It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oh wait, sorry - it was the best of chickens? That it certainly was. A few weeks ago, Xani was shopping at our local (read: crappy) grocery store and came upon some fresh, free-range, organic chickens! A miracle, indeed. She was kind enough to buy an extra for me, and we both cooked them in our own ways. These are their stories [cue Law & Order music]:
For my chicken I used one of the easiest methods of chicken-roasting I have seen. It is Thomas Keller's recipe for his famous roast chicken, and it could not be simpler.
Chef Keller says one of the tricks to his awesome roast chicken is to try to eliminate all moisture from the bird. The less moisture you have, the less steam you have when it cooks, and thus the bird will be super-crispy when it's done. Interesting side note: I read on the Amateur Gourmet that Jacques Pepin once said, regarding whether to wash a chicken: "The heat kills all the germs. If bacteria could survive that oven, it deserves to kill me." Chef Keller says to rinse and dry the bird, but Jacques may have a point here...
Anyway, once the bird is rinsed and dried, you season the cavity with lots of salt and pepper. Then you are supposed to truss the bird. As long-time readers will know, I like butchering and trussing, etc., but I did not have any string in my ill-equipped kitchen. Oh no! So, I just flipped the wings back to tuck them in a little more, and continued with the recipe with an untrussed, free, "let the sunshine in" bird.
Wings tucked back and ready for take-off
Then I salted the bird thoroughly and ground some pepper over it. I put it in a 450 degree oven for about an hour until the legs wiggled easily and the juices ran clear. (That is my one criticism of this recipe: he says "roast until done." Luckily, I know what to look for, but it would have been nice for him to be more specific.) I would have liked to cook it a bit longer but there was a lot of smoke coming out of the oven and I was tired of flailing around with my dish towel trying to make the smoke alarm cease its wailing.
Done and resting!
Anyway, once out of the oven, I let it rest for 15 minutes or so, and then began to carve. I am still working on my carving skills, but I think I did a pretty good job! Another thing I like about this recipe is that Chef Keller gives a brief overview of all the good parts to eat when carving - all the chef's treats, such as the "pope's nose" (chicken butt!) and the "oysters" on the underside of the bird. A-mazing. I tell you, by the time I was done carving this bird, I really wasn't hungry for dinner!
It was a delicious experience, and very simple to do. Plus, it was enough for dinners all week (though, admittedly, I didn't want to see another chicken for a while afterwards...)! Thanks Chef Keller!
My chicken "strategy" (more than an actual recipe) was from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess. She opens the book with some nice little stories about the wonderful memories of food her mother used to make, including simple roast chicken. And I feel the same way! Roast chicken was one of our staple meals growing up. I'm sure because it's tasty, quick, and easy, and considering both BCD Mom and Dad worked long hours when we were young, easy and quick were very important qualities for dinner! Putting the already cleaned and seasoned bird into the oven was one of the first cooking tasks I remember being assigned as a youngster... ah, memories!
naked birdie, all tied up...
Anyhow, like EP, I also rinsed and dried my bird, but UNlike EP, I let my sit for a couple hours at room temp to get it to really dry out (to help the crisping effect). After it's rest, the thing was, in Xani-Erin-speak, "totes floppo." Meaning that it was very... relaxed. It definitely needed to be trussed! So, after shoving half a lemon up the bird's rear (Nigella's suggestion) I broke out some butchers twine and used my mediocre trussing skills to get the birdie back into shape! I also slathered it with a mixture of softened butter and olive oil, and tons of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Then into the oven it went! Fifteen minutes at 425, then decrease to 350 and roast for 15 minutes per pound. When the time was up, my chicken was perfect! Crispy, golden brown skin, moist, flavorful meat, and nice roasted bones (that I used to make stock a few days later). And, unlike my experience with the Thomas Keller recipe, my kitchen didn't fill with smoke and set off the fire alarms-- bonus!
a thing of beauty...
is a joy forever (or until devoured)
While my chicken cooked I also whipped up a version of another BCD childhood favorite-- mushroom pilaf. I used this recipe which Israeli coucous (which is seriously in the running for my new favorite starch) instead of rice, a mixture of button mushroom and dried (rehydrated) shitake mushrooms, and homemade chicken stock. I made it extra-mushroom-y but incorporating the soaking liquid from the shitakes into the cooking liquid, and finishing with just a hint of black truffle oil. It was DIVINE.
the finished plate
Roast chicken + mushroom pilaf = classic winter comfort food... glad to be enjoying it on the tail end of winter (fingers crossed). A tribute to the season and a walk down memory lane, all in one.
Happy chicken roasting!
EP & X