How to Cook El Pollo Loco Chicken

I love fried chicken, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken. There's something about the Colonel's "secret recipe" that's just irresistible. But with all the grease and fat accumulated on both the crust as well as absorbed in the chicken, it's obviously not the healthiest thing to eat. When I was little, my parents used to own a Mexican charbroiled chicken restaurant. We used to sell quite a bit of chicken because it not only tasted good but was also more healthy for you (a lot of the fat had melted/burned off the chicken during the grilling process). Several years later, I was mildly surprised that someone took this type of cooking and implemented it into a chain of "fast food" restaurants, El Pollo Loco. Like KFC, there's just something about the combination of fresh grilled chicken, tortilla, and fresh salsa (not hot sauce) that is irresistible. Combine that with the thought that you're eating something healthier than fried food gives added intensive to continue eating that way. So, I'd like to share my experience of working in my parents restaurant to tell you how to cook chicken the way El Pollo Loco way. It looks and sounds deceptively simple, but there are some important points that you need to take into account. Once you've mastered these points, you'll be eating healthy. This is great for a diet as well.

Buy the chicken whole and cut it open so that you have one whole chicken that is flat. You will likely need to remove some clumps of fat off the chicken and make sure you slice part-way between the wing and the breast (at the joint) so that the wings are also flat and don't fold onto the breast. That way, you will have one completely flat chicken. If the chicken still feels rounded due to the rib cage, lay it down with the skin up and pound it a few times to get it as flat as you can. If you break some ribs (the chicken's, not yours) that's fine.

To get the golden color on the chicken, you'll need to marinade it overnight in some yellow-ish liquid. I prefer lemon juice mixed with some orange juice. That's usually the simplest way, unless you have some FD&C approved Yellow no. 5 (not sure what that is either). This acidic liquid concoction also seems to help in ultimately making the skin (the chicken's, not yours) crispier as it grills (always a good thing as I am not a fan of rubbery skin).

Before placing the chicken on the grill, make sure the grill is very clean. Any leftover black particles will end up ruining the chicken skin. Use a low heat so that you grill the chicken over a long period (e.g, 2-3 hours). The longer cooking time helps make the chicken cook more evenly. Periodically, watch the chicken to make sure it doesn't burn. Move it around or lower the heat further if you see any signs of burning (it's probably ruined at that point anyway). You may have to practice a few times to get the heat and timing right.

After the chicken is done (you can check it by cutting into it or using a thermometer), take it off the heat and put it on a board. Using something like a butcher's meat cleaver, chop up the chicken into the usual suspects (wings, breasts, thighs, and legs). I highly recommend that you serve with tortillas (I prefer corn over flower) and fresh salsa. I'd say that the tortillas are optional but the salsa is an absolute necessity. I'll forgive you if you decide to buy the jarred kind at your local supermarket, but you don't know what you're missing if you do. Jalapeno peppers also go great with these, but only if you can stand the heat.