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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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It might be hard to believe, oh children of today, but there was a time in California and many other modern places with electricity and running water (bottled water was not yet invented) and telephones (landlines only) where your choice of Asian food was Chinese or Chinese, and by that I mean chow mein or chop suey, which the American diner poured soy sauce over lavishly. (I am loathe to admit we called soy sauce “bug juice.”) If you were really living it up you could also get Chinese BBQ ribs and egg foo yong and sweet and sour pork. A few very avant garde restaurants offered rumaki, though I have never known anyone to actually order it. I was a picky child so when we went to one of the three or four Chinese restaurants in town, I stayed safe with a hot roast beef sandwich.

Then sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s woks became the rage. It was impressed upon we aspiring Chinese chefs that the wok absolutely had to be made of carbon steel, seasoned properly with heat and oil, and used frequently in order to keep up the seasoning else it would rust. It was also absolutely essential that one had the right shovel (a shovel-shaped spatula with a long handle) and that the wok had to have a round bottom, or it was not authentic and your food would likewise be not authentic. This was at a time when electric stoves were pretty standard in most kitchens; round bottomed woks rolled and tilted dangerously on the flat burner.

Also, we had to learn to chop vegetables properly, preferably with a Chinese cleaver, or they wouldn’t cook correctly.  Something about cut-half-roll-cut on an angle. (See above about not authentic.)

We bought Chinese cookbooks that listed a new-to-us array of ingredients that were likewise absolutely essential to Chinese cooking, almost none of which were available in circa-1970 Safeway and Albertsons.  The standard supermarket soy sauce was La Choy (who had a catchy television commercial with a jingle, “La Choy makes Chinese food *swing* American!”). Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts were available in cans; people bought one of each and displayed them to show off their culinary chops. (You didn’t have to actually use them; just owning the cans was enough.) Tofu was  starting to become available but viewed with suspicion.  Garlic was available but ginger less so. It took a drive to a larger city to find sesame oil, five-spice powder,  oyster sauce, rice sticks, and bok choy. (This was before the internet.)

Even around 1980 I remember being served stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants that included crinkle-cut frozen French fries and gherkins.  It was indeed a strange time in America.

It took Americans a long time to relax and learn to make Chinese food; from there we segued into Thai and Korean and Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian (which, I have been assured by a Lao woman, are pretty similar), Japanese and Asian fusion. I don’t know just when the tide turned and we started appreciating and making decent Asian dishes, but even small-town grocers stock hoisin sauce and cilantro now.

We have a copy of Lucky Peach Presents 101 Asian Recipes which has a less structured approach to cooking and a what-the-hell punky approach to authenticity, while not ceding anything to white bread America. It’s been helpful in loosening up and having fun while making really good tasting Asian food. I used to have a carbon steel wok but I have no idea where it is now. I use either a cast iron frying pan or a nonstick Ikea flat-bottomed wok.

I bet you thought I would never get around to the recipe, right? This started as something else and became this. But it could become something else yet again if the cook made it so. Lots of possible variations. Much of it can be made ahead. Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients – it’s really simple to make.

Note: This is clearly full of meat, but I suspect a vegetarian version could be made with the spices and some miso.

ASIAN NOODLE SOUP 

The Meat Part:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, beef chuck roast, beef 7-bone roast, country-style spare ribs, chicken thighs, or a whole chicken

Broth:

  • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 fat slice onion
  • 2 quarts water (include some low-sodium broth if it’s on hand)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt soy sauce or tamari (I use Aloha soy sauce and/or San-J Tamari, both low-salt)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Squid brand, available in Asian markets)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, Demarara sugar, turbinado sugar, or golden brown sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, sake, or sherry (a generous splash of Madeira would not go amiss here as well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 3″ long
  • 2 star anise
  • t teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or anise seeds
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1″ piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 1-4 dried hot peppers (optional)

Greens:

  • 1 large bunch collards, kale, spinach, or other sturdy greens, hard stems removed, greens sliced thinly (roll them up like a cigar and then slice across)

Optional Vegetables:

  • shredded vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, daikon – about 1/4 cup of each
  • sliced mushrooms – 2 or more, depending on your fondness for mushrooms
  • snow peas – 1/4 pound ought to do it
  • green beans, cut into 2″ lengths -like the snow peas, about 1/4 pound

Noodles:

  • 8 – 16 ounces rice noodles, glass noodles, rice sticks, or other noodles, cooked according to package directions (I used the rice vermicelli pictured above, 14 ounces)

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong Foods makes one version, much more garlicky than Sriracha) or sambal oelek
  • finely shredded cabbage
  • a raw egg yolk for the hardcore

Directions:

Brown the meat in a little oil, flipping as necessary to brown all sides.  When the meat is almost brown enough, add the onion slice and let it get good and brown on both sides. Toss in the garlic to lightly brown for a few minutes, then the spices to lightly bloom in the oil.

