Musing with Max

Musing with Max

March 6, 2011

Chicken Feed

As far back as I can remember whenever anyone asked me what my favorite food was I always said, "chicken!". (Except for those couple of years when all I could think about was shrimp, other post) Perfection to me is a lovely bronzed roast chicken, which is not as easy as it sounds. You don't just stick the stupid bird in the oven for an hour and go on about your business until time's up. No, no, no, no. When I cooked my first roast chicken way back when I was a newlywed glowing in domestic bliss in my little galley kitchen in lovely Ridgefield, New Jersey that's probably exactly what I did. I have vague recollections of going into hysterical fits when after setting my beautiful table with my prettiest linens and dinnerware and candles and then carving into the bird only to see "Oh no mother, BLOOD". This meant I needed to put it back in the oven for another who knows how many minutes until it was fully cooked, and dry at that point, while I sat there sulking because my little romantic dinner had been ruined. Then one day while watching Pierre Franey on his 60 minute gourmet cooking show (this was way back before the Food Network when chefs were actually cooks an not celebrities) he explained, and cooked, a roast chicken the way the French do it. I just jumped on that, who better to learn how to roast a chicken from than the French...and Pierre Franey of course. I then bought a lovely book, "Le Cordon Bleu at Home", which explained exactly what Pierre had. This way of roasting chicken worked very nicely. You start out, after seasoning the chicken, with the bird breast side up in a high oven, 425 F I think, and then after 20 minutes you lower the temperature to 350 F and turn the chicken on one side, roast 20 minutes, turn it to the other side, roast 20 minutes, then breast side up again at high heat for about 10 minutes. The chicken is golden browned and completely cooked through. The turning and flipping is worth it if a bit annoying since the chicken doesn't really want to stand on it's side. Then one birthday Frank gave me "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook" as a gift.
The roast chicken form the Zuni Cafe is, in one word, sublime. It is pure perfection, and it comes out beautifully and perfectly roasted every single time. Yes there is the "time" element involved as is with everything in this amazing cookbook. However, I have found that you really don't NEED to do exactly as they say, meaning the time element. Here is the recipe:

Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken

Serves 2 to 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
3/4 teaspoon salt
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 (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 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.
Serve on a warm platter.

I'll admit, I don't always (translation: almost never) start 1 to 3 days ahead so the chicken doesn't sit overnight seasoned in the refrigerator. When I have done it there's been barely any difference in taste. The drying of the chicken is probably the most crucial step in this dish. I use different herbs depending on what I have on hand that is fresh; which in the Summer means a lot of things so I usually use both thyme and rosemary; in the winter I use rosemary and sage because they are fresh frozen in my freezer and once thawed are exactly as if they were fresh. If there is any left over, it is wonderful cold or chopped up and made into luscious chicken salad. Or maybe somebody will find some pieces in his bowl.
but unfortunately not very often...

which makes him very sad :(