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Cookies, Sure, But Can You Cook Chicken On Your Dashboard?

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Kim Foster

Mini Cooper, loaded with pie pans for cooking.

It seems ironic that Las Vegas has excessive heat warnings throughout the summer because the heat seems excessive any day. Last week saw highs of 112 degrees.

When it's that hot out, cars can get up to 200 degrees inside — hot enough for cooking.

We've seen cookie-baking and egg-frying stunts before... but how does chicken fare?
 
Writer and Desert Companion contributor Kim Foster took a few recipes for a spin on the dash of her husband's Mini Cooper.

Kim Foster: Car Cook

 
The Menu:
 

- Wilted green salad with a bacon vinaigrette

- Hood-fried farm egg

“I thought I would put a cast iron pan out there and just let it get crazy hot on the hood and see if that worked. But with this, anything could happen really. I could just end up cleaning the car and just frying it on the hood – who knows.”

- Slow-roasted olive-oil confit chicken thighs

"Basically, chicken thighs sliced really thin so they can cook. Bathed in copious amounts of olive oil." 

Support comes from

- Thinly sliced potatoes and onions

- Sockeye salmon with engine-roasted cherry tomatoes 

"We're going to do the sockeye salmon in case the chicken doesn't work out because I don't want anyone to die."

"Right now, the cherry tomatoes are actually in the engine of the car, sitting in a little pie tin covered in aluminum foil inside the hood of my husband's Mini Cooper."

- Glove-box open-faced s'mores

"Basically, its a tray of graham crackers with mini-marshmallows and milk chocolate chips." 

Method: 

“I put all the chicken and the potatoes, which I’m doing separately, just in case the chicken doesn’t work out, all of that is on the dashboard wrapped in aluminum and parked facing the sun so that it’s just getting tons and tons of warmth. I have an oven thermometer in there and it’s just shy of 200.”

Predictions:

"I think the potatoes and onions will be al dente. I don't think we're going to get them soft enough but I think they'll be edible. I think the tomatoes are going to be beautiful because you really don't need much to soften them up and they're drenched in olive oil and herbs. I think they're going to be great, warm, wonderful. The salmon I think is going to be fine because it's medium rare. The big question mark is the chicken. Will the chicken be done?"

"I did do something that was recommended to me and that is I heated the oil outside before I put it on the chicken. That gave it a bit of a bump immediately. Hopefully, that will send us over the edge."

The Plan:

Cook the food between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m when the heat is at its peak. We checked in with Kim at the halfway point:

"It is going surprisingly well. It turns out the chicken is done. Shocking! I thought the chicken would be the thing that took forever and be raw, but it's done, and its really, really good."

"The other dishes are doing well. The potatoes are coming along. I sliced them very thin and they're almost done, maybe another half hour. And then, the tomatoes, they could go another two hours to get really all lovely in those juices. They can go for however long."

"I haven't put the salmon in because everything has been cooking really fast. I'm going to put the salmon in now and take the chicken out... and the  salmon should be ready by the time you come over for dinner tonight."

Notes on the food:

The chicken: "It has just been sitting in that warm olive oil for the last couple of hours. You can smell it when you sit in the car. You can smell the thyme and the herbs that are in there. And when you take it out there is a thin little coat of oil. You get a little bit of that taste when you put it in your mouth."

Laura, Kim's neighbor: "It's amazing. It's shocking. I mean I can't believe I ate chicken cooked in a car but it was so clearly cooked. It was the right color and it was hot. It was delicious."

Kim says she probably won't be car cooking again any time soon, but it could be usesful while desert camping.

"You can totally do it. You just have to worry about making sure the temperatures are right. You don't leave it in the car all day. It's not an Insta Pot. You can't misuse it. Everything got pretty done. You can't do anything if you want something crisp. Nothing turns out crisp."

Kim's chicken recipe 

OLIVE OIL-CONFIT CHICKEN THIGHS WITH SLIVERED POTATOES & ONIONS
 
Serves 4
 
This dish is so easy and so good. Even on a car dashboard! 
 
Oil is such a good conductor of heat and anything swimming in hot oil is going to come out moist and succulent, even when the heat of the desert is your heat source. 
 
You will need aluminum foil for this to maximize your car cooking. If you are cooking in a standard non-vehicle oven, buy thighs that are skin-on, leave them whole and stick them under the broiler for a few minutes at the end, so the skins get crispy and slightly charred. But in the car, there is no char! 
 
Oh! And feel free to change up the marinade. I did a Chinese-influenced soak, but feel free to use whatever flavors you love on your chicken. This recipe is flexible. 
 
INGREDIENTS
 
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs 
4 cloves garlic, slivered 
2 tablespoons, fish sauce 
1 tablespoon, soy sauce
2 tablespoons, sesame oil
1 teaspoon, Spicy Chile Crisp
Handful cilantro, torn up
1 lime, juices over chicken, and rinds thrown into marinade
1 ½ pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, and sliced into very thin slices 
1 medium-sized onion, peeled, quartered, sliced ultra-thin
A handful of thyme (or whatever herbs you love)
4–4 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
Handful parsley (or other herbs) for serving 
Salt and pepper (as needed)
 
PREP
 
Set oil in a cast iron pot, on the hood of car, or in the dashboard to get hot. The hotter the better. You have 4 hours with the chicken between 40F and 140F before you can start to make people sick, so starting with hot oil gets the cooking off to its best start. 
 
Pound the thighs with a meat mallet until they are very thin, and slice the meat into thin strips. Put the slices in a bowl add marinade ingredients and let sit in the fridge 4-24 hours. 
 
When ready to cook, Set an oven thermometer in your car and make sure the inside of your dashboard area is 175F to 200F. 
 
CAR COOKING THE CHICKEN
 
When you are ready to cook and oil is hot, take chicken out of the marinade, lay it in a foil-lined pan, without much overlap. You may need several pans. 
 
Add hot oil to chicken, so that it covers the slices. Cover with foil. Place on dashboard. 
 
CAR COOKING POTATOES & ONIONS
 
In a traditional oven, I would cook the potatoes, onions and chicken together but in the car, I want to maximize safety and minimize contamination, so I do them separately. 
 
Place the slivered potatoes and onions in a foil-lined pan. Pour in hot oil so that it covers the vegetables. Cover with foil. Place on dashboard. 
 
TO SERVE
 
Make sure chicken is cooked to 165F. (For me, about 2 hours with the car at just under 200F) depending on the heat of the day. And potatoes are tender with a little bite. (For me, about 1 1/2 hours with the car just under 200F) You will have to cook intuitively in the car, but thermometers are your friend.
 
Remove potatoes and onions from the pan and lay them out on a serving dish. Discard or reuse the oil. Remove chicken pieces from the oil with tongs and lay them out on the potatoes and onions (or serve separately). Taste and check if you need Salt and Pepper and add as needed. 
 
Roughly chop herbs and/or parsley and sprinkle over the chicken. Serve immediately. 
Guests

Kim Foster, writer and cook