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Clockwise from top: star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks

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Pour in all liquid ingredients and scrape up any lovely browned bits from the bottom, bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover.

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Let simmer until meat is falling-apart tender – about 1 1/2 hours for chicken thighs, 2 hours for country-style ribs or a whole chicken, 3 hours for pork butt, pork shoulder, or beef chuck/7-bone roast. Remove meat from pot and let cool, then remove bones/skin/fat and shred meat. (This can all be done ahead and put in the refrigerator for another day.)

Taste the broth and adjust seasoning – I like this on the sweet side so I usually add more brown sugar, but this is subjective. (My husband doesn’t like it sweet so for him I  keep it at 1/4 cup. Or skip the sugar altogether.) Strain broth and discard solids. Skim fat from broth (this is easier if made ahead and chilled). Reheat broth, add the thinly sliced greens, and cook until tender – could be 20 to 40 minutes for collards, 20 minutes for kale, almost instantly for spinach. When greens are almost tender, add any other vegetables.

Cook noodles separately, then add to broth with greens along with shredded meat. When soup is heated through, serve with optional garnishes.

Makes a lot.

 

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ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAP SAUCE

Sometimes you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. On occasion you find that what you pulled out actually was more like a weasel or a marmot, but now and then it does turn out to be a rabbit, just as you’d hoped.

I’m preparing food for a cocktail party, which has to be all finger foods. I thought Asian chicken lettuce wraps would be good, never mind that I have never made them before. The filling part is easy enough – diced chicken, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, scallions – but the dressing was another story. You can buy all kinds of bottled dressings and some of them taste okay, but it’s fun to mix your own. If you have a well-stocked pantry with Asian ingredients, it’s fast and easy.

Here is what I came up with. This started with a recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson, and took off from there.

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SAUCE FOR ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS

  • 2 small red Jalapenos, minced
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon nam pla
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 star anise

Combine all ingredients. Store in refrigerator. Remove star anise before using. Toss with diced chicken or shrimp for Asian lettuce wraps or as a salad dressing.

Notes:

Use chili flakes, Sriracha, cayenne, or other hot peppers in place of the Jalapenos.

Nam pla (fish sauce) is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If necessary you can substitute soy sauce or tamari.

Black bean garlic sauce is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. Leave it out if you can’t find it.

Thai sweet chili sauce is available in Asian markets, supermarkets, and Trader Joe’s. It is a thick sweet-spicy sauce that has a couple of million uses.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

The first enchiladas I ever made were from the Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes. The recipe called for 2 cups of sour cream and 1 pound of shredded Cheddar cheese plus additional sour cream to pile on each serving (and this was in the days long before there was such a thing as nonfat sour cream or low-fat cheese). I made it quite often for years. It was wildly popular among my co-workers when I brought it to potlucks. Between this and the cheesecakes I used to make, I probably single-handedly contributed to the early demise of of several people.

But we’re here now in the Dark Days Of High Cholesterol, so I needed to find a way to make luscious enchiladas without so much animal fat. Someone on Facebook – I have forgotten who, so I can’t give credit – posted a recipe for chicken-avocado enchiladas that looked pretty good. I messed around with the recipe a little, then called friends to come over for dinner. None of us could stop eating it. We  cleaned the pan out. I’m telling you, this is good.

If you must, you can substitute canned green enchilada sauce, but this sauce is totally worth making. Both the sauce and filling can be made a day ahead if necessary,but do not add the avocados until ready to assemble the enchiladas.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

SAUCE:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 cup salsa verde (I used La Victoria)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic lightly for a minute. Do not allow garlic to brown.

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Stir in the flour, and cook & stir over medium-low heat for 2 more minutes.

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Add the chicken stock while stirring, and keep stirring until the sauce is lump-free. Add the cumin, salt, pepper, and salsa verde, and heat until thickened (it won’t be really thick – about the consistency of canned enchilada sauce). Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, or cumin as needed. Add the cilantro. When sauce tastes good, remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

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  • Do not boil sauce after sour cream has been added.

