Thursday, April 30, 2015

the perfect roast chicken.

Look - roast chicken isn't particularly beautiful or glamorous but it is comfort food and it's about time I talk about the workhorse of dinner, lunch, and everything in between.

Posting about such a simple dish - some may even say a peasant dish, seemed silly.  Most people I know have probably never even made a homemade roast chicken.  They don't like dark meat or wings or the fact that when you buy a whole chicken it actually looks like a chicken.  It freaks them out and makes them nervous and so they avoid it and instead buy only boneless skinless chicken breasts. (Don't do it people - buy the whole chicken because then you get bones and bones means stock and stock means liquid gold.)

I thought about cutting up the chicken to try and appeal to the masses and make it seem less "chicken" like but you know what - this chicken was an animal and (s)he should be respected in it's original form.  It was an animal and I am eating it and if I can't handle seeing it this way then I sure as hell shouldn't be eating it.

So this post is my ode to the chicken.  An bird consumed by billions on a daily basis and a food that most people never really stop and think about.  Making the perfect roast chicken doesn't require much - some salt, some pepper, some herbs, time, and a hot stove.  It's as simple as it gets but the results are transcendant.  Crispy shattering skin and the most flavorful meat on the planet.  We've been eating it as is with a salad, a hunk of the best bread I can buy, and a couple of cheeses.  It's a simple, satisfying, and incredibly French meal (they were on to something) and one that makes me incredibly happy.   

The Perfect Roast Chicken
Recipe from the NYTimes and Smitten Kitchen 

If there is one piece of advice I can give you it's to buy a free-range, organic, local, happy chicken. They are smaller in size and better suited for this dish and they also taste a hell of a lot better.   Oh and if you have time - make the bread salad on the Smitten Kitchen site to go with it!

Serves 4

One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
1 – 1 ½ teaspoons salt (1 teaspoon if using a 2 ¾ pound bird increase slightly depending on the size of your bird)
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water

Season the chicken: [1 to 3 days before serving; give a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2-pound chicken at least 2 days]
Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (I used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn't, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Serve the chicken: Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste — the juices will be extremely flavorful.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter – drizzle on the juices.

Capitalize on leftovers: Strain and save the drippings you don’t use as you can use them, plus leftover scraps of roast chicken, for a chicken salad.

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