Our grill is falling to pieces. And, I don’t mean that figuratively. Chunks of its innards – especially the heat diffuser thingys – are falling off and collecting in the grease tray. Also, the burners have rusted so instead of the gas flowing out through small holes, it comes spewing out through large gaps, leading to large flames. It makes grilling more exciting than ever.
We got our grill for free from the people who moved out of our Boston apartment before we moved in. Tney were leaving for England, so they couldn’t take it with them. We, on the other hand, decided to haul it down the three flights of old New England stairs and out to the moving truck and to our new place in Minnesota. “We,” here, is really Joel. “It’s a good grill,” he explained, when I looked at him with a raised eyebrow while we were preparing for our move.
And it is a good grill. It has served us well for 4 years now, but it is starting to look like this may be its last season. It is predictably unpredictable at present, in that you can’t moderate the heat or flames at all, but it is at least always an inferno or just mildly warm in the same patches each time. (Though this too is becoming variable as more chunks fall off and have to be discarded.) I think Joel likes the challenge of trying to do subtle grilling, like pizzas or saucy chicken pieces, over uncontrollable fire. I just prep everything that is going to go onto the grill, and then reap the smokey, char-y, tender, and remarkably perfectly done rewards.
Like these chicken drumsticks. Normally plain chicken drumsticks and thighs are not too much of a challenge to grill. The skin keeps moisture locked in and – especially if you salt and pepper well – crisps up into a beautiful crackling outer layer over meat that is juicy and flavorful. Unlike chicken breasts, which require a decent amount of hoopla to keep them from being a little on the dull and dry side, skin-on chicken leg pieces are completely low maintenance. Until you’re grilling on our crazy bellowing Bertha of a grill, that is. Then it takes some real attention and patience to get chicken cooked through without turning the skin into ash. But, we managed. And then I tossed them with finely chopped bacon bits, fennel fronds, and a tiny bit of mayo to bind everything together, and wow, you have no idea how good that turned out to be. You’ll just have to try it!
The idea I straight-up stole from a friend of ours. We stopped by his house a little bit ago to have some cocktails (well, I stopped by to have some water, I guess. Everyone else had cocktails.) before dinner. We already had immutable plans to go out to dinner, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t quite tempted to stay when we were shown the simple and delicious feast that was being prepared for grown-ups and kids alike (and the kids were getting tater-tots – what?! Now that’s a party.). The main dish was going to be grilled “chicken drummies” (his words, which I’ve totally co-opted. I can’t stop referring to drumsticks as drummies now. It’s just fun to say.) tossed with bacon bits and fennel. I liked the idea, which is why I decided to try it myself at home a few days later.
After trying it out, I liked it even more. With tangy mayonnaise binding the salty bacon bits and anisette fennel to it, the simply grilled chicken becomes a luxurious feast. The fennel tastes less licorice-y than floral, and keeps the flavors from getting too heavy. Obviously it’s weird to make a dish that calls for only some fennel fronds and not the fennel bulb, but I trust you can find a use for a fennel bulb. Slice it into wedges, toss it with olive oil and salt, and grill it as a side dish! Or slice it thinly and dress it with lemon and olive oil for a salad. There’s always a good use for fennel (well, as long as you don’t hate the flavor. If you do, I suggest using dill or chives instead.).
With a fully functional grill, you’ll find yourself with a speedy, simple, crowd-pleasing dinner. And even with a not very functional grill, it’s totally worth it.
- 8-10 chicken drumsticks, skin on
- salt and pepper
- 6 slices of center cut bacon (nitrate free)
- ¼ cup finely chopped fennel fronds
- 2-3 Tbs. good quality mayonnaise
- Preheat your grill, and generously salt and pepper the chicken drumsticks.
- In a large frying pan, cook the bacon on both sides over medium heat until it is nice and crispy. Transfer it to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Then, chop it into tiny little bacon bits.
- Grill the chicken drumsticks over medium to medium-high heat on the grill, turning frequently until golden brown on all sides and cooked through, about 30 minutes. (Cut into the largest one down to the bone to check. You'll lose some juice, but it's worth it to know the chicken is done.)
- Toss the grilled chicken, the bacon bits, fennel fronds, and mayonnaise together in a large bowl until everything is well mixed. Lay the drumsticks out on a serving platter and scrape any bacon-fennel mixture that's left in the bowl over the top of them.
- Serve accompanied with grilled veggies and a salad. This is a great meal to go with a beer or a crisp white wine.