TORTILLAS

  • 18 6-inch corn tortillas (I used Guerrero brand)

Heat 1/2″ oil in small frying pan. Test by dipping the edge of  a tortilla into the oil. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready. Fry each tortilla for about 5 seconds on each side. Do not try to crisp the tortillas; this step is to soften them. Turn with tongs, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and press the tortillas between the towels to absorb excess oil. Use as many paper towels as needed – I arrange about 3 tortillas on each towel, then top with another layer of towels.

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FILLING

  • 4 cups diced chicken (I used poached chicken from this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
  • about 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 3 firm-ripe avocados, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Cheddar, but use what you like – low-fat cheese is good here) (optional)

Combine all ingredients except cheese, using as much sour cream as necessary to coat everything. Mix gently to avoid mashing the avocados.

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Spread about 1/2 cup sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.

Fill each tortilla with equal amounts of filling – for this much filling/this many 6″ tortillas, figure around 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling, but YMMV.

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Tuck each tortilla into the baking dish, open side down. Here I decided to make a double layer of enchiladas, so when the baking dish had one full layer, I poured some sauce over the first batch and sprinkled with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Or just make one layer if the baking dish is large enough.

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Second layer – pour the remaining sauce over, top with about 1/4 cup cheese. If you like, top with sliced tomatoes,  roasted red bell peppers, chopped olives, sliced avocado, etc.

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Bake at 350 until hot and bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.

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Serve this with beans – I made plain boiled pinto beans served in little bowls with cilantro and chopped red onion – rice, and a green salad.

Gluten- free option for the sauce:

Saute garlic in oil, then add broth, salsa verde, and seasonings. Thicken with a cornstarch slurry – when sauce is thickened, add sour cream and proceed with recipe from there.

IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN

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Remember Freedom Fries?

You cannot go around renaming food because you’re mad at its namesake. If we did that,  we would have had to say goodbye to hamburgers, Korean BBQ, chicken Kiev, peaches (old name for Persia, AKA Iran), seltzer, French toast,  German chocolate cake, and whoever else it is we don’t like this week.

So I make no apologies for Iraqi Spice-rubbed Chicken. If you feel very strongly about it, I suppose you could call it Mesopotamian Chicken or Assyrian Chicken, but really – let go of whatever feelings you may have about the politics, and revel in the amazing flavors of the cuisine.

This is from Saveur. I have slightly adapted it. See  recipe for The Greek Layered Salad  for details about and an explanation of sumac. Also? I think if any one (or two) spices are too difficult to locate, they could be skipped here – but I am a big proponent of a well-stocked spice cabinet. If your supermarket charges an arm and a leg for Spice Islands or McCormick or other name brands, seriously consider buying herbs & spices in bulk (as I do) and keeping in an old mustard jar, or buying from a mail-order place like Penzeys or Amazon. If you intend to learn to cook, it is imperative that you not be afraid of having ingredients at hand, and using them.

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IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN (DJAJ BIL-BAHAH IL-ASFAR)

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 8 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 4 dried rose hips (available at health food stores)

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, chiles, allspice, and cloves, and cook to toast lightly, shaking the pan often, for one or two minutes until the spices become fragrant. Remove spices to a bowl (if you leave them in the pan, even off the heat, they will overcook.) Let cool.

If you have a spice grinder, grind the cooled spices in it, then mix with the other spices and mashed garlic.

If you don’t have a spice grinder, combine the toasted spices with the other spices and the mashed garlic in a blender or food processor, and blitz, stopping the machine often to scrape down the sides, until you have an unbelievably exotic-smelling blend.

Rub this spice mixture into the skin and under the skin of chicken. Discard any leftover spices (since you will have been dipping into it with hands that have been handling raw chicken).

Either grill chicken or roast in a 350 degree oven until cooked through (a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, or a knife inserted at that point produces clear or yellow juices – if the juices run pink, it isn’t done).

Use this on whole chickens to roast, or halved/cut-up pieces. Makes enough for about 6 pounds of chicken.

Appropriate accompaniments would be rice, especially Persian jeweled rice, or couscous, plus eggplant prepared in any of a thousand ways.  I think a raw, crisp salad with a tart vinaigrette or quick pickled vegetable is required here too. Fresh summer fruit such as apricots or melon would make a perfect dessert.

