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Roast chicken


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15 replies to this topic

#1 Suzanne F

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 08:26 PM

We talk A LOT about roast chicken -- more than you'd expect of such a humble dish. Or maybe BECAUSE it's such a supposedly easy thing to make, yet so often fucked up. Some time ago a member who knew absolutely nothing, no LESS than nothing about cooking, decided to roast a chicken. Thousands of eGulleteers hung over their screens all night as she gave a running account of her efforts. (What's that? Oh, all right, hundreds. . . ALL RIGHT, tens :blush:)

Anyway: some say it's so easy to make roast chicken that they would never, ever order it out. Others say it makes a perfect test dish, and that they will order it specifically to determine the restaurant's capabilities.

What say you?

#2 Mister_Cutlets

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Posted 06 November 2003 - 06:03 AM

Suzanne,

An old aporism, quoted by Brillat-Savarin, holds that "poultry is to the cook what canvas is to the painter." The roast chicken is the most simple and perfect way every conceived to cook a chicken; and therefore the success with which one roasts a chicken is an ideal index of his or her abilities as a cook. Yet like so many other "simple" tasks, a deceptive number of variables hides behind that crispy brown skin.

These include:

-- What kind of chicken should you use? I love the regular purdue chicken, but kosher chickens like Bell and Evans or Empire are juicier and meatier, and in addition they live a happier life than their tortured brothers in the Purdue factory. Free-range chickens are said to be healthier, as are organic chickens. Some people like to cook a big fryer, while others want a monster chicken almost as big as a turkey.

-- what temperature should the chicken be roasted at? Some people are ardent believers in slow cooking at a low heat. Others, like Barbara Kafka, argue for roasting for short periods in a 500-degree oven. Both camps point to their own perfect chickens, but in fact both methods are capable of producing monsters.

-- What, if any, dressings should be involved? For years, people believed that it was necessary to shmear butter on a chicken, and to then baste the bird periodically with hot buttery shmaltz as it cooks. Others like to squeeze a lemon, whose acid is said to cause the skin to crisp nicely. Pepper, kosher salt, rosemary, paprika and other spices are suggested for the skin. In haute treatments, truffles are smuggled under the skin.

-- Many people swear by brining, which gives a wonderfully juicy, salty intensity to even a shopp-rite brand chicken, and elevates the best chicken to another plane.

-- Then there is the whole white meat / dark meat conundrum. The white meat is perfectly cooked and juicy long before the dark meat is done to a turn. So cooks flip and flop the bird, drop cheesecloth or tinfoil over the breast, using special v-shaped racks, and other techniques, including (in some sad cases) just roasting a freakish giant boneless breast in lieu of a chicken. Needless to say, I hope it never comes to this in your kitchen.

All of these issues are legitmate. The only completely fool-proof food is the baked potato, which you stick in a 400-degree oven for an hour and forget about. (Though naturally some people insist on gilding even this lilly, oiling the things down and wrapping them in tinfoil.) My own method for making roast chicken is fairly simple. I season the bird on both sides with cracked black pepper and kosher salt, roast a big bird (7-9 pounds) at high heat (450 or so) until the breast is exactly perfect and the skin is crisp, about 40 minutes. I take it out and let it sit for ten minutes, and then slice off the entire breast and serve it. The rest of the chicken is turned upside down and cooked for another 25 minutes, and served as a second course, with plenty of crispy thigh skin. Or you can serve both courses together by keeping the breast in a warmer of some sort. If you want to cook the bird in the classic, simple way, I would go with the barbara kafka method of a 500 degree oven for an hour. (I think she says an hour; you might have to check.) I brine if I have time, and I try to use the hot shmaltz to make a jewish version of pommes anna in the broiler with thin par-boiled potatoes.) I brine if I have time, and I use either purdue or kosher chicken, or (if I can get it) amish farm chicken. I steer clear of most free-range chicken, which isn't juicy enough for me.)


And then I sit down to eat.

yours,

Mr. Cutlets
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#3 Suzanne F

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Posted 06 November 2003 - 08:28 AM

I am always searching for the height of chicken chakra -- Annisa came the closest, Les Halles is mostly reliable but never thrilling, and I miss Bellevue. So if I may be permitted a follow up: is there any restaurant whose roast chicken comes close to the perfection you described above?

#4 Pan

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 03:47 AM

Suzanne,

An old aporism, quoted by Brillat-Savarin, holds that "poultry is to the cook what canvas is to the painter."  The roast chicken is the most simple and perfect way every conceived to cook a chicken; and therefore the success with which one roasts a chicken is an ideal index of his or her abilities as a cook.  Yet like so many other "simple" tasks, a deceptive number of variables hides behind that crispy brown skin.

