Tailgate season is back, y’all! OK, yes, you could have been tailgating for MLS or MLB games (I do), but there is no doubt that college football is tailgate season. As always, I’m here to help you plan your WVU tailgate while exploring the food culture of our opponents.
This season, we open up with FCS James Madison. The Dukes hail from Harrisonburg, Virginia, an area of the country not too different from West Virginia. Though the culinary history and food culture of the region isn’t very unique, my research led me to a curious conclusion. Let’s fire up the grill and start the party!
I asked a friend who played men’s volleyball at James Madison and he told me the best food Harrisonburg has to offer is Sticky Nuggs from Bill Jack’s Shack. This tap room-style eatery has delivered a staple for JMU students: deep-fried chicken nuggets tossed in a sticky, sweet chili sauce. Be it a late-night delicacy, hangover cure or Thursday night dinner (sticky nuggs for $3!), these delectable morsels served in an Asian take out box seem to be the favorite bite for the Dukes.
In the spirit of tailgating camaraderie, we’re going to adapt this Harrisonburg delicacy to the grill in the form of grilled chicken skewers. I’ve adapted and combined some recipes to make this, including something sacrilegious. Instead of deep-frying or country-frying the chicken bites, we’re just going to grill them on skewers to be tailgate-friendly. The sauce, however, will make this sticky, spicy and sweet, which is what matters. So here we go.
- 2 pounds chicken breasts
- 1 cup spicy sweet chili sauce or store-bought
- Cooking spray or olive oil spray
Make the sauce the night before. If making homemade, I highly suggest using fish sauce AND soy sauce (½ tsbp each) and definitely use the Sambal Oelek chili paste. Store in mason jars so you can shake it up at the tailgate.
At the tailgate:
- Preheat grill to 400-425 degrees.
- Butterfly the chicken breasts, then dice them into one-inch cubes.
- Toss chicken “nuggs” and ½ cup of sticky sweet chili sauce.
- Stick 5-7 nuggs on a skewer. Repeat until all chicken nuggs are on skewers.
- Oil grill.
- Grill 4-5 minutes, covered.
- Flip skewers and baste each nugg liberally. Grill 3-4 minutes, covered.
- Flip skewers again and baste liberally. Grill for 30 seconds, covered.
- Remove from grill and set on a serving plate (on or off the skewer).
Thinking of a way to compliment these sticky, sweet chicken morsels, I landed on a new take on a classic French dish. Ratatouille is the best use of summer vegetables and like many French dishes, the trick to making it well is attention to detail.
That said, this is a bastardization of the French classic, which I love because it means it’s uniquely American.
The recipe I provided utilizes mushrooms, which you can do, but I hate mushrooms, so I will not. Put the vegetables onto bamboo skewers in this order: zucchini, squash, eggplant, mushrooms (I guess). Mix olive oil, salt and pepper together and brush over the skewers.
Grill them on a medium-high grill, turning and spraying oil on the skewers every five minutes for about 20 minutes. Like the nuggs, you can serve on the skewers or remove them and serve in a bowl.
It’s the end of summer, so it’s fitting to close it out with two fruits synonymous with the season: watermelon and peaches. These will make the perfect dessert for your tailgate party, especially if you serve them with ice cream!
Cube the watermelon, pit and slice the peaches; arrange then on bamboo skewers, alternating. Brush your grill with oil to lubricate it. Grill them for about four minutes on each side, turning once. Do not overcook them, but make sure each side has good grill marks on the watermelon and caramelization on the peaches.
I hope this gives you a great start to your tailgate season. It’s a new era of Mountaineer football, but one thing remains the same at WVU: we don’t lose tailgates!