Mastering The Art of Roast Chicken

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Here was the deal: my favorite roast chicken recipe is this one from Thomas Keller. (Sidebar: I’m currently in San Francisco and last night I ate at Zuni, and as I was leaving the bathroom who did I lock eyes with? Thomas Keller. Turns out he goes to the bathroom too; food gods are just like us!) The problem, though, is that the Thomas Keller roast chicken with root vegetables is an event. It requires that you use your roasting pan; it involves a shopping-cart full of turnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It’s not really practical for a weeknight. As for my usual weeknight roast chicken, I’d normally wind up putting the chicken in my All-Clad metal skillet so that I could make a sauce in there afterwards (see here), roasting the vegetables separately. That was OK. Then I remembered my trusty friend the cast iron skillet. What if I did the Keller thing in there? What happened next will astound you (how’s that for an UpWorthy paragraph ender?).

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Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice

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Have you ever made a roux? Like: really made a roux?

I’ve made a roux in quotes–a “roux”–whenever I’ve taken a roasted chicken out of its cast iron skillet, added some flour to the pan, cooked it for a minute or two and finished it up with a big glass of white wine. That makes for a thick, chickeny, winey sauce that’s very tasty. But after visiting New Orleans last year, and purchasing Donald Link’s indispensible cookbook “Real Cajun,” I’d been meaning to make a real Cajun roux. The kind that you have to develop for a while at the stove, the kind that you have to watch carefully, the kind that goes from a toast stage to a cardboard stage based on the smells its giving off. Which is why, last week, I made Donald Link’s Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice, a recipe he learned from his grandmother, and one that involves the creation of a peanut butter-colored roux.

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Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast

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Finally, there’s the turkey itself. For years my mom tried to convince me to make just a turkey breast for the Thanksgivings I’d make at home. And for years I refused because I’d never made a whole turkey before and wanted to document that experience for the blog.

But because I was cooking a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for just Craig and his aunt and uncle on Saturday, I knew a whole turkey didn’t make sense. And so it was that I bought a 2 1/4 pound turkey breast at Gelson’s already tied up and everything.

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Porchetta At Home

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We’re all aware of Porchetta the destination, aren’t we? Located on East 7th Street in New York’s East Village, Chef Sara Jenkins (who I met and interviewed a few months ago) has created a universally beloved destination for pork lovers. The menu there features two main choices: porchetta on a sandwich or porchetta on a plate. The experience of eating the Porchetta porchetta–which the Porchetta website defines as “roasted pork with crispy skin, highly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices, garlic, sage, rosemary and wild fennel pollen”–is so sublime, so otherworldly, I knew I had to recreate the experience here in my Los Angeles apartment.

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Steve’s Legendary Prime Rib

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Christmas Dinner isn’t something I ever ate growing up, being a Jew and all.

For the past few years, though, I’ve been visiting Craig’s family in Bellingham, Washington and Craig’s dad, Steve–a really excellent cook (see his apple pie)–has made some kind of roast to serve on the big night. And this year the prime rib that he made–a “well-marbled ten pounder,” he tells me over e-mail–was so juicy and flavorful, it’s entered the sphere of legend. We’ll be comparing all the prime ribs we eat from now on to this one. What made it so good? How did he do it?

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How To Roast a Leg of Lamb

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“Pete’s Dragon” is a movie I hadn’t seen since childhood. I remember being terrified of Shelly Winters, covered in all that mud, and bored by the Helen Reddy boyfriend-lost-at-sea subplot. But when my friend Chris Dufault stated recently that “Pete’s Dragon” is one of his favorite movies, I felt a sudden need to see it again. And so we made a “Pete’s Dragon night”: Chris would bring the DVD and his boyfriend Jonathan and I’d cook something appropriate that’d complement the viewing experience. What would that be? Why leg of dra…I mean lamb, of course!

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Swinging Some Serious Fowl: Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy

First let me lure you in with chicken:

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And then bore you with family drama…

My family was Jew-guilting me a great deal this week. “Happy Yom Kippur!” my grandma sang into the phone yesterday.

“It’s not a happy holiday, grandma!” I retorted.

“Then a very sad Yom Kippur. What are you doing for the holiday?”