These include:

-- What kind of chicken should you use?  I love the regular purdue chicken, but kosher chickens like Bell and Evans or Empire are juicier and meatier, and in addition they live a happier life than their tortured brothers in the Purdue factory.  Free-range chickens are said to be healthier, as are organic chickens.

They also taste better. You like Purdue and Bell and Evans chickens? Doesn't the cod liver oil taste in them bother you? I believe that the only way not to get that annoying taste is to have chickens that aren't served feed with cod liver oil in them. And I think that means free range chickens.

#5 dscott

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 06:24 AM

Doesn't the cod liver oil taste in them bother you? I believe that the only way not to get that annoying taste is to have chickens that aren't served feed with cod liver oil in them. And I think that means free range chickens.

Is _that_ what that taste is? Aargh, it's been driving me nuts. I've been making these killer roast chix lately but have not been able to figure out what that weird flavor was that was detracting from the other flavors. I didn't think it was my garlic.

#6 Mister_Cutlets

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 07:49 AM

Wow, Pan, you must have a delicate palate! I've probably eaten ten thousand purdue and B&E chickens over the past twenty years, and never did I detect the taste of cod liver oil. To me it "tastes just like chicken," as they say in exotic-meat restaurants.

Yours Admiringly,

Mr. Cutlets
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#7 elyse

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 07:57 AM

Okay, I have to try this now. But I will say that every now and again I have tasted fishy chicken. Don't remember the sources, though. Pan, you're brilliant.

#8 browniebaker

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 08:13 AM

I have followed all these threads about roasting chicken and have indeed managed to roast perfect chickens, a few times in fact. But now I have to admit that, even if roast chicken may be the culinary litmus test or culinary holy grail, the truth is:

I do not like perfectly roasted chicken, by which I mean both breast and thigh just cooked to the prescribed, respective temperatures. The thing is, I like my chicken very well cooked, with the thigh bones slipping out of the meat if you even breathe on it. The best way, I have found, for the results I like is to place the cover on the roasting pan slightly askew and bake the chicken on low, about 325 degrees F, for a long, long time. The chicken ends up very tender and moist albeit pale, so at the end I turn up the heat to 500 degrees for a bit to brown it. This chicken might more properly be called steamed than baked, and it definitely is not roasted, but that's what I like.

I hate not to be a member of the wedding, but there is no help for it.

Am I the only oddball out there?

#9 elyse

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 08:21 AM

Ever tried the Romertopf? Sounds like what you need.

#10 browniebaker

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 08:23 AM

Ever tried the Romertopf?  Sounds like what you need.

Never heard of it. Please do tell!

#11 elyse

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 08:53 AM

Goodness me! They're sort of rectangular clay pots that you soak for a while, and roast your chicken and vegetables in. Keeps them moist as anything. Search Romertopf, and hit oldae than 30 days. At least two threads will come up.

#12 Suzanne F

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 08:54 AM

It's a covered roaster made of clay -- roasting pot, that is, not roaster chicken. :rolleyes: Supposed to be GREAT. I don't know; it's one of the few really useful kitchen things I don't have.

If you're an oddball, so am I. :biggrin: When I order chicken at a place like Les Halles, I always say "Bien cuite" -- well-done. And when I tested James Peterson's recipe for a review in The Daily Gullet, I couldn't believe that he actually expected people to be able to eat pink thighs. Oh, the horror!

That's why I'm so interested in this topic; I would eat roast chicken every day, if I could. But so much is so inedible. :sad:

#13 elyse

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 09:00 AM

Dry chicken necessitates extra gravy.

#14 Suzanne F

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 10:05 AM

Good roast chicken requires no gravy.

It's a conundrum: how to have fully-cooked yet moist chicken. That's why I keep searching.

#15 elyse

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 10:09 AM

Sauce is my favorite food.

#16 Pan

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 05:32 PM

Okay, I have to try this now.  But I will say that every now and again I have tasted fishy chicken.  Don't remember the sources, though.  Pan, you're brilliant.

I never thought I was. My parents and I are all able to detect cod liver oil taste. Sometimes, kosher chickens have that taste too. It isn't treif, it's just bad.

I often don't notice the taste when I'm having a chicken dish of some kind, but roast chicken really lays bare any blemishes in the meat.

I understand that mass-produced chickens are fed cod liver oil because it induces greater muscle mass or makes them grow faster, or something like that. Maybe someone with more authoritative knowledge will speak up.

P.S.

Sauce is my favorite food.

Funny line!