The Little Chicken That Could, The Little Tart That Couldn’t

Alice Waters, I thought you were crazy. I’ve been roasting chickens for a long time now and when I flipped through my Chez Panisse Cookbook the other night and read your recipe for roasted chicken I couldn’t believe it. No fat! No melted butter brushed on the surface (like The Barefoot Contessa’s) or softened butter smeared around (like Grant Achatz’s). No olive oil massaged into the skin (like Marcella Hazan’s) or bacon laid gingerly across (like Nigella Lawson’s). Your recipe asks the reader to simply sprinkle on exotic seasonings (1 tsp crushed fennel seed, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 1 1/2 tsps additive-free kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper), to stuff the bird with thyme and then to place it in a roasting pan and roast for an hour at 400 degrees. That’s it. How could it possibly taste good without any fat? And yet look:

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Alice, I think you may be a witch. A good witch, but a witch nonetheless. This bird was more flavorful and juicier than any roast chicken I’ve had before. How do you come up with recipes like this? Are you some kind of sorceress? Do you ride around the Bay Area on a broom like Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Do you stare into a crystal ball and wait for words like “fennel seeds” and “cayenne pepper flakes” to appear? What are you, are you human? Well, whatever you are, I bow to your magnificent authority. Your roast chicken recipe may be my new staple.

Now bring out the other California chef, you know the one. The one I previously lauded as having written my favorite new cookbook. That’s right, bring out Suzanne Goin of “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.”

Suzanne, I love you. I love what you’re about, I love that your recipes are so complex and creative and dynamic. But I have to ask you a question: what’s the deal with this caramel tart!?!?

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I spent lots of time and money making this! I made the pastry dough from scratch. I had to roll it out. I had to fit it into the tart pan. And then I had to make the caramel: scary caramel while Diana and Craig made popcorn because they’re impatient.

“You’ll see guys,” I told them. “When this tart’s done you’ll be sorry you filled up on popcorn.”

Well I followed your recipe to the letter. I used a candy thermometer and got it exactly to 310 before pouring it on to the nuts and adding the salt. After adding the filling to the pre-baked pastry, I refrigerated–like you said–for two hours. Do you know what kind of restraint that took?

And for what! I took it out, two hours later, and cut a piece and bit in and the caramel globbed on to my teeth like an alien creature from a Star Wars movie. Craig took a bite and said “blech! it’s too sweet.” Diana took a bite and said, “The texture’s a little weird.”

Back into the fridge it went and the next afternoon I was ready to give it another chance. So I cut in and nearly had to saw my through. I took a bite and nearly cracked a tooth. So now look where it is:

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It’s in the garbage making love to a lobster carcass (leftover from a video I just shot! more to come!) I’m sorry you had to see that, but do you think I liked having to throw it away? All that energy and hope in the trash but nobody wanted to eat it! Oh Suzanne, how could you do this to me? We were so happy together.

I’m sorry, but Alice is moving in. I’ve packed your things and there’s a car service on the way. I hope you understand—it’s not personal. It’s just every time I look at you now, my teeth hurt. Please forgive me.

17 comments

  1. I’m glad that you’re chicken went well and it looks absolutely delicious.

    As for your caramel tart, it seems quite strange that the directions indicate that you should simmer your caramel all the way to the hard crack stage (that stage is for making toffees or hard candies, in general). Hence, that’s why your teeth hurt after you bit your tart when it cooled your tart completely.

  2. I think I just ripped a muscle laughing!

    Honestly though. I’ve made both my chicken and holiday turkeys in much the same way (I may drizzle just a bit of olive oil over, but only if the bird seems on the small side. i.e. it doesn’t have much fat under the skin.) And I’ve only three times in my life had a dry bird. That bird looks marvelous.

    I’m sorry to hear about your rocky relationship with Suzanne. I *do* hope that you have a long and happy life with Alice

  3. Oh, the humanity! All those nuts, all that work and you had to trash it.

    Boiling sugar is tricky and evil and it HURTS like a mo-fo when it meets flesh. I think it should be classified as a WMD. I hope GW doesn’t read your post or I’ll have CIA agents stalking my house.

  4. Oh, the humanity! All those nuts, all that work and you had to trash it.

    Boiling sugar is tricky and evil and it HURTS like a mo-fo when it meets flesh. I think it should be classified as a WMD. I hope GW doesn’t read your post or I’ll have CIA agents stalking my house.

  5. Actually, I got to disagree with Tina, the first commenter. I’m actually surprise you didn’t have to go higher then 310. Usually you start to get caramel’s up at around 340-350. Also, in looking at the color of it, you have a clear consistency, so it doesn’t appear that you added cream, milk or butter. It’s not unusual to add a fat or cream to give smoothness to caramel.

    At 310, what you made was a brittle tart and you would have been better pouring it our on a siltpat and serving it that way. Heck, you’d have been able to serve that 20 min after you poured it out. I’m fairly confident what you have is a typo in her book… ah, but alas that may be reason enough to move Alice in!

  6. Ouch.

    I always knew “Sunday Suppers” rocked. I just didn’t realize there was a receipe for a dessert rock included.

  7. Oh, how thrilling – a new way to roast chicken! Thanks for bringing my attention to this recipe – I have that book, and love it, but sort of never paid attention to the roast chicken.

    As for the caramel tart – if you want to try one that will knock your socks off, try Maury Rubin’s caramel, almond and cranberry tart from City Bakery (I made it in November – you can click on my name and it’ll take you to the post).

  8. my foolproof roast chicken recipe is the brining one…you know: 12-24 hours in a glass dish/knotted plastic bag filled with water, lemon juice, herbs, salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and the chicken. a tender gorgeous chicken everytime!

  9. There are two keys to good roast chicken.

    1. Brine it. Rub it with salt a few hours before cooking. Rinse salt off. Put in the oven.

    2. When you put it in the over cook it at a high temperature 400 absolute minimum, preferably 425-450. Make sure to turn the fan on so you don’t smoke yourself out of your living quaters.

    These two steps will deliver the most moist and best tasting chicken possible.

    I learned this from Julia Child. She and several other chefs (I think Alice Waters was involved) conducted extensive chicken roasting experiments. High temp was their conclusion.

  10. I’ve been making roast chicken at least two to three times a month now ever since I happened upon a very similar recipe. My trick, for even crispier skin and juicier chicken – – – rinse the bird, and then completely, completely, try it inside and out with paper towel. Any excess water will cause the bird to steam, not roast. I throw in a few bits of garlic and some rosemary in the cavity and NO BUTTER OR OIL OR LIQUIDS. Perfect bird, every single time. And no basting!

    Also, I’m a fan of 450 for 50-60 minutes as well.

  11. I just about died reading this. My BF is looking at me right now like I have been possessed by the food-bully devil and, after reading, out loud, multiple excerpts from this post, has put the local asylum on speed dial. I can’t breathe…my sides hurt too much… dear God, help me…

  12. I knew a guy who made Paul Bertolli’s roast chicken (I think it’s Paul’s, not technically Alice’s). I married him. We have another twist on it with changing the rub to include chiles and putting oregano inside. Also good.

  13. I just googled ‘caramel tart luques’ and found your site– I just made my SECOND attempt at the recipe, I am convinced that there is an error in it. Both times were flops.

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