What am I doing. Ugh. Well back in the college days there was Hillel and because I’m a grad student at NYU, I suppose I could’ve gone to Hillel services, but they really don’t do much for me. I identify with Judaism on a cultural level. Religiously, I’ve carved my own spiritual path that shall be known some day as Adamism. It involves the song stylings of Patti Lupone and many many late night pastries.

But my Jewguilt got the best of me last night and so I cracked open Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” I was looking for advice on what to cook the night before Yom Kippur. Here’s what I found:

“It must have been quite a scene on the Lower East Side before Yom Kippur in the late 1890s. On the morning prior to the fast, each member of the family would swing a live fowl around his head three times repeating the following words in Hebrew, ‘This fowl is my substitute, this is my surrogate, this is my atonement.’ The custom of kapparot replaces the Temple Yom Kippur sacrifice in which a goat, bearing the sins of the nation, was sent out into the wilderness to die. Like so many other traditions, kapparot came to replace a tradition lost with the destruction of the Temple. Some of the chickens were roasted for the family; others were given to the poor. It is a custom continued to this day in many Orthodox communities.”

I proceeded to Whole Foods to find a fowl that I could swing around my head three times. Instead I found this, an Amish chicken:

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I feel like there’s something funny to be said about Amish chicken. So I just IMed Kirk of The Daily Kirk: “Make an Amish chicken joke.”

Kirk writes: “Why did the Amish chicken cross the road?”

Me: “Why?”

Kirk: “Because he had to get to an archaic outdated ridiculous church service.”

Rimshot!

I didn’t swing the Amish chicken around my head three times. Instead, I submitted to a fierce internal debate regarding deep ontological issues. These issues amounted to: should I do my favorite Barefoot Contessa roast chicken recipe or try something new?

If I could search my archives, I’d link to that original post because Barefoot Contessa roast chicken is heavenly. You stuff your bird with lemon, thyme and garlic, tie it up and roast for an hour at 400 degrees. The gravy that makes is awesome.

But I needed something simpler: after all, this is the atonement holiday. We can’t enjoy ourselves that much. And so I reached into my giant Gourmet cookbook and found a simple recipe for Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy.

Say the editors: “To find the most succulent and simplest roast chicken, one with moist, tender meat and crisp skin, we roasted a lot of birds. We wanted the final word on whether brining, basting, and turning the chicken are worth the effort. Fresh kosher birds tasted great, but the skin didn’t seem to brown well or become as crisp as we like. The winner was an organic chicken, salted, peppered, and brushed with butter, then turned from side to side during the roasting, basted twice, and finished breast up.”

Phew. And so I give you the Gourmet cookbook Roast Chicken recipe. The results were really nice, as you’ll see later. The meat was incredibly moist which speaks well for the technique described below. Let’s get to it.

For chicken:

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 (3 to 3 1/2 pound) chicken rinsed and patted dry

3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

For pan gravy:

3/4 cup chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth

3/4 cup water

1 Tbs cornstarch, stirred together with 1 Tbs water

lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer

ROAST THE CHICKEN:

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 400F.

Stir together salt and pepper in a small cup and rub all over chicken, inside and out. Put chicken on a rack in a small flameproof roasting pan and pour butter over it, then turn it onto one side.

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Roast chicken for 25 minutes.

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Baste with pan juices, then turn it over to opposite side and roast for 25 minutes more.

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Turn chicken breast side up, baste with pan juices, and continue to roast until thermometer inserted into thickest part of a thigh (without touching bone) registers 170 F, about 20 minutes.

[This is the picture from before.]

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Tilt chicken to drain juices from cavity into roasting pan, then transfer it to a platter and let stand for 15 minutes.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE GRAVY:

Transfer pan juices to 1 1/2-quart saucepan and skim off fat. Put roasting pan on a burner, add stock and water, and deglaze pan by boiling over moderately high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, for 1 minute.

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Add stock mixture to pan juices and bring to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and whisk into pan juices, then boil, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

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Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Cut chicken into serving pieces and serve with gravy.

As you can see, I served mine with potatoes:

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How did I make the potatoes?

