Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Cook a Chicken

It's actually roast a chicken, but I couldn't resist the MFK Fisher reference. Anyway - I know you've missed me. We had a bunch of family things, plus a pile of birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas stress and I took a little break from blogging here - now, I'm back - and I roasted an awesome chicken the other day that I want to tell you about.

But first, a little story:

So, several years ago I had this friend (who has since moved far far away), with whom I had an ongoing conversation about chicken. We wanted the ultimate crispy skin, tender meat, not dry, not under cooked. She was all about pan searing the bird before sticking it in the oven - which for me (as anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis knows) is just WAY TOO MUCH WORK. Plus, an extra pan to wash. I don't think so.

At the time I was in love with Barbara Kafka's book Roasting - which is all about cooking things at 500 degrees. Which we tried. Great crispy skin, although the meat was a little drier than I would have liked. However, I also had (and still have) a crappy kitchen fan which was louder than the tarmac at La Guardia the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. So, even though the 500 degree method was easier than pre-pan-searing, it was either a whole house stinking of roast chicken for three days, or requiring everyone in it to pop in a pair of Hearos. It also required me to clean the oven after roasting. Yeah, like that is going to happen.

Others told us stories (perhaps apocryphal) of people roasting their birds upright on beer cans, or on specially made devices that look like beer cans, but we never got around to trying that before she moved away, far far away, and I went back to baking chickens in a 350 oven because tender meat was more important to my family than crispy skin.

It’s a terrible story: one that has been haunting me chicken after chicken... so many chickens...

At one point, I did improve upon my baked chicken when I stole got the bright idea of cutting the back out of the chicken before cooking it, which greatly reduces the amount of time it takes a bird to roast. Which I have been doing for years and which everyone likes.

Until, suddenly, last Sunday, I thought, OMG why not roast, at a very high heat, for a very short time, then bake the damn thing until it is perfect! It was like a light shone down from heaven and illuminated the pale little plucked chicken before me. Angels sang (although I did have my friend John Treacy Egan’s Christmas cd playing on the ipod so perhaps I was confused...)

I roasted that chicken at 500 for 15 minutes, then dropped the whole thing down to 350 for about 40 -- And it was: Perfect. Crispy, juicy, and it’s only taken me five years to come to this. Five years, when you all probably figured out what I was heading towards in my first few paragraphs. When many of you have, most likely, been roasting your chickens in this very manner for ever. It’s just so obvious, yet for me, so very elusive. I have no excuse.

I’d post pictures, except I don’t have any because we all ate the chicken so fast I’ve got nothing but carcass. Plus, if I waited to roast another chicken (which I might do tomorrow, but still...) I’d probably never post this chickeny story, and those of you whom I see on a regular basis would still be asking me when I’m ever going to post again.

Here's my method:

1 lovely chicken (get mine from Whole Foods - its usually about 3lbs)

2 stalks of celery

2 fat carrots

1 onion, cut in half and peeled

olive oil

sea salt or kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500.

Wash your bird, dry it thoroughly, then flip it over and cut out the back using sharp sheers or a boning knife. Flip it back over and press down on it to flatten it some. Rub oil, salt and pepper over the whole thing, front and back. Then, in a low sided roasting pan, create a little rack with the celery and the carrots - lining them up next to each other and putting the chicken, breast side up, on top. Tuck the onion halves under the bird.

Stick it in the oven, put the timer on for 15 minutes (20 if it was a pretty big bird) - turn the fan on and endure the noise - or your children will complain the house stinks every time you walk into it for the next week.

When the timer goes off, turn the oven down to 350. Pull the bird out and - if you have it - pour the chicken broth over it. Stick the bird back in the oven and roast for 20 min. Pull it out and bast with pan juices (you don't have to do any of this, I just like to do it and think it improves the flavor of the skin - but everything will be fine if you don't). Put the bird back in for another 20 minutes. Take it out and check it - you can either slice it at the thigh and look to see if the juices are running clear, or you can stick a meat thermometer in the fat part of the thigh and be sure it hits between 160 and 165 degrees.

When it's done, take the bird out and resist the urge to dig right in -- tent it with foil (so you don't steam out any of the crispiness of the skin) and let it sit as long as you can -- between 7 and 10 minutes is about all I can stand. I usually spend this time making a salad or some sort of vegetable.

This bird is a beautiful thing - I suggest you volunteer to put away any leftovers so you can stand at the counter and surreptitiously stuff into your mouth what ever is left of the skin.


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  2. I still am on the quest to make the perfect roast chicken. I guess the quest is what makes it fun. John Verzi


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