Thursday, June 29, 2006

A fusion of confusion and a few confounded things.

The lovely and gracious Badger has posted what I will hereby dub the Roast Chicken Meme. The genesis therefor is a post by the lovely and gracious Jaye wherein she (Jaye) commented on and provided a link to Thomas (he of Bouchon & The French Laundry) Keller's Roast Chicken. It is an article of faith among chefs that roast chicken (or maybe a simple omelet) is the test for a cook. Whoever can roast a chicken well, can do (or learn to do) anything well.

I tried it and it was a smash, as it has been throughout the land. In fact, this is so good we must keep it to ourselves, lest villagers wielding pitchforks and torches haven't marched down to PETA offices from sea to shining sea, and possibly also the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

That said, I must remind all the assembled I am not a normal person when it comes to recipes. I simply can't look at a recipe (or, indeed, anything) without being certain it can be improved. Therefore, I have made the following tweaks:

(I am fully aware people reading this will almost invariably say to themselves--maybe even to my face--"Oh, dude, @#$% that." This is assymptotical stuff, a virtual doubling of effort for maybe a 10% improvement. So I'm not holding it against you that you're normal and I'm not.)

1- I brined the chicken. (Do NOT brine if you are using a Kosher chicken) I made a brine of (plain) sea salt and sugar and the water in which I had steeped some thyme and dried chives.

2- I THOROUGHLY dried the ckicken (this is key) and I went so far as to use a blow drier, but letting it rest uncovered in the fridge from the moment you leave in the morning to the moment you throw it in the oven will also do. The drier the surface area--which includes the cavity--the better. Moisture floating around the oven is the enemy of crisp skin.

3- I purposefully did NOT truss it. The problem with poultry is the leg and thigh cook slower than the breast. Trussing poultry compacts the legs/thighs so they cook even slower (see where I'm going with this?) and so I dispense with it. Yes, Thomas Keller has become the hottest restaurant chef since Escoffier, but he's not infallible and he is wrong on trussing. In fact, he writes: "the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out." which, if you look at the picture in the article, simply isn't so.

Also, in the places where the trussed legs make contact with the body, the skin doesn't get direct, dry heat and therefore turns out flabby, gummy and gross.

4- I put the chicken on a roasting rack. If you want crisp chickeny goodness all over, you need dry heat to reach every possible spot. That means getting it off the bottom of your pan.

5- I put in a thermometer in the chicken (I cook to temperature, not to pre-specified times) and hung an oven thermometer from the rack. 99.999999999% of home ovens' temperature readings are off, by an average of over 34F (16C) degrees. So that could ruin things.

The skin is potato chip crisp, salty and terrific. Jay didn't, but I opted for the thyme. I also forsook the butter/mustard in favor of a particularly sharp EVOO.

And there you have it.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:29 AM

13 Comments

  • Blogger Badger posted at 12:26 PM, June 29, 2006  
    I didn't truss the legs either, but I did bend the wings under.

    And you know, I wondered about the rack. The recipe didn't mention one and this being the first time I made it, I didn't use one. It felt wrong somehow, but it turned out okay. The back skin was caramelized and slightly less crisp that the rest of it, is all.

    I did the thyme, but no butter/mustard and no EVOO. It was THAT moist all on its own.

    Damn. I'm going to have to go out and buy another chicken. DH doesn't get home until tomorrow night, after all.
  • Blogger MsCellania posted at 12:27 PM, June 29, 2006  
    10000% agree about the Non-Trussed bird.

    If you are a non-skin eater, like us, feel free to use moist heat to cook the bird. In fact, I stuff the cavity with garlic cloves, onions, and celery tops or an apple (very optional); Then I BUTTER coat the skin, grind fresh salt, pepper and freshly crushed rosemary on the BACK of the boid, then turn it breast side up and do the same for that side. Bird is placed on a rack, then in a roaster, and water added to the roaster, but not so deep that the bird is touching the water. I too go by internal temp in the thick part of the thigh. I baste my bird 3 or 4 times during cooking, which increases cooking time. It takes about 1.5 hours to cook a bird this way, at this altitude (6000 ft) and in a moderate oven. 375 degrees.

    If I do ever want crispy skin, I will follow your recipe to the letter.

    I brine turkeys. Should brine the chickens, too, but I make the most moist, tender chicken of anyone I know using the liquid and basting method.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 7:53 PM, June 29, 2006  
    To be honest, I'm not a frequent skin eater, but when it's shatteringly crisp and savory and salty it's easily worth the occasional calories.

