How to Make Mama Bird’s Beautifully Brined Grilled Chicken

A new, healthy-ish eatery in Northwest Portland promises grilled thrills, plain and simple.

By Benjamin Tepler June 25, 2019 Published in the July 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

Oxtail french dip hoagies. Truffled mac and cheese. This is the kind of heart-stopping fare served at Stacked, a gutsy sandwich shop in Portland’s Central Eastside. What does chef-owner Gabriel Pascuzzi want to eat when he gets off work? Not a sandwich.

Pascuzzi’s desire for “a giant pile of vegetables” is the driving force behind Mama Bird, his casual, counter-service spot set to open in Slabtown in August. That mountain of produce, sourced from local farms like Groundworks Organics and Baird Family Orchards, will occupy prime real estate on the restaurant’s 270-degree open grill, along with Mama Bird’s clucky muse, served with Calabrian chile aioli and a host of other sauces for dipping and slathering. 

The real magic in Mama Bird’s standout grilled chicken is its brine—a simple, spice-filled soak that uses pineapple juice instead of the typical refined sugar. It makes for a juicy, forgiving bird that can stand up to the grill’s intense heat and, as Pascuzzi puts it, “lets the charcoal speak for itself.” And, critically, it’s not a sandwich.

Mama Bird’s Grilled Chicken

Serves 8–12

1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 cup salt
2 cups pineapple juice
3½ quarts water
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic
½ cup apple cider vinegar
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Mesquite charcoal for grilling

Brine Toast peppercorns and coriander in an 8-quart stockpot. Add rest of ingredients except chicken, and bring to a boil. Let cool completely before adding chicken. Brine 12 hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator. The morning before grilling, pat chicken dry and store, uncovered, on a wire rack in the refrigerator.

Grill Let chicken sit at room temperature while you prepare the grill. Oil grates. Build a medium-heat fire (half of a typical chimney) and evenly disperse coals onto one side of grill for two-zone cooking. Generously salt and pepper the chicken and place, skin side up, over the cool side of the grill. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, about 40 minutes. Move chicken to the hot side of the grill and cook, covered, skin side down, until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees, about 10 minutes longer. Let chicken rest 15 minutes and serve with seasonal grilled vegetables (look for summer squash, asparagus, and spring onions at your local farmers market) and Calabrian Chile Aioli.

Calabrian Chile Aioli

Makes about 1½ cups
In a small food processor or mortar and pestle, blend 2 tbsp oil-packed Calabrian chiles, 1 clove garlic, and the juice and zest of half a lemon. In a small bowl, combine chile blend with 1 cup mayonnaise and 1 tsp Dijon mustard.

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