HOW TO CLARIFY BROTH

In the last post I talked about poaching chicken and having a lovely broth or stock left over as a result. Great stuff to have on hand to stir into sauces and make soup from – it’s a staple in my kitchen. The fat rises to the top when it is chilled and it’s ready to go.

But for aesthetic’s sake, sometimes you want a very clear broth instead of the murky, cloudy stock you might have – especially if the broth boiled for any length of time. It might look like this:

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There’s nothing wrong with that – unless, as I said, you want a really clear broth such as for consommé. Don’t knock consommé , and do not confuse homemade with Campbell’s Consommé  in a can, which is pretty damn salty. It’s warming on a cold night – and if it’s rich, flavorful stock with a final garnish  of a fine mince of raw vegetables (carrot, celery, turnip, onion), you have consommé brunoise, which makes an excellent recherche, non-filling  starter to an elegant dinner. (There are infinite other consommé variations, all of them delicious.)

Anyway. To clarify stock that’s muddled and cloudy, heat the strained -of-bones-and-veg stock to simmering. While it’s heating, for each quart of stock (more or less; you don’t need to be precise) beat one egg white until thick and puffy.

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Now: whisk that fluffy egg white into the simmering stock.  Stir it around a time or two, then turn the heat UP and bring the stock to a boil. Immediately turn the heat OFF again, remove the pan from the heat, and let cool to warm-ish.

DSCN1032The nice white egg white will start to look like four-day-old New York snow.

DSCN1034Now get a clean dish towel – not a terry-cloth one, unless you enjoy chewy bits in your broth – and dampen it, then wring it out. Place the towel over a wire-mesh strainer  and place that over a bowl, and pour the stock-egg mixture into the towel. Let it drain.

DO NOT DISTURB THIS. If you try to hurry it by shaking the strainer or pressing on the towel, you will get cloudy gunk in the broth, so LEAVE IT ALONE.

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End result:

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Store, covered, in the refrigerator about four days. This method works on any meat stock – chicken, beef, pork, lamb, whatever – and makes a sediment-y stock into a much more appetizing soup by itself.

POACHED CHICKEN

We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?

“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.

So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf,  a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns.  No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.

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Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…

As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.

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Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.

How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes.  Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl.  Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.

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Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –

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and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.

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The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.

Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.

ROAST CHICKEN, OR WHY YOU SHOULDN’T REVEAL ALL YOUR TRICKS AT ONCE

I was in the check-out line at the supermarket. In the cart along with everything else I had a couple of Cornish game hens. The woman behind me – who, as I recall, had a giant-size bottle of really cheap vodka along with everything else – asked me what those were and what you did with them.  I launched into a spiel about how easy they are to cook, just put them in the oven and roast them, and they are so delicious. I went on like that for a couple of minutes while she paid close attention, nodding and murmuring, “Uh-huh,” at the right moments. When I concluded, she asked, “And do you take the plastic wrap off them before you put them in the oven?”

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For some years now I’ve been working on my roast chicken technique. For a while I tried roasting at a low (325F/162C) temperature, and the results were good, but it took forever to get done. I tried roasting it at 375F/190C which was faster, but I thought dried it out a bit. I tried putting the chicken on a rack like the fancy cookbooks tell you, and wound up having to wash the rack and get the little bits of skin off it, which is tedious donkey work, I’m telling you.  I put  chili powder under the skin and beer in the pan, started the chicken breast-down and flipping it to breast-up half way through, folded the wings akimbo, tied the legs, stuffed and unstuffed. I finally came to the conclusion that the best roast chicken was also the simplest. But I also thought that maybe plain roast chicken was just… too plain, and that it wasn’t going to wow anyone except me.

When I met my husband eight years ago, he liked to make pan-fried chicken with gravy, and he was proud of it.  I made various oven-fried chicken dishes, and some of them were pretty good.  We made beer-can chicken, which is good but kind of a gimmick, and it takes forever.  About two years ago I decided to make my plain roast chicken for him. It smelled really good as it roasted… brought it to the table…  served it up. He hasn’t made fried chicken since. He couldn’t believe that I had been making this for myself all these years but  never for him. I think if we hadn’t already been married that it would have sealed the deal.

Moral of the story: don’t reveal all your tricks at once. Hold back some of the clever things you know how to do. Bring them out when you feel like showing off.

