Rain on the phone in another continent, leaks into my ear, a hypnotizing drip-drip slowly flooding my brain. Drowned memories float up. Striped paper boats born from ripped pages of school notebooks, plastic raincoats smelling like a wrestler’s underarms, wrinkly toes squeaking in brimming school shoes and earthworms sneaking in through bathroom drains. In a different time, cups of coffee, seaside strolls, hormones and anticipation in the theatre of the monsoon – all drama and moist poetry. Many monsoons later, I still succumb to the scent of monsoon mud vicariously inhaled through phone conversations.
Back in my kitchen, warming my winter-worn palms the steaming, dark charms of coffee inspired me to make a coffee-paprika rub for the chicken I was planning to grill for dinner. A thought that probably germinated when the fragrant mud of coffee grounds on my counter collided with the rain-soaked soil in my brain. Coffee rubs enrich red meat but I was intrigued to try java with chicken.
Coffee isn’t subtle so it’s important to get its rich flavours without the bitterness that can result from using too much or burning it. And surprisingly, the smokiness of paprika and the heat of chilli powder compliment it beautifully. Brown sugar for a hint of caramel and a few drops of tartness from balsamic vinegar, give the rub a well rounded character. I grilled my chicken in the oven on a chilly winter evening but an outdoor charcoal fire would be perfection.
Legs and thighs were chosen for their juiciness; breasts would dry up quickly under a hot grill, (To check for doneness, gently insert a toothpick in the centre of a thigh; look for clear juices, pink juices are a sign that they need a few more minutes in the oven).
I may miss the heady monsoons but the deep, dusky, layered flavours of the coffee rub filled my home with a rich, organic warmth of a fur coat on a winter evening, and gave me new reason to enjoy the season.
Coffee and Paprika Rubbed Grilled Chicken
- 12 piecies of skinless chicken drumsticks and thighs
- 2 heaped tbsps of freshly-ground coffee powder
- 2 tsps smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 11/2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
- 2 medium garlic cloves grated
- 1-2 tsps cayenne pepper or chilli powder
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- Wash the chicken, pat dry on kitchen towels and using a sharp knife make two diagonal cuts on each piece for better absorption of flavours.
- Mix all the ingredients for the rub and pour over the chicken. Make sure it coats all the pieces. Set aside in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- Heat the oven broiler to 180 degrees, and grill the chicken on a baking sheet lined with foil placed on the topmost shelf. Aftet 15 minutes turn the pieces to cook the other side. Take care not to leave the chicken under the hot grill after it is cooked; they will dry up. Serve chicken hot with a fresh green salad.