Sunday, September 16, 2007

Know Your Chicken

This weekend I did a lot of shopping to stock up, and I kept feeling a hankering to get a chicken to roast. I had misgivings; my experience has been that roasting a chicken is a fair bit of work and mess, plus I’m not that good at carving. (But I vandalize the bird slightly less than my husband would, so it’s still my job.) Still, kosher additive-free chickens were on special at Whole Foods, so I threw one in the basket and decided I’d re-check my recipes when I got home.

It’s been a few years since I’ve made time to roast a chicken; the last recipe I used was from the charter issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I love that magazine; I love the way they experiment with every little detail to perfect a recipe and then explain the principles and the variables for readers. I love the reviews of food and equipment, which are always illuminating and often hilarious and snarky. (I bought a Braun hand mixer on the magazine’s recommendation and I love it beyond reason.) And I was quite fond of the roast chicken that results from this recipe, but it seemed like kind of a lot of work. The process is basically this: situate the rack to ensure the chicken is kept above the rim of the roasting pan, easy to accomplish with a V-rack or strategically balled aluminum foil; start the bird at high heat (500 F) to crisp the skin, and breast-down to keep the white meat from drying prematurely; turn breast-up after about 20 minutes; lower the heat when breast is sufficiently browned (325) so meat continues to cook evenly; baste about every 8 minutes; check temperature and let rest before carving.

I think it was the basting that made it seem like so much work. Tonight I consulted Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which offered similar instructions. Keep chicken above rim of pan, check; start at high heat and breast down, check; turn after about 20 minutes, check; turn down the heat, check; apply thermometer to test doneness and let rest before carving. But there are only two points at which you baste, when you turn and when you lower the heat. This bird was just as juicy and delicious as the ones I’ve made before, and I had time in the interim to clean up and prepare the rest of the food. I browned minced garlic in sesame oil, then added chopped collard greens with a bit of water and covered to let steam for 15 minutes, and I reheated breadsticks I’d made the night before (using a basic pizza dough recipe to which I’d added basil, oregano, and grated Parmesan when first mixing).

I did use a different pan for roasting, which helped; the rack sat more firmly at the right height without the need for aluminum foil. Cook’s Illustrated also advises elevating the breast by tucking foil underneath the bird’s back, which can be tricky for balance. I didn’t bother doing that with tonight’s chicken, and it was just fine. As I always do, I tucked a quartered lemon and some cloves of garlic into the cavity before roasting, which imparts a nice flavor to the meat.

I love Cook’s Illustrated, but I think I’m beginning to love How to Cook Everything even more.


Kimberly Ann said...

I agree, How to Cook Everything is the source I turn to often. I let my subscription to Cook's expire.

Notimelikepresent said...

let me start by saying that I am NOT endorsing a product here. I f you want to spend less time preparing a "Roast Chicken" even w/ veggies. This is the only way to do it. Buy a LeCreuset oval cast iron oven, You can take a std. frying/roasting chicken, put it in, slice2-4 potatoes, carrots, celery, red peppers, basically whatever you want to add to oven, add about 1/2" of water or so to bottom of oven and put in oven set at 375 deg. for 2-3 hours (depending on size of bird) and you are ready to eat, moist delicious chicken, easy as it can get.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the tip! just ordered How to Cook Everything