It always surprises me that people don’t make roast chicken, preferring instead to buy a packet of Shake & Bake or a jar of Chicken Tonight (do they still make that?) or pour a can of Campbell’s Cream of WTF over an innocent chicken. But then I look at the recipes online: Ina Garten’s recipe for “Perfect Roast Chicken” takes 11 ingredients including a bulb of fennel. Tyler Florence’s “The Ultimate Roast Chicken” involves six strips of bacon and three bunches of fresh herbs.  And so on. No wonder people don’t roast chicken – they think they have to buy all this other stuff.

Well, you don’t. All you need, really, is a chicken. Of course it will be a little fancier and taste a little more special with some seasonings, but really, you don’t need to run to Dean and DeLuca.  And I’ve never trussed a chicken and don’t intend to start now. This is easy comfort food at its simplest and best but is also appropriate for a very fancy dinner. I think this is a dish aspiring cooks should learn to make: it’s the little black dress of cooking.

Below: this is what I use. Salt, freshly ground pepper, thyme from the garden, fresh lemon, homemade lemon pepper (see previous post), and wine. But just salt and pepper would be fine too.

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So you’ve got a chicken, which presumably is thawed. If the cavity is still frozen, run water into it so you can remove the contents. Below, clockwise from top left: fat globules pulled from the chicken’s bum, the heart, the gizzard, the liver, the neck. You can throw them away if you want. You can cook the heart, gizzard, and liver, chop them, and give them to your cat. You can render the fat to make schmaltz and gribenes. Or you can do what I do, and add them to the pan.

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If you’re using a lemon, rub the chicken all over with the cut side, squeezing it as you go. This will cut surface bacteria and freshen the meat – sometimes a chicken just removed from its plastic bag has a slightly plastic-y smell. (If it has an OBVIOUSLY off smell, take it back to the store pronto.) Squeeze the juice inside too. Sometimes I put the squeezed-out rinds in the cavity while it roasts.

There is ample room under the skin to fit your hand (remove your rings first!) so you can easily season the breast meat – which tends to be very bland. Here I am pushing some thyme leaves under the skin.  The skin is attached by a very thin membrane right down the breastbone. You can ignore it and work around it, or you can cut it with scissors or a knife, or carefully break it with your fingers.  Doesn’t matter.

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If you don’t like thyme or don’t have any, you can use fresh minced parsley (use the flat-leaf Italian parsley; it has MUCH more flavor than the curly decorative kind), chopped rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, or whatever fresh herb floats your boat. Or don’t use any. But you probably want to rub some salt and freshly ground pepper under and over the skin, all over the chicken, including in the cavity. I also use lemon pepper here, but again, that is up to you.

Below: a chicken all dressed up with seasonings. I’ve put the giblets in the pan and poured in some white wine. I also added a little water and some chicken broth. Use one, two, or three – or none, if you like, but I like to have a goodly amount of liquid – about 1 inch – in the pan to make gravy with after the chix is done. If you don’t, that’s fine.

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OK. Put the chicken in the oven and set the oven at 350F (you don’t need to preheat the oven for this). Go away for a while.

After about 40 minutes:

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You can baste the chicken if you want. I do, but I’m not sure it makes any difference. It makes me feel useful, though.

After 1 hour:

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At this point I threw in some halved mushrooms because we had some that needed to be used, Certainly not required.

After 1 1/2 hours, the chicken is starting to look relaxed.

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When is the chicken done? Most cookbooks tell you to use a thermometer, either the type that you leave in during the entire cooking process or the instant-read type, and you can certainly do this. Myself, I gauge it by the leg wiggle test: if the leg wiggles easily, it’s done. If the skin appears to be getting too dark, loosely tent a sheet of aluminum foil over it.

This chicken was about 5 1/2 pounds, so it roasted about 2 hours before I judged it done. When it came out of the oven the last time, I moved it and the giblets to a plate and poured the broth left in the casserole dish into a pot so my husband could skim off the excess fat and make gravy.

Cornish game hens are roasted exactly the same way, though they will take only about 45 minutes to an hour.  And do take the plastic wrap off first.

To make gravy:

Mix 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 3 tablespoons cold water in a cup. Pour the broth into a saucepan, skim off excess fat with a spoon, and heat until just starting to simmer. Slowly pour in about half of the cornstarch slurry, stirring constantly. Adjust the heat so it doesn’t boil hard and keep stirring. The gravy will thicken; if it isn’t as thick as you like, add more of the slurry until it thickens to your preference. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

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