We’ve covered this before. Just cut up little red potatoes–in halves or quarters–toss with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast on a cookie sheet in the oven with the chicken for an hour. As you can see, I took the thyme from the BC chicken recipe and put it on the potatoes instead of the chicken:

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This was a nice touch. I’ll definitely do it again if I have extra thyme next time I make chicken.

Which leads to the question: when I make chicken next time, will I make BC chicken or this Gourmet chicken recipe? I’m not going to lie: it’s the BC. I’m all about maximum flavor. This Gourmet chicken is good for subtle people who want pure chicken flavor. But the Gourmet technique is one I might put to use with the BC recipe: the rotating the chicken as it cooks may have helped brown the skin, but I also think it kept the chicken moister somehow. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m making it up.

As for my Jewishness, you already know I broke my fast early. But I did it in a very Jewish way: I had a bagel at Murray’s with very Jewish cream cheese. And I spotted other Jews there too so I didn’t feel too bad. And unlike them, I knew that my Jewish street cred was way higher: I swung serious fowl the night before. Serious Amish fowl. That Amish part may not be a Jewish custom, but for Adamists it’s absolutely essential. Bonus points if your chicken has a beard and a funny hat.

Working the Hesser Canon: Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice and Mango Chutney

Cookbooks are strange things. Some sit on your shelf for years ignored (my Nigella Lawsons, my Julia Childs) and some beckon to you like harpies on a heath. (Harpies on a heath?) (It makes sense in my head.)

One factor that determines a cookbook’s harpiness (oi, harpiness) is its tract record. Of the recipes you’ve cooked from this cookbook, how many have proved successful? How many have proven to be failures?

Nancy Silverton, for example. I went through a Nancy Silverton phase last winter. Remember? I made sourdough with a wild yeast starter? Well some of her recipes were winners (the sourdough, for example) but many were doozies. The coffee cake disaster comes to mind. So Nancy remains on the shelf, shunned and forgotten.

Much of my Barefoot Contessa worship has to do with how successful her recipes have proven. I’d say her batting average is… ummm, I don’t understand sports so let’s say her GPA is 3.9. I don’t think I’ve had a Contessa disaster yet.

Amanda Hesser is a newbie in the class and so far she’s fared quite well. Her vanilla bean loaves were triumphs of flour, sugar, eggs and vanilla beans. One was gobbled up immediately, the other sat in my freezer until I defrosted it and gobbled it up just as greedily.

So Amanda Hesser leaped the first hurdle with flair: pastry. For pastry we give Amanda an A+.

Now on to entree. Dinner. Chicken.

We’re talking her Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice and Mango Chutney. Actually, in all fairness, it’s not her recipe. It’s her husband’s recipe (Tad Friend’s). He cooked it for her early in their courtship. It’s really easy and really yummy. It makes your kitchen smell like curry though. And also it makes you fart curry farts. Sorry to be crass, but curry farts are a fact of life and if you cook this dish you better be prepared. (How their courtship survived this dish, I’ll never know.)

Here’s what you need:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used two)

1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

2 Tbs Major Grey mango chutney

(Actually, Whole Foods didn’t have Major Grey, so I went with Hampton Chutney, which worked fine):

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1 tsp curry powder

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon or 1 regular lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Lay the chicken flat in a roasting dish (either Pyrex or enamel) that’s large enough to fit the pieces in one layer.

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Whisk together the mayonaisse and sour cream. Drop in the chutney and curry powder and keep whisking until smooth. Add the lemon juice a little at a time and taste as you go. It should be quite tangy. Stop when it is to your liking.

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2. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.

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Place in the oven and roast until the chicken is just cooked through, about 15 minutes.

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After you take it out of the oven, grind fresh pepper over top. (I forgot to do this.)

Anyway, tasted great. One piece was slightly undercooked. It was hard to tell because of all that sauce:

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That’s basically what this is–chicken with tangy curry sauce. I thought I was making more of a marinade until the end product came out. And the tangy curry sauce made the whole experience lush and creamy. (Lush and creamy?) (Quiet, I’m drunk.) Let me quote Amanda: “It wasn’t at all a veloute, which is rich and feels like velvet in your mouth. This had more heft and was tangy, even a little fruity. It was a delicious mystery.”

Amanda’s current GPA: 4.0 (based on two recipes).