Friday, May 23, 2008

This Bird did not Die in Vain

Dear Boo,

This Sunday, for the meager book club turnout (not everyone came around on the Dickens front like I did...), I made a vaguely French dinner of Asparagus Vinaigrette, Parsleyed Potatoes, and a Roast Chicken with carrots and onions. I have to say, this dinner is super delicious, super elegant and one of the easiest things you can possibly make. Seriously. Serving a whole chicken always looks impressive and complicated and makes everyone feel loved and taken care of. I've read a lot of chefs being quoted as saying that the true test of a cook is a roast chicken. I suppose that's because when done well, this dish is an exercise in perfection. With crispy skin, moist meat, rich gravy, the roast chicken is some serious food for the soul--I'd even venture to say it's the ultimate in loving comfort food. Sad breakup? Put away the Haagen Dazs and get your best friend to whip up one of these. Sunday blues? Throw one of these in the oven, let the aroma fill up your apartment and trudging back to work Monday morning doesn't seem half as bad. Dinner and a Movie not sealing the deal? Invite your ladyfriend over for your signature dish and watch her fall like a failed souffle. And since there are almost infinite possibilities of flavors and ingredients to use, you might just find your cooking voice in the process. Here's how my version goes:

Practically Guaranteed to Get You Lucky Roast Chicken

4 lb chicken (size can vary depending on how many you want to serve. this serves about 5, I'd say)
Olive Oil
about 1/3 Stick of Butter, softened
Herbes de Provence (This spice mix can be found at any supermarket or you can use any combination of dried herbs you like)
2 Lemons
1 head of Garlic
6 large carrots (can use any root veggie--parsnips, potatoes, turnips, etc)
1 large onion (or fennel, or whole shallots, or leeks, etc)
1/3 cup white wine (optional)
1/4 cup creme de cassis (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400, making sure anything you store in there--cookie sheets, sneakers, tupperware, or anything else you can't fit in your NYC apartment closet--is removed first.

With your fingers, smush the butter, a few hefty pinches of Herbes de Provence, a squirt of the honey, a couple of cloves of minced garlic, together into mixed buttery paste (aka compound butter).
Peel and chop the carrots into relatively equal sized chunks. Slice the onions into big wedges--you can keep the root on to hold the wedges together. Throw it all into the bottom of a roasting pan along with a handful of garlic cloves, still in their skin. Pour olive oil liberally over the veggies, and add some kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Rinse the chicken inside and out and cut off any excess fat that looks like you wouldn't want to eat it. Dry thoroughly. Salt and Pepper inside and outside liberally. Stuff a couple of slices of lemon and a couple cloves of garlic into the cavity.
Scoop out some of the herb butter with your fingers and go to town spreading it all over the chicken. If you're feeling dangerous, you can separate the skin from the breasts and slide your fingers in, stretching it away from the meat to create a little pocket. Stuff some butter in there too and smush it around.
Drizzle a little olive oil and the juice of half a lemon on the chicken as well.
Transfer the bird to the roasting pan, right on top of the vegetables. The juices and all the good stuff you added will drip down onto them as they cook. mmm.
Stick it in the oven for about 1-1.5 hours, basting occasionally. If the legs or wings start to burn because you can't be bothered to truss up the chicken with twine (I certainly can't) you can put a piece of tin foil over those parts.
The chicken is done when the juices run clear--basically, stick a knife into the point where the leg meets the body and see what it looks like. Pink and bloody--good for steak, not for chicken. Clear and juicy=perfect.
Lift the chicken out onto a nice big serving dish, and spoon the carrots and onions around the bird.

To make a quick gravy, because what is a roast without sauce--Naked, I tell you--Put the roasting pan on your stove, straddling two burners. Turn the burners on medium-low and start to deglaze the pan, which basically means adding a little liquid and using it to scrape up the browned delicious flavor party stuck to the bottom of the pan. If the stuff in the pan looks too greasy, just spoon out the fat that rises to the top. Squeeze the other half of the lemon into the pan, and add a little white wine. You can be creative here--sometimes I use currant jam or some such--Last Sunday I added some Creme de Cassis (Currant liquor) I happened to have leftover from my birthday party. Let the gravy come to a simmer for a few minutes until it's thickened a bit. Spoon the gravy over each serving of chicken and veggies, scraping up any remaining tasty bits.

For easy and yummy side dishes, you can make these:

Asparagus Vinaigrette:

Make a vinaigrette of a spoonful of dijon, 1/4 cup of balsamic or red wine vinegar, a minced clove of garlic, some good glugs of Olive Oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Steam a bunch of asparagus. While they're still warm, Pour the vinaigrette over them. Sautee some thinly sliced shallots and when they're browned and lookin good, toss them in with the asparagus. Salt and pepper.

Parsleyed Potatoes:
Boil in salted water about a pound or so of small red new potatoes or any kind of fingerling you like. When a knife slides easily through them, drain and add: couple tablespoons butter, olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, and two good heaping handfuls of chopped parsley. Toss to mix.

Serve with crusty bread. Feel the love.
(go ahead, click for a close-up. You know you want to.)

The Mouse

Hungry For More?
My Last Supper is a gorgeous collection of photgraphs and interviews with master chefs about what their last meal would be if they could have anything. No surprize that quite a few mention a roast chicken....

1 comment:

pdxblogmommy said...

You should know that the word on the street is "simple is best". My dear friend at "French Laundry at Home" did a simple roast chicken and got more comments on her blog than most other entries. Granted, since then, she's done tripe (nasty) and pig's feet (super de-dooper nasty) and so there have been many comments to those as well. Her blog is addicting if you're into food and humor which I know you both are. So go over and check it out whydontcha?