January 6, 2010

”There is nothing like roast chicken,” Laurie Colwin writes in ”More Home Cooking, ”It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper, it will not let you down.”

In case you’re wondering, I’m reading Laurie Colwin. Rereading to be precise. Back in 1981, Laurie set me on a food path. My sister in law sent me all of Laurie’s books for my birthday a good 20 years ago.

Thanks to Laurie Colwin, I thought about food in different ways from the very first of her essays. And I thought more and more about food food food. On and on. Julia. Marcella. Craig Claiborne. Ruth Reichl. Silver Palate. Amanda Hesser. Deborah Madison. Diana Kennedy. Year in Provence. Buford’s Heat. FoodTV, Bourdain, Mario. Sara Moulton (God, I loved her show.) Don’t even get me started on the demise of Gourmet.

Today, it’s nice to revisit Home Cooking. I see a new edition will be published this Spring. If you haven’t read it, you must.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries)

And More Home Cooking is just like going back for seconds at the best dinner you’ve ever been invited to. After you’re done there, don’t miss her essays and short stories.

I know there are a million places to find inspiration for our cooking these days. Still, it’s nice to spend a winter afternoon curled up in a chair with a cup of tea and a book of stories by an old friend.

My Roast Chicken

I’m reading Laurie’s words, and I’m craving roast chicken. And, I’m determined to prove a point to myself. Many friends have quietly challenged my “buy local and organic as much as possible” focus. They say, in one way or the other, “it’s nice if you can afford it.” I decided to see what I could do with a $17.00, 3.5 lb. organic, free range chicken from Smith Market Farm (at the Broad Branch farmer’s market). In my heart, a $17.00 chicken is a bit ridiculous, I’ll admit. I’m old enough to remember chicken for nineteen cents a pound. So, my next couple of posts will be devoted to said bird, and a vague accounting.

I roasted the chicken on day one with my own method combining Judi Rogers and Thomas Keller and Laurie Colwin’s rhapsodies on roasted chicken. Using the dry brine description in the Zuni Café Cookbook, I tucked sprigs of thyme under the breast and thigh skin of a clean, dry bird. Mixed a scant tablespoon of good kosher salt with two teaspoons of fresh ground pepper and rubbed it all over the chicken. Tuck the wings under the chicken and tie the legs together. Yes, that’s it. Nothing else. Now, set the bird on a rack over a sheet pan and put it in the refrigerator, uncovered, for awhile, anywhere from 8 to 24 hours.

This next is pure Thomas Keller (Bouchon) and also Michael Ruhlman, who you can thank for the elegant text in all the Keller books, as well as the brilliant, revolutionary Ratio. He offers a brilliant roast chicken tutorial on his blog.

Fire up the oven to 475 or even 500. Put a cast iron pan on a burner and turn up the heat and heat up the pan to seriously hot. Add about a tablespoon of grapeseed or canola oil and get that good and hot. Now, put the chicken in the pan back side down, breast side up, and pop it in the hot hot hot oven. Set the timer for an hour.

During that hour, get four or five big sprigs of thyme ready, as well as ½ cup of chicken stock. Need I say, preferably homemade?

After an hour, test the temperature of your chicken by inserting a thermometer (don’t even tell me you don’t have one – you can find them in the grocery store, for heavens sake) into the fatty part of the thigh. It should register 170. Take the bird out of the oven and set it on the top of the stove.

Toss in the thyme springs. They’ll crackle – so satisfying – then pour in the broth and spoon it over the nice brown shiny roast chicken. Take the bird out of the pan and set it on a carving board and let it sit for 10 minutes while you toss a salad. Heat up the broth, thyme, crusty yummy stuff in the pan and cook it down a little bit.

Cut up the chicken and spoon some sauce over it. Delicious with roasted broccoli. (We opted for no potato or rice or anything. We’re trying to say farewell to holiday weight.)

I should mention – I often cook the chicken on the gas grill. I just heat it up to 500 and put the cast iron pan on the grill and put the lid down. It’s cooked perfectly in 50 minutes.

Next step, best done right after you enjoy the roast chicken dinner. I make stock while Dennis does the dishes. Rough chop two onions and three carrots and some celery tops and leaves. Toss them in a 5 qt stockpot with the carcass and bones. If you have the neckbone from the chicken, add that. If you have a stash in the freezer with wingtips and scraps and necks, add those. Fill the pot up with water. Add a bay leaf, a dozen peppercorns, half a bunch of parsley. Have some extra sauce leftover in the cast iron pan? Put that in, too.

Set the pot on the stove and bring it to a slow simmer. Cover and cook for four hours or more. Skim if you want to get fussy. This works wonderfully in a slow cooker, overnight. Shred whatever meat you find and toss the bones away. They’ve done their job. I had more than 8 cups of beautiful stock after straining. And I had 1 cup of shredded meat, and the meat from two legs, one thigh and one small piece of breast meat. Total of 2+ cups of chicken to use for the next meal.

Tomorrow – Chicken Pot Pie, or the Siren that calls to my mostly vegetarian husband.

6 Responses to “Roast Chicken & Old Friends”

  1. The Yummy Mummy

    You have a nearly vegetarian husband?He obviously must be stunning in the bedroom because I mean, well, you know…

  2. Lizthechef

    My computer shows some odd punctuation stuff – might want to review? Keep it coming!Lizthechef

  3. Kathi D

    Mmmmmm now I'm craving roast chicken! And thanks for reminding me about Laurie Colwin. I have Home Cooking and More Home Cooking around here somewhere–I'll have to hunt them down!

  4. MrsWheelbarrow

    Thank you all for your comments. Have no idea about odd punctuation, Liz. I'm such a Luddite when it comes to technology! I don't see the weird stuff – on Firefox or on Safari. Will keep trying. Sigh
    YM – Um Yes

  5. H

    Could you talk a little about roasting a chicken at 475 – 500 versus 350 – 375? I've always used the lower temperature, it's been delicious – but am I missing something?

  6. MrsWheelbarrow

    H – When I first roasted chicken, I used Marcella Hazan's recipe (Chicken with Two Lemons), and even she preferred starting the chicken high, to sear and seal the juices in, then she reduced the heat to 350 or so. While I liked that method, I LOVED that high temps meant having a finished chicken in less than an hour. So, I tried T. Keller's method (wet brine and high heat), I was sold. I also believe the free range organic birds have less fat, and therefore cook more quickly, and respond better to the high heat roast. JMO – Cathy (Mrs W)


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