored. Put in a food processor with olives, parsley, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
For the marinade, combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir.
Use scissors to remove chicken's backbone, then cut down the center of the breast, separating the chicken into halves.
Taking care not to tear the skin, use your fingers to loosen a flap at the cut edge of each thigh and also at the base of each breast. Push one tablespoon of tapenade under the skin of each. Massage skin to spread.
Place chicken halves in a pan large enough to lay flat. Pour on the marinade and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning every half-hour. Two hours before cooking, take out of the fridge to reach room temperature.
When grill is hot, sprinkle chicken with salt and place it, skin-side up, off to one side of the grill (not directly over the hottest embers or flame). Set skillet on top of the chicken halves, followed by a foil-wrapped brick. Cook for 10 to 13 minutes, turn over, put skillet and brick back in place, and cook for another 11 to 13 minutes. Add cut lemons to the grill, cut-side down, during the last few minutes of cooking. The bird is done when golden brown and crisp on the outside (or when instant-read thermometer reads 170 degrees at center of a thigh – but not touching bone).
Credit: Photograph by Cedric Angeles
Take chicken off grill, transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, let rest for 5 minutes. Cut legs into thigh and drumstick pieces. Cut breasts in half. Sprinkle with salt, serve on a platter with the grilled lemon halves.