A Divinity: Roast Chicken

January 22, 2009

We were not satisfied with the qualities which nature gave to poultry; art stepped in and, under the pretext of improving fowls, has made martyrs of them.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Having authored another blog on a somewhat different topic, I became keenly aware of the shortcomings inherent in this medium. For instance, the reading is done in reverse chronological order, much as many of us tend to peruse magazines—from back to front. On a news oriented blog, this sequence works ideally as the most recent story is the first item you see. While I may intersperse news pieces on this site (see Obama Fare), the overall intent is to create an ongoing, yet comprehensive work which shares and discusses cooking techniques, recipes and food lore. Why this self conscious ramble? I suppose it is merely meant to enlist your patience as this work in progress unfolds given the somewhat backwards gait and unwieldy subject matter.

There may be nothing more comforting than a succulent, golden hued, crispy skinned roast chicken—the kind of meal that centers you. Maybe it’s due to tradition alone or the intense olfactory experience or perhaps the process of transforming the simple to the sublime. Here, we will explore a cooking method and techniques which will enhance this elegant, yet altogether rustic, dish.

While strongly suggested, but not mandatory, truss thy bird. Securing the tucked wings and legs of the chicken to the body with butcher’s twine creates a compact shape that allows for more uniform cooking. The main reason to truss is to ensure a juicy breast…dry bird dugs are not desired at most tables. When not trussed, oven heat circulates in the bird’s cavity and usually overcooks the breast before the legs and thighs are done. Should you opt out from trussing, at least stuff the cavity with citrus and onions or shallots, which will provide some prophylaxis.

ROAST CHICKEN

1 local, free range, organic roasting chicken (around 4-5 lbs), giblets reserved
3 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T dried thyme
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried apricots (optional)
2 prunes (optional)

1-3 heads fresh garlic, cut transversely (crosswise)

3-6 T brandy or cognac
3-4 T chicken stock, if needed

Preheat oven to 425.

Preparation:
Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Encourage more hands on that step. Place 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme (and the optional dried fruits) inside the cavity of the chicken.

While this is suggested, but not mandatory, truss the bird. Securing the wings and legs of the chicken to the body with trussing string creates a compact shape that allows for more uniform cooking.

Place the chicken on a roasting rack on one side. In the bottom of the roasting pan, strew the neck, (the other giblets will be used later), remaining fresh thyme, rosemary and garlic heads with cut side up. The number of garlics you use is dependent upon their size and your preference for this versatile, supremely aromatic member of the lily family; but, I would suggest at least two heads.

Roasting:
Put the rack with the chicken on its side onto the roasting pan, and place into the center of the oven; roast for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting occasionally. Turn the chicken to the other side for 20 minutes, still basting. Then, turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 20 more minutes. During this last 20 minutes, drop in the remaining giblets. Reduce the heat to 375 and continue roasting with breast side up for 15 minutes more, still occasionally basting, until done. The bird should have a robust golden tone, and juices should run clear, yellow (not pink) when the thigh is pierced with a carving fork. Remove the herb sprigs and dried fruits from the cavity and place into roasting pan. Set the roasted garlics aside to serve.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or moated cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the chicken so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the chicken to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. This allows gravity to do its job as the juices flow down into the breast meat. Cut the trussing string free and remove.

Loosely tent the chicken with foil and let rest on the incline at least 15 minutes—it will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat.

Sauce:
Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, likely using two burners in order to heat the juices. With a wood spatula, scrape those bits stuck to the surface of the pan. If the pan is a lacking some liquid, just add some chicken broth. Then, when the pan is hot, add several tablespoons of brandy to deglaze* and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until thickened—when it coats the spatula. (Consider also adding apple cider vinegar to the mix when adding the brandy to give it some pungency, acidity.)

While the sauce is reducing, carve the chicken. Strain the sauce, preferably through a fine chinois sieve, pour into a sauceboat and serve over or under the chicken. The straining will produce a velvety end product. The heads of garlic will have buttery texture and very subtle flavor, suitable for spreading on a fresh baguette.

This meal dances well with many forms of potatoes (particularly mashed), rice pilaf and green beans (haricots verts) with pine nuts. Also, a French burgundy or pinot noir will make your life whole.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

*Deglazing: a simple process by which liquid–stock, water, wine, cream–is added to the pan after the meat browning process to dissolve the residue. The bits adhering to the sides of the pan are scraped off and incorporated into the liquid. Deglazing ensures that the concentrated flavors are retained and become one with the sauce.

Not to beg, but does this plate rise to Obama Fare, Mr. President and Madame First Lady?

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