“Heaven sent and hell-bent!”
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The The is one of my favorite bands from the 80s. Matt Johnson’s songwriting provides a dark pop twist to the post-punk sound of the time. While I’m pretty much a fan of their complete catalog, I consider Infected to be their best album. Sure, there’s a little filler here, but it’s mostly just a brilliant example of hiding dark themes under the sheen of seemingly happy danceable pop tracks. “Heartland” is my favorite track, but “Sweet Bird Of Truth” runs a very close second. It’s a dark track filled with menace, a grim story, and (shockingly) a fairly hook-filled chorus. It’s a bit of a stealth earwig that’ll sneak up on you when least expected. Johnson took this single to CBS Records in 1986 when Middle East tensions were rising and I have to give him major props for that. Over three decades later it’s still a harrowing and moving account of global conflict.
I’ll admit a song about a jet fighter crashing during a bombing run and the USA’s military involvement in the Middle East is a bit dark for a sandwich name, but hear me out.
I once owned a small BBQ joint. One of my obsessions was making great sauces to accompany our food. Sure, my brisket or pork or turkey or ribs didn’t NEED sauce, but like any great condiment, a well-made sauce will enhance the overall flavor. I made it a mission to create high-quality BBQ sauces, from the traditional to the experimental, with a base of six varieties and a couple of weekly special flavors. Unfortunately, no matter what kind of sauce I made, part of our clientele always asked for a “sweet” BBQ sauce.
Sadly, most people, especially those who grew up in Northern states, equate “BBQ Sauce” with the bottles of high-fructose liquid smoke laced ketchup that line supermarket shelves. I had a couple of sauces in regular rotation with a bit of sugar, but none were ever “sweet enough”. Finally, in a frenzy driven by “the customer is always right” and “FUCK IT!!! I’ll give ’em SWEET SAUCE!!!!!”, I created Pour Some Sugar (On Meat). Yes, I’ve been doing the whole music food pun schtick for quite a while. Pour Some Sugar is just that: a little bit of ketchup and a ton of sugar. It was, of course, one of our most popular sauces.
A few years back, I wrote a cookbook for that BBQ joint. When one is cooking commercially, one tends to have commercially sized recipes. I jokingly thought about just publishing a set of restaurant recipes – “here’s the recipe for 5 gallons of sauce, here’s one for 50 servings of mac & cheese” – but decided the more viable plan would be scaling recipes to home-cooking levels. That meant a lot of test kitchen work and unfortunately a batch of Pour Some Sugar (On Meat). I would never actually use 2 cups of this over ANY stretch of time on sandwiches and really did not want to just pour it down the drain, so I put together this sandwich. It used up all of the sauce at once, actually made for great braised chicken, and gave me the opportunity to try out a new slaw recipe.
I chose to do this in an oven as we were experiencing a stretch of nasty weather at BGC headquarters during test kitchen time. This easily translates to the grill. Use a disposable foil pan rather than a baking dish. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
One of the surprises from this recipe was how long the Pickle Slaw lasted. Generally, I find laws, especially mayo slaws, have a 2-day fridge life before getting too watery and mushy to eat. This slaw was great five days later actually getting better in flavor each day. I ended up actually liking this chicken – definitely sweeter than I prefer but overall not as sweet as using the sauce straight out of the bottle. Reducing the pan sauce – with the addition of the rendered chicken thigh fat – drops the overall sweetness.
Yes, you could do this with chicken breast. The sauce and braising will keep the breast moist, but you’ll definitely miss out on the rendered thigh fat that will pull the reduced pan sauce together. Plus I believe chicken thighs make for a superior pulled chicken.
While I know traditionalists will call for a Martin’s Potato Roll or white bread, I have always hated those for a BBQ sandwich. They get mushy WAY too fast and if you can’t pick a sandwich up, it is technically no longer a sandwich. I prefer to use a Portuguese roll for sauced sandwiches. There is no extra sweetness like a brioche can have and the crust and crumb play nicely with the BBQ filling. Plus, it actually survives most if not all of your sandwich eating time.
SWEET BIRD OF TRUTH
Sweet BBQ pulled chicken and Pickle Slaw on a Portuguese roll
Makes 1 sandwich
1 cup Sweet BBQ Chicken (see recipe below)
Pickle Slaw (see recipe below)
Toast roll. Place BBQ chicken on the bottom roll and top with a couple of tablespoons of pickle slaw. Eat with plenty of napkins.
SWEET BBQ CHICKEN
Makes 1 quart
4 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs, deboned and skin removed (save to make chicken stock)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups Pour Some Sugar (On Meat) sauce
1/2 large onion, sliced thin
NOTE: I buy bone-in skin-on chicken thighs as they are cheaper and the trimmings and skin can be used to make a delicious homemade chicken broth. If you do not want to trim your own thighs, 7-8 boneless skinless thighs will work.
Preheat oven to 325°F
In a small bowl, combine paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Mix well.
Place trimmed thighs in a large bowl and coat with the spice mix.
Spray an 8×12 baking dish with cooking spray. Take a half cup of sauce and pour it into the dish to coat the bottom. Arrange thighs in the dish on the sauce. Cover with half the remaining sauce. Layer the sliced onions next. Then finish with the last bit of sauce over the onions. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 70 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest with the foil open for 15 minutes.
Transfer chicken and onions to a bowl and – using a fork – shred. Pour the sauce from the baking dish into a small pan and reduce by half on medium heat. Pour reduced sauce over shredded chicken and mix well.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
POUR SOME SUGAR (ON MEAT)
(from the Cha Cha Hut BBQ Cookbook)
Makes 2½ cups
1 1/2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, small cubes
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottom saucepan. On medium heat, bring to a boil whisking to make sure butter melts and everything is thoroughly combined. When mixture boils, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, stirring often to avoid scorching.
Let cool to room temperature before using.
Makes 3 cups
10 ounces green cabbage, shredded fine
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup chopped bread & butter pickles
1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoons pickle brine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a medium bowl, toss cabbage, carrot, and pickle together. In a small bowl, combine mayo, pickle juice, sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combines. Pour dressing slaw mix and toss to coat. Place in an airtight container and let rest in the fridge at least an hour before using it.