    I used the EVOO not for moisture, but for the flavor (I groove with the thyme/EVOO combination), since a brined chicken is STUPIDLY moist, even with a crisp skin.

    I usually stuff the cavity with a quartered lime (or lemon), quartered onion, and assorted smashed cloves of garlic. I also herbalize it under the skin (thyme, marjoram & sage).
  • Blogger Badger posted at 8:15 PM, June 29, 2006  
    Waitaminnit, doesn't stuffing the cavity create steam? Likewise herbing under the skin? Or are we talking about turkey now?

    I am all cornfused.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 8:52 PM, June 29, 2006  
    Badge,

    That's for when crisp skin is not an issue.

    -J.
  • Blogger daysgoby posted at 10:21 PM, June 29, 2006  
    Okay, so now I have Badgers Way and the Way Of The Joke and Vickee's Kind.....and we are going to be eating a lot of chicken.
    Mmm, and rosemary-garlic-evoo potatoes!
  • Blogger Joke posted at 10:41 PM, June 29, 2006  
    DGB,

    I like boiling new potatoes (in their skin), quartering them, sprinkling them with EVOO and a TEENY-TINY bit of fresh garlic & rosemary (the fresh stuff is WAY strong, proceed with caution) which I process with the mini-chop attachment of the Braun stick blender. Maybe you have such an appliance somewhere. ;-) and sea salt.

    The BLAST of delicious aroma will weaken your knees.

    MMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmm.

    Dammit, I just made myself hungry.

    -J.

    P.S. If you don't mind a slightly less crisp chicken skin, you can quarter the potatoes, toss them with the EVOO, etc. and put them under the chicken's roasting rack.
  • Blogger Carolyn posted at 11:23 PM, June 29, 2006  
    Flabby, gummy and gross? Are you talking about a chicken or me in a swimsuit?

    On a serious note, thanks for the tips.

    My oven is off by about twenty-five degrees. I always bake my cakes at 325 instead of 350.

    Methinks I will be roasting a chicken this weekend.

    I used to have one of those roasters that made the chicken stand up in the oven.

    We called it the "sledgehammer" chicken after the dancing chicken in the Peter Gabriel video.

    Perhaps I'll quit rambling now.
  • Blogger Jaye Joseph posted at 8:10 PM, June 30, 2006  
    My chickens come trussed, but after reading this, I'm going to untruss them.

    I also thought about brining last time and didn't, but next time, I think I will. And I need to invest in a roasting rack. I can't believe I don't have one. I'm so excited to have gotten everyone all excited about roast chicken!
  • Blogger Joke posted at 10:51 PM, June 30, 2006  
    Seriously. The PETA people will take out a contract on you if this thing snowballs further.

    What makes the recipe such a hit is the obsession for keeping the heat as dry as possible, so as to get the crisp skin thing going on. That's why I suggest letting the chicken air-dry in the fridge overnight or longer. (The Health Dept. would freak out, but I'd leave it out for a couple of hours too. Chicken that starts roasting at room temperature has a much better head start on the 165F terminal temperature than one that's 36F straight from the fridge.

    I figure once you get to where you can roast off a beautiful chicken in your sleep, you can start futzing around with herbs and seasonings. The only thing that could possibly make things theoretically better is getting a "hearthstone" kit for the oven, but that seriously reduces oven space just for that "brick oven" effect.

    -J.
  • Blogger BabelBabe posted at 5:23 AM, July 02, 2006  
    Carolyn - me too. it's a pain (about the oven temp) Oh, but also the swimsuit...

    Joke - I throw the bird in the roasting pan atop a bed of chunks o' celery, onions, and umpteen cloves of garlic. I rub the whole thing with olive oil, sprinkle heavily with basil, oregano, parsely, and paprika; jam a half lemon and some more garlic cloves in the cavity and cook it at high heat until it is falling off the bone. The garlic is all MINE.

    Hav you ever read Laurie Colwin's roast chicken essay? I'll track it down and send it to you, email me your address if you want it, pretty sure I won't find it online but I'll check there first.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 8:11 AM, July 02, 2006  
    BabBab,

    My usual recipe is similar (the EVOO would probably work better because EVOO has no water in it, as opposed to butter which is something like 10% water) to my usual recipe.

    My herbage is thyme/marjoram/sage and I focus exclusively on the garlic, although I contend that chicken and celery are best friends.

    -J.
  • Blogger Kim posted at 7:03 AM, October 03, 2006  
    You soak the chicken in brine? GET REAL! Who has the time. I did a roast tonight on insoiration from this, and that Mum was home from three weeks travelling. It was sensational!
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