(Note - this article, authored by myself, was originally published in 'UK BBQ Mag' in Winter 2019 (p.16). Whilst this publication no longer continues it has been replaced by BBQ Magazine, please check out their website for more details and opportunity to subscribe to this publication which unlike its predecessor is now in print. The original article, which I've amended slightly, can be found here.)
I have often grilled fruit on the barbecue, but only as a dessert. I decided to experiment by pairing the fleshy texture of certain fruits, namely fresh pineapple, mango and melon (cantaloupe in this case), and also tomatoes (which yes I know are also fruits), with some chicken. After brining the chicken to preserve moisture, a savoury rub was presented to both fruit and chicken elements. To balance the dish and ensure the fruitiness was delivered throughout, the chicken was finished with a strawberry, tomato and balsamic vinegar glaze. The result was a really unique food dish matching the textures of the chicken and fruit, with the strawberry-balsamic glaze bringing acidity and fruitiness to the chicken and finally the rub, which both elements shared, bringing the various parts of the dish together to make a balanced platter. You could prepare this for 1-2 people, but the natural portion sizes of whole chickens and the respective fruits makes this ideal as a sharing platter for family and friends at a summer barbecue. Initially a controversial pairing for less adventurous guests, once they are introduced to the juxtaposition of savoury cooked fleshy fruit and chicken with a fruity glaze, they will hopefully understand where you are coming from.
1 large free-range chicken
¼ cantaloupe melon
½ fresh pineapple
3 large tomatoes
2 passion fruit
40g dark brown sugar
5g dried thyme
5g coriander powder
5g chilli powder
5g lime powder
5g dried tarragon
5g mustard powder
5g pomegranate powder (I bought this ages ago and hadn’t used it before developing this recipe…I’m not sure it’s an essential ingredient, so if you don’t have it then replace this with more lime powder!)
25g tomato ketchup
15g balsamic glaze
10g blackberry vinegar (as per the pomegranate powder with the rub, I had some of this in the cupboard and was added for depth of flavour, if you have a fruity vinegar around then use that, if not add the same amount of additional balsamic glaze)
Pinch of salt and black pepper
For a 5% salt brine that covered the broken-down chicken carcass I used:
100ml lemon juice
Take the whole chicken and break it down into the legs, breasts and wings. Prepare the brine and place the broken-down chicken into the brine. The minimum you want to leave this for is a couple of hours, overnight would be the maximum. Wash the brine off the chicken and pat dry. To prepare the fruit, simply cut the tomatoes, mango, pineapple and melon into ‘chunky chip’ sized pieces removing their skins where applicable. The limes and passionfruit are there for adding flavour over the other fruits and the chicken as they cook and then serving with it at the end.
Make the rub by combining all the rub ingredients. I use a spice blender or small food processor, but a bowl would probably do. As a bit of background behind the rub, I used the basic principle of 1/3rd salt, 1/3rd sugar and 1/3rd aromatics, herbs and spices. For the aromatic third, I picked ingredients that would both work well with chicken and give savoury notes to the fruit. If you have a better mixture for the final third of aromatics (based on personal preferences…or whatever is in your cupboard!) then change the ingredients accordingly. The glaze is prepared by blitzing the ingredients with a hand blender or small food processor, the amounts given above are easily enough for a whole chicken.
Setup the barbecue for two-zone cooking to allow direct and indirect that will allow cooking the chicken the whole way through as well as giving both the chicken and the fruit the charring on the outside that crisps up both elements. (Note – I find that by breaking down the chicken it makes it quicker to cook all the way through, but no reason why you couldn’t spatchcock the chicken. I found it easier to cook and glaze broken up though).
Rub the patted dry chicken with the rub in one container and the tomatoes and fruit with the rub in another container. Grill on the barbecue to get a balance between direct heat to get browning and charring on the outside (the maillard reaction that browns the meats and fruit) and cooking indirect so the chicken is cooked to temperature all the way through (75°C), the fruit will not take as long as the chicken. As the chicken and fruit was cooking I made a fruity salsa to serve with it using some of the fruit offcuts, some fresh chillis, salt, pepper, fresh coriander, lime juice and white wine vinegar.
Once the chicken and fruit is cooked serve with the salsa and whatever accompaniments take your fancy. A simple, green, leafy salad (you don’t need any more colours or flavours with this dish) or some boiled new potatoes finished with some olive oil in some foil over the barbecue to brown and roast up. It makes a spectacular feast for the eyes as well as the stomach to serve it all on a sharing board, and you will of curse want to pair this with a chilled glass of white wine or a golden blonde ale.