Friday, May 3, 2013

Meet Woo!

I'm Korean American, grew up in the South, and married a Southern boy who wooed me with barbecue. We are currently living in the Midwest with our two dogs.

My favorite food is fried chicken with a bunch of sides...and a dish of kimchi. Try it. Otherwise, serve it with Champagne. No, really. Champagne is also good with barbecue. Again, not joking. Aside from fried chicken, my food preferences run the gamut from global to local; from haute cuisine to peasant food; from fine dining to food trucks; from old world traditions to molecular gastronomy.

The restaurant business has been a part of my life since I was five years old. My mother owned three restaurants. She was the first and greatest influence on my love of great food and understanding the meaning of hospitality. In my mind, you can't have one without the other. I love dining out and greatly respect the work of chefs/cooks/servers who bust their asses day in and day out to provide awesome food experiences. Every chef I've ever worked with or whose food I've eaten has taught me something...whether they realized it or not. Sometimes it's a new technique, a new ingredient, or an unusual pairing that I learn. Mostly what I've observed time and again is that they get excited by new ingredients, unfamiliar cuisines, and they are always willing to learn something new. Food is not static and chefs understand it intuitively whether it is expressed by a seasonally driven menu or an eclectic multi-cultural dish.

When I cook at home, there are several dishes we (my husband is a very good cook) make often. Don't get me wrong, we love variety and try new foods often, but certain dishes/techniques are frequently revisited. Midwestern winters are long and dreary and we comfort ourselves with warming dishes of gently braised short ribs, pot roasts, pot pies, chili, or homemade pasta with Bolognese. When the weather finally begins to warm up, we switch up to lighter fare and eat more grilled fish or chicken, bright with citrus, marinated with kicky spices, or simply with olive oil and fresh herbs. Spring presents an interesting transition for me. There are still some cold weather vegetables (root and cruciferous vegetables) alongside the harbingers of a new season (fresh local asparagus, morels, RAMPS, young tender greens) and I use both. Take last night's dinner, for instance. We grilled a whole chicken in the Tuscan manner of grilling while weighed down with a brick. (Disclaimer: I don't know if it's really Tuscan. I have been to Tuscany, but I didn't eat any chicken under a brick, lol.) I marinated the chicken with some preserved lemons I started in the dead of winter, some tender herbs from my new herb plants, olive oil and white wine. Grilled up some fresh spring onions and asparagus. Served it all alongside a version of the rutabaga hash that a fellow member of 37 Cooks, Lauri Polunsky, makes often. I wouldn't call this recipe my "signature dish," but it does reflect my philosophy of using what is available in the best way that I can.

I don't pretend to do what a chef does, but I hope my cooking expresses my love of cultures everywhere, my respect for ingredients both high and humble, and understanding the beauty of letting a few good ingredients shine.

Moroccan preserved lemons aren't rocket science. But they are kinda mind boggling in a good way. It's not hard to do and it keeps for a long long time. I started a batch in early February and it's tasting awesome. I did use a few whole spices (a cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, a few cloves, and a bay leaf) with my salt.

Grilled Chicken Under a Brick (a la Sunday Night After a Day of Spring Yard Work)
by Woo Brower

4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 whole preserved lemon (quickly rinse it, discard seeds, mince the lemon rind, and chop the pulp)
5 sprigs lemon thyme or regular thyme, chopped
1 sprig oregano, leaves only, chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
(there should be a generous 2 Tablespoons chopped herbs--use your favorite combination of fresh herbs)
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup fruity white wine (I had Pinot Gris on hand)

Whole Chicken, about 4 pounds. Cut out the back, lay flat, and spread open, pressing down on the breast bone with the heel of your hand.
Two bricks, wrap each, separately, in a double layer of heavy duty foil.

Combine everything except the white wine. Even though the preserved lemons are salty, it may not be enough salt to season the entire chicken. Taste the marinade before using and adjust seasoning or compensate with a sprinkle of salt & pepper on the chicken.

Gently separate the skin from the breasts, thighs, and legs so you can rub the seasoning under the skin. Be careful not to tear the skin. Work about 2 tablespoons of the oil mixture under the skin on the breast, about a tablespoon on each thigh/leg section, then rub the entire chicken with the rest of the oil mixture. Place in a pan large enough to hold the chicken flat, pour the wine over. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turn occasionally.

To grill the chicken, place skin side down on a preheated (medium heat) grill. Place the two foil wrapped bricks on top of the chicken. Cover the grill. Open some wine, pour yourself a glass. Cook for 15 minutes, watch that it's not flaring too much. Flip with tongs or spatula, replace the bricks, and cook an additional 15-20 minutes. The length of time will vary depending on your grill, the size of the chicken, ambient temperature, the moon, how hungry you are, etc... Check the meaty portion of a thigh with an instant read thermometer to be sure it's done. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.


  1. Wonderful post, Woo, I am totally showing this recipe to the grillmaster in hopes he makes it for me for Mother's day ;)

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I hope your first Mother's Day is wonderful! Kiss your adorable baby for me!