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What magic goes into Palena's chicken?


babka
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My mother's visiting from Iowa, which means we're playing in good D.C. food. I offered to make her some scallops tonight, and she asked for Zaytinya. (have a lingering feeling that I should feel insulted, but am far too full and happy to follow through on that.)

anyway, I took her to Palena last night, where I'm infinitely grateful for the bar menu--can think of few other really delicious restaurants where I can comfortably invite someone regardless of who is footing the bill --zaytinya and jaleo, too.

I finally ordered the chicken at Palena and, after the 40 minute wait, we both, quite literally, stopped eating, drinking, and talking for quite some time to speculate, quietly, on the magic that had produced such moist dark meat attached to such richly moist white meat beneath a dry sheath of crispy skin.

Does anybody have any thoughts on the basic techniques involved? The hostess kicked in a brining from a clove bath as one step, but I've never pulled off quite that good of a brine for both light and dark meat. And then there's the skin, floating above the meat in a crackling package that's so crisply delineated that it could have been sprayed on...aie. How on earth is it done???

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I tried to get them to divulge the secrets, but they wouldn't. It's definitely brined and probably followed by a long period of air-drying in the fridge to get the skin to crisp like that. Not sure about how they're roasting it.

Chris Sadler

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I haven't had the chicken at Palena yet (heard it's great many times before), but I can think of three ways to accomplish the skin. The first (and most old school) is to rotisire it, the second (and best for whole chickens) is to do it in a convection oven, and the third (which works well for half chickens or breasts) is to cook it in the oven and crisp the skin side in a salamander.

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in other words, my formerly vegetarian kitchen just ain't gonna accomplish it without an investment or two, apparently.

oh well--thank you for the thoughts on the magic.

guess it's only a half hour walk to Palena. :rolleyes:

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  • 8 months later...

Don, I know you recently gleaned some insights into this chicken process, please do share...

For the rest of you, I really crave this chicken quite often, but am not too chill with doing takeout from Palena. That said, sometimes I want a takeout chicken. Suggestions?? I live in Upper NW-- Conn Ave. I'm a big El Pollo Rico fan, but it's too far away. How's the chicken place in Bethesda? Any places open late (i.e. past 9?)??

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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they might also use an air pump and pump it full of air to separate the skin from the meat, like the chinese do with the peking duck

I wanna say something. I'm gonna put it out there; if you like it, you can take it, if you don't, send it right back. I want to be on you.

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  • 1 month later...

Magic...maybe. Sometimes when I try and wrap my mind around why Chef Rutas food is so complete, I find there is only one real solution that I can come up with. Thats right, I think he might have made a deal with the devil for some mystical pots & pans.

Seriously though, the chicken (without giving away a true recipe) is just the application of a couple of different techniques. First, Id like to refer to a "Good Eats" w/ Alton Brown episode, where he discusses the fundamentals of the brine. He explains the sugar/salt ratio, and then goes on say that after that its just up to you(Though hes actually brining pork butt). So decide if you want your protein to be a little more intense add more salt or if youre lookin for something a litte more subtle go with twinkies(JK). Then just load your brine with things that you believe would taste interesting infused into the meat. The second part, which is just as important, is to use a fryer instead of a roaster( See Zuni Cafe Cook Book pg.342), a larger leaner roaster cant take the heat. So your product either burns or cooks unevenly, so just look around at the butcher(what am I saying...there are no more butchers)or the refrigerated unit in whole foods until you find a fatty, small bird. This applied with a very high heat in the oven will not only give you the crispy skin your lookin for but a kitchen full of smoke. BTW, make sure you pat your bird dry before cooking.

In fact last thanksgiving, a couple of us got together and brined our turkey. And after having run out of spices, we decided to throw a bag(3oz.) of dried shitake mushrooms in the brine. And no BS, the turkey tasted like shitakes through and through. Having said that, I think its important that you experiment to create your personal brine. And not try so hard to replicate the flavor of Rutas chicken, then it just takes the fun out.

Edited by kansascitykid (log)

Justin Ulysses Guthrie

Bar Manager @ Central Michel Richard, Washington D.C.

My posts/statements do not reflect the opinion of my employers Michel Richard & Brian Zipin.

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When I had the Palena roast chicken, and tasted tarragon in the moist meat all the way to the bone, I realized that the birds were not merely brined, they were injected with brine that was infused with herbs. I had brