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KotW: Roast Chicken, Part One (The Bird Itself) November 1, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in chicken, Kip of the Week, roasts.
2 comments

A roast chicken is one of the most satisfying dishes you can make for dinner — and, if you approach it correctly, economical as well. At this writing, a good-grade, battery-raised, cold-case chicken can cost less than a dollar a pound, and the yield of cooked meat is about 50% of the raw weight, so the meat on your plate and ready to eat is still less than two dollars a pound… a lot less than almost any kind of red meat or, actually, even some vegetable dishes. Furthermore, chicken is really tasty if you cook it correctly.

That’s the good news. The less good news resides in two chronic shortcomings. One: A supermarket chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and shoved in an oven doesn’t taste like much, and a full-flavored free-range or kosher chicken (at least where I live) can cost about $3 a pound. Two: Even with the best will in the world, it’s hard to cook a chicken so the dark meat is completely done and the white meat is still moist.

You can solve both these problems with planning and technique — in other words, by really cooking, not just shoving the bird in a cold oven and turning it on. A lot of the flavor of the finished product will be flavor that you’ve carefully added during preparation. As a bonus, once you’ve used all the meat, the carcass will be ideally seasoned to make stock for soup; in my humble opinion, if you roast a chicken and don’t make stock afterwards, you’ve thrown out half the chicken.

For optimal results you need to consider every element of the process: the oven, the chicken itself, the seasoning, the temperature, and the timing. Let’s start with the oven.

OVEN

A good oven for roasting, like a good oven for baking, necessarily involves more mass than the manufacturers of your oven were disposed to give you. A chicken prepared for roasting is like a loaf of bread — it needs a lot of heat and a persistent temperature. An ordinary sheet-steel oven really gives you neither, especially when you consider that by opening the oven door for more than a second or two, you lose a quarter to a third of the heat that you waited for.

The solution, generally, is to put heavy, dense, heat-resistant objects in the oven and let them heat up too. Personally I have a Hearthkit rock (http://www.hearth-oven.com/) which is expensive up front, but rugged enough to last essentially forever, and which improves just about everything I cook in the oven. But if you’re on a budget, you can put an oven rack in the bottom slot and cover it with re-used quarry tile or firebrick, or you can just put a large saucepan of boiling water in the oven next to the chicken.

CHICKEN

Supermarket chickens are sold in two standard sizes: a “frying chicken,” weighing 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, or a “young chicken,” weighing 5 1/2 to 6 pounds. After a lot of chickens, I happen to think that the larger size has a little more flavor by nature, but this roasting technique is certainly worth doing even for the smaller size.

Remove the chicken from its plastic bag, and discard the absorbent pad under the backbone. From the cavity, remove and reserve the neck, the gizzard and the heart. (Personally, I discard the liver, but if you like chicken liver, refrigerate it immediately until you’re ready to cook it.) Peel the thick pads of fat away from one or both skin flaps at the edges of the cavity, and reserve those too.

Put the chicken in a large steel or glass bowl, dump at least two tablespoons of salt (kosher salt is best, table salt will do,) into the cavity, and fill the bowl with cold water. Leave it undisturbed for at least half an hour. This cleans out the cavity and thaws any lurking frozen sections in the chicken — you want it to be at the same temperature all the way through, or as close as possible.

SEASONING

There’s a bunch of things that you can use as seasoning for the cavity, in any combination you like:

Kosher salt (but go light, there may be salt in one or more of your other seasonings)
ground or crushed black or green pepper
crushed fennel seed or cumin seed
dried red flake pepper
“poultry seasoning” (typically thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg, but may also contain salt)
“Creole seasoning” (typically cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt)
dried or fresh herbs like sage, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, dill, oregano, and/or parsley

PREPARATION

Preheat your oven to 400°. Have ready:

9 x 13 glass baking dish
steel barbecue skewer
one medium or large yellow onion, peeled
three or four cloves of garlic, crushed without peeling
two to three tablespoons of your preferred seasoning mixture

Put the chicken in the baking dish and hold it vertically with the opening at the top. Drop in the crushed cloves of garlic. Pour in the seasoning mixture, and wiggle the chicken to distribute the mixture over the inside of the cavity. Finally, put in the peeled onion. Close the flaps of the cavity over the onion, so that they overlap; run the steel skewer through both cavity flaps and the onion, and out through the hole under the stub of the neck. The steel skewer conducts oven heat into the cavity, and also gives you a handle to remove the chicken from the baking dish when it’s done. Lay the chicken backbone down in the baking dish. In the corners of the dish, put the neck, heart, gizzard, and fat pads.

TEMPERATURE AND TIMING

For a 3 1/2 to 4 pound (“frying”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
30 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed. This lets the temperature equalize and prevents redness at the bone.

For a 5 1/2 to 6 pound (“young” or “roasting”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
one hour and 10 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed.

Remove the chicken from the oven. Pick it up by the steel skewer and put it on a platter for carving. Take the baking dish, without disturbing or discarding any of the contents, and refrigerate it. You can slice the onion from the cavity and serve it as a somewhat crunchy vegetable, or keep it for the stockpot.

After dinner, remove any remaining meat from the carcass and refrigerate it in a Ziploc (it makes great chicken salad). Put the bones and skin in the baking dish. This can hold in the refrigerator overnight till you’re ready to make the stock.

Next week: Stock from the carcass.

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KotW: New Mexico Food, Part Two July 16, 2008

Posted by sarawr in herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, New Mexico, restaurants, roasts, soups and stews.
1 comment so far


THE LOCAVORE IN HEAVEN: Green Chile Stew

This is the signature dish of some parts of New Mexico, and has escaped to a few places — not many — in other southwestern states. If the chile grows where you are, you can order this (usually for about five bucks a bowl) at fancy restaurants, less fancy restaurants, coffee shops and even airport lunch counters (note 7). If the chile does not grow where you are… which may be only a few miles of difference… you will ask for green chile stew and the waitress will look at you funny.

But although it’s useless to order this in a restaurant in (say) northern California, you can make it yourself if you acquire the materials. That’s an adventure in itself and not cheap, but it can be done. Personally, I do it, because I think that really good green chile stew is one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. (And if the best green chile stew I’ve ever made has never quite equaled what they serve in the little restaurants around where Sara lives — well, that’s the exile’s lament.)

4 quarts chicken stock (note 1)
28-ounce can diced Italian tomatoes in juice
2 big yellow onions chopped fine
6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 lb. (about a dozen) roasted Barker, Big Jim, Sandia or Socorro green chiles, skinned, topped, seeded and chopped (note 2)
two teaspoons powdered cumin
two teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
salt to taste
3 4-ounce cans Hatch diced green chiles (note 3)
1 cup of 505 (or other) medium green chile sauce
4 to 6 cups of roast chicken meat, mixed light and dark, diced (note 4)
6 stalks of celery trimmed and sliced
6 carrots pared and cut into hunks
2 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into french-fry-like sticks (note 5)
one can El Pato Salsa de Chile Fresco (note 6)

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, add the tomatoes and onions, and let simmer twenty minutes. Press in the garlic, add the chopped roasted chiles, cumin, oregano, and salt, and let simmer twenty minutes more. Add the canned chiles, chile sauce, meat, celery and carrots, and cook till the carrots are half-done. Add the potatoes and the El Pato sauce, and continue to cook till the potatoes are sort of not raw. (They’ll keep cooking in the hot broth but you want them to still be a little crunchy.)

Serve with warm flour tortillas, homemade if you can get them.

NOTES

1. The best chicken stock, of course, will be made from the carcasses of a couple of roast chickens, with vegetables and seasoning. If you don’t feel like going that far, use good-grade chicken stock in boxes, but choose organic and low-sodium — you can adjust the salt later on your own and you don’t want too much added in advance.

2. Where the chiles grow, you can get these freshly roasted in August and September, or frozen the rest of the year. If, like me, you don’t live there, you can order them (mostly in fall, winter, and spring, not summer) frozen and airfreighted from places like newmexicanconnection.com or hotchiles.com. They’ll be about $10 a pound.

I recommend you buy medium or medium-hot frozen peppers, and whole, not chopped. The ones that are chopped before freezing lose too much flavor — at least for that price. When you’re ready to use the peppers, thaw them, take the tops off, hold them under cold running water, slip off and discard the skins, split the peppers open and rinse out the seeds, then chop the peppers.

3. Yes, the canned chopped peppers do have to be Hatch — the national brands, like Ortega and La Victoria, don’t taste the same at all. As for the sauce, it can be 505, Garcia, Hatch, Leal’s… just so long as it’s from New Mexico or, at a stretch, West Texas. If you don’t have sauce, use more canned peppers, and vice versa, but it’s best to use both.

4. Chicken is my preference but you can also make this with bite-size pieces of pork shoulder, or even with hamburger, although that’s my least favorite. If you use red meat, brown it before you add it.

5. These are authentic, but optional. If you use them, you might want to put them in what you’re currently serving rather than in the whole pot, so they won’t get cooked twice in the leftovers.

6. This is sold in little yellow eight-ounce cans. One side says “Tomato Sauce” (understatement) and has a picture of a blue-headed duck in an oval frame (“El Pato” means “the duck”). The other side says “Salsa de Chile Fresco” and has a picture of three chili peppers, one red and two yellow. This sauce adds cascabel chiles to the stew, which are very good things. In the Southwest you can buy this in Wal-Mart, in California I’ve even found it in Safeway, and you can also buy it online; it’ll cost fifty cents to a dollar-fifty a can depending on where and how you buy it.

7. Most of the restaurants with good stew are sort of…remote. But on the upper floor of the Albuquerque airport (Sunport), between the elevators and the A gates, there’s a coffee counter called Black Mesa Coffee Company that makes excellent green chile stew. Also pretty good coffee.

(c) July 2008 Kip Crosby

Mmm, meaty. July 10, 2008

Posted by sarawr in herbs & spices, red meat, roasts.
4 comments


If you’re not a vegetarian, you probably love roasts. If you’re me, you’re also a little intimidated by them; it’s hard to get a roast just right, and I’ve been trying for years. I’ve been beset by all the usual problems — meat comes out too dry, a roast that looks substantial at the market shrinks during cooking to something more appropriate for a small cat than a family of three, the meat is just right but the vegetables are mushy — and I’d begun to despair of ever getting it right. Thankfully, I think I finally did. A few nights ago I was faced with the letdown that comes after an amazing week, the lack of energy that comes from days without sleep and a looming deadline, and a roast I’d almost forgotten about. I kind of went “aww, to hell with it” and just tossed things together. Here’s the (delicious) result:

YOU NEED:
A smallish roast (three or four pounds)
Four or five red potatoes
A couple of handfuls of baby carrots
Half of a purple onion
A cup and a half of butternut squash
A quarter cup or so of V8 or plain tomato juice
Decent butter
A little olive oil
Various seasonings

WHAT YOU DO:
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and prepare your roasting pan by buttering it very lightly (you can use cooking spray too, but your vegetables will be distinctly lacking in flavor). Dice up your carrots, onion, potatoes, and squash and toss them together in the pan. Get about 3/4 of a cup of hot water and add pepper, salt, parsley, some finely chopped garlic, a sprinkle of paprika, and just a splash of soy sauce. Pour this over the vegetables and let everything sit.

Once that’s done, sear the roast in about a tablespoon of olive oil and half a tablespoon of butter. When I say sear, I mean it — you don’t want to brown your meat here so much as you want to crisp the outer layer. Don’t turn the heat all the way up, but get it pretty darn close — about thirty seconds on each side should do it. Let the roast cool a bit, then place it on top of the vegetables with the most fatty side up. Sprinkle the meat with pepper, a dash of Tabasco, and more chopped garlic. Pour the V8 over it until the roast is well-covered but the juice isn’t really involved with the vegetables. Cover the whole thing (if you’re using foil, lightly butter or spray it so that it doesn’t stick to the roast) and pop it in the oven for two hours.

If this wasn’t just a fluke, the meat should come out meltingly tender while the vegetables are firm, flavorful, and just a little bit crisp where they’ve touched the pan. I’d love it if some of you would try this and let me know how it works; I want to do it again, but I have been well-schooled by experience to expect recipes this good to fail miserably upon re-attempt. Good luck!