‘Wich-Craft

I’ve written too much here about the relationship the people of Maine have with the weather. Be it a gallows-glee at an incoming storm, or the quiet spite reserved for warm and muddy spring days.

I won’t belabor those points here, beyond a simple reiteration that springtime in Maine amounts to two (2) weeks of sporadic mud and wind into which an entire year’s worth of yard projects must be shoehorned. Spring, in short, is a mad dash to use every available moment of remotely-bearable weather, and, as a result, priorities shift.

And, well, this got me thinking about the concept of “passive labor.” Basically, the art and beauty of setting up projects that run themselves while you do the “active labor” of clearing brush or cleaning up an entire winter of road-littered Twisted Tea cans from your culverts.

Anyway, during this frantic time we still have to eat, and this is where we can really leverage our passive labor. For a sandwich. Well, actually for THE sandwich and THE deli pickle:

Applewood smoked chicken, homemade rye bread, and spicy kosher dill pickles. Total active time making all the components from scratch? Like twenty (20) minutes. The rest sort of takes care of itself.

Let’s start with the pickles, because they’re the easiest and best example of my point. A few minutes of active labor and you’ve got a month of fridge pickles (if they last that long).

Step one: buy some cucumbers, quarter them into spears, and get them into a food-safe container (I’m using a restaurant-style Cambro).

Add some whole cloves of garlic and some fresh dill fronds.

Step two: get equal parts white vinegar and water boiling on the stove, and add your dried spices. This is a personal choice, but I like red pepper flake, dill seed, caraway seed, mustard seed, black peppercorns, and coriander seed. You can also add sugar if you want a sweet note, but I usually skip it. Oh, and a little salt, but (unlike a brine) the vinegar is doing the heavy lifting here, so the salt is just for flavor. (This is also a HUGE advantage over store-bought pickles, which are basically salt compressed into a pickle-shape).

Pour the boiling liquid into the pickle bucket:

If you need to add more liquid to cover, that’s fine, just make sure it’s equal parts vinegar and water, otherwise you won’t have enough pickling-power. Anyway, let these cool to room temp, then cover and move to the fridge. They’re tasty after a day, but really need three (3) to round out the flavor, and a full week to attain full-pickle. While that’s happening, you can stain the deck that you should’ve stained last year but ran out of time:

Okay, so pickles sorted, what about the chicken? Doesn’t smoking take a lot of fussy attention?

Well, some things do, but a great smoked chicken basically cooks itself. With a few guidelines, of course.

First, it NEEDS a brine. This is non-negotiable, and if you skip this step you’ll regret it immensely. Plus, it takes five (5) minutes of active labor.

Simply put: spatchcock your bird and get it in a 6% brine overnight. We’ve covered all that before, so go take a quick look.

Let it soak overnight, then, the next day, get up and go rake out the overwinter compost that the dogs keep trying to eat:

When you get a break, fire up your smoker like we’ve discussed in the past, and let your bird ride in there for a few hours (or until internal of 165F in the breast). The good news here is the brine gives us a TON of insurance against overcooking, and will actually change the texture of the breast meat to a sandwich-friendly, thinly-sliceable end product. And, you don’t have to babysit it all day.

Halfway through
Done.

Now we have a couple smoked wings for snacking, legs and thighs for jambalaya or chicken salad, and about a pound and a half of breast meat for sandwiches.

This is one half of one breast.

Oh, and your creek is all cleaned up because you didn’t have to watch the damn bird:

Alright, onto bread. This is my go-to sandwich loaf recipe, primarily because it’s so easy, and so adaptable:

  • 500g all-purpose flour;
  • 350g water;
  • 25g vegetable oil;
  • 10g salt;
  • 5g yeast;

That’s it. Plus, in this case, I’m going to fake a rye loaf by adding about a tablespoon of caraway seeds. Real rye bread is made with rye flour, but, hey, I don’t keep any of that around, and the caraway seeds to a great job of delivering a classic rye taste, that works for my purposes here.

Combine everything in a bowl (I use a stand mixer), then turn it out and knead until it forms a stretchy ball:

Put it back in the bowl and cover, and let it rise until doubled in size (about two to three hours, depending on ambient temp):

While that’s happening, you can check the weather to see when you’ll possibly be able to get a burn permit to deal with the mounting pile of winter debris that really, REALLY, needs to go before it becomes home to too many animals:

Gently deflate your bread dough, press it into a loaf pan, and let it rise again for another hour, during which you can… well, you get the idea.

When it looks like this, give it a score across the top and bake at 400F for one (1) hour:

Remove to a rack and let cool before slicing.

And just like that, you have crispy, spicy, garlic dill pickles, the best smoked chicken on earth, and fresh and fluffy rye bread for a deli lunch that almost makes itself, like magic. Or, ‘wich craft.

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