Saturday, January 9, 2010

Roasterphobic, no more!

Over the past few years I was buying rotissere chicken at the market and trying to convince myself that is was tasty. Hey, it was easy and quick and poultry. How bad could it be, right? Well, I was definitely kidding myself. The real reason that I ate it was because I was pretty gun-shy about handling a raw chicken and roasting it myself. Okay, gun-shy is putting it mildly. It gave me the willies to think about it. I couldn't even imagine finding the packet of giblets inside the bird. I shuddered. I shoke. I was a serious roasterphobic.

But that's not me, anymore! I didn't even have to go to therapy. I just bit the bullet and started to do it. And I have tried every method under the sun. First, I bought McCormick's roast chicken spice packets, complete with a bag to cook it in. I just didn't trust myself to season correctly, so I left it up to the McCormick family to guide me. But then, I became more confident and started experimenting with different fresh herbs. And then, I bought a roaster pan and got rid of the roaster bag that basically just steamed the bird to submission. Okay, well I didn't buy the pan at first. Initially, I brushed off the incredibly expensive, nuclear fallout shelter-like-wedding present-pan someone gave us for our wedding and tried that. It was so heavy, I could barely move it into the oven. So then came the roaster pan with rack that I bought at Target. And I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally found my preferred tool.

So for about a year now, I probably roast a chicken twice a month and it usually lasts us only about 3 days. Ryan's a big fan of both white and dark meat, so the bird goes fast in this house. I can only 3-4 lb chickens at Whole Foods at about $8 a pop. Well, today I roasted a $19 bird. Yup. You read that right. Double the cost. But what does a $19 bird taste like? And why the mark-up?

Long story, short....My husband and I have been interested in supporting local farmers and organic, humane farming practices. After seeing the movie, Food, Inc., we knew we needed to make choices that reflected our values: such as knowing where are food was coming from exactly and how it was treated. We recently became members of South Mountain Creamery and received our first delivery of whole milk for Ryan, eggs, yogurt and a 5 lb chicken that has been humanely raised and handled. In the picture above, you can see the Whole Foods 4 lb chicken on the left and locally rasied chicken on the right.

Karen's Super Easy, Roaster-phobic No More, Roast Chicken:

Oven preheated to 350F and place the oven rack on the lowest level possible.

Here you go, you've got your dried herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme and salt and pepper), one whole lemon and your fresh herbs: sage, rosemary and thyme. I cut up whatever veggies I had on hand, but the most important to include are 1 sweet onion, a handful of garlic cloves, and celery. Just cut them up or throw in the cloves whole with the peel on! Today I added carrots and parsnips. But you can add anything. I usually have mushrooms and sweet potatos in the mix. Lay everything on the bottom of the roasting pan and season it with the dried herbs to your liking and a little salt and pepper.

For the chicken, reach inside the cavity (yes, if I can do it, so can you), take out the giblets, usually in a plastic bag and toss it or save it for the gravy. Now, this next part is controversial in cooking circles. It's perfectly okay to not rinse the chicken. The heat in the oven will kill all bacteria. But some of us were brought up a certain way and can't resist rinsing the chicken. I'm part of that crowd...I'm not proud of it, it's just what I know. So, take everything out of your sink first of all including the sponge, because no matter what you do, raw poultry juices are going to splash out that bacteria and you don't want it spraying the dishes. Rinse your bird, inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and cut up one lemon to insert inside. Take your fresh herbs and shove them in, too. Save a few to put under the chicken breast skin, too. Take about 2 T of olive oil and massage the chicken, then add as much dried herbs as you like. Put the rack on top of the veggies and place that bird breast side up just like this:
Roasting time? At 350F, it's 20 minutes per pound, plus 15 minutes at the end. Then, 10 minutes of resting before carving. For this 5 pounder, I roasted it for 115 minutes. Turns out, I probably should have shaved off 5-10 minutes. When time was up and I took it's temperature, I was a few degrees above where I should have been. Ideally, it's 165 F when inserted into the thigh. Mine was 170F. So, I quickly took it out and let it rest. The result? A juicy bird, but a touch too dry in my opinion. I think that every chicken has it's own personality and no two roast chickens come out the same. Even though I went by the book on this one, I probably should have checked it and taken it out a few minutes before. Lesson learned and I'll do it differently next time.
Resting for fifteen minutes and waiting to be carved...

And now it's time for the gravy!! Take the rack off the pan and set it aside. You have all this incredible flavor waiting to be turned into gravy that will rock your world. Grab a sieve and place it onto of a bowl. Carefully pick up the roasting pan and dump everything in and let the sieve separate your veggies from the pan juices. Set the veggies aside for a side dish later. Put the roasting pan onto two burners on your stove top and add 3 T of butter on medium heat. The butter will melt and pick up all the lovely bits of fat left behind. This is the base of your gravy. After the butter melts, mix in 3 T of flour and whisk it up.
Take 2 T of the leftover pan juices and add it to the pan. Save the rest of the juices for a later step. For now, bring the gravy to a boil. It will start to thicken up and become a paste. At this point, you'll need to add some chicken broth to the remaining pan juices sitting in the bowl and stir it up. Start by adding 1 cup of this broth/juice mixture to the roasting pan. Bring both burners down to a simmer. On a low heat, your paste/juice combo will start by looking like a thinner sauce, but will shortly thicken up to a gravy. At this point, taste it and add salt and pepper to season to your liking. If you would like, add more pan juices until you reach your desired consistency. You'll be keeping both burners on low at this point and the sauce will continue to thicken up. Here's what it will look like:

Okay, now it's dinner time at our house and Ryan is in his high chair waiting to taste this chicken. I'll let you know what the verdict is...
Happy Roasting!


Anonymous said...

Bless your heart... What a lesson. Your bird looks simply marvelous though, and your gravy worthy of any French wife! Bravo to you!!

Anonymous said...

我們不是因為快樂而歌唱,而是唱歌使我們快樂 ..................................................

Academic2 said...

You might look into Marcella H's Lemon-Roasted chicken. No olive oil and the very best roasted chicken ever.

Roast Chicken with Lemons
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan Knopf, 1995

If this were a still life its title could be "Chicken with Two Lemons." That is all that there is in it. No fat to cook with, no basting to do, no stuffing to prepare, no condiments except for salt and pepper. After you put the chicken in the oven you turn it just once. The bird, its two lemons, and the oven do all the rest. Again and again, through the years, I met people who come up to me to say, "I have made your chicken with two lemons and it is the most amazingly simple recipe, the juiciest, best-tasting chicken I have ever had." And you know, it is perfectly true.

For 4 servings

# A 3- to 4-pound chicken
# Salt
# Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
# 2 rather small lemons


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, both inside and out. Remove all the bits of fat hanging loose. Let the bird sit for about 10 minutes on a slightly tilted plate to let all the water drain out of it. Pat it thoroughly dry all over with cloth or paper towels.

3. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and black pepper on the chicken, rubbing it with your fingers over all its body and into its cavity.

4. Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a towel. Soften each lemon by placing it on a counter and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture the lemons in at least 20 places each, using a sturdy round toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar implement.

5. Place both lemons in the birds cavity. Close up the opening with toothpicks or with trussing needle and string. Close it well, but dont make an absolutely airtight job of it because the chicken may burst. Run kitchen string from one leg to the other, tying it at both knuckle ends. Leave the legs in their natural position without pulling them tight. If the skin is unbroken, the chicken will puff up as it cooks, and the string serves only to keep the thighs from spreading apart and splitting the skin.

6. Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast facing down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so you need not fear it will stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over to have the breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later. Do not worry too much about it, however, because even if it fails to swell, the flavor will not be affected.

7. Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes, then turn the oven thermostat up to 400 degrees, and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time for each pound. There is no need to turn the chicken again.

8. Whether your bird has puffed up or not, bring it to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. Be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shriveled up, but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze them, they may squirt.

Ahead-of-time note: If you want to eat it while it is warm, plan to have it the moment it comes out of the oven. If there are leftovers, they will be very tasty cold, kept moist with some of the cooking juices and eaten not straight out of the refrigerator, but at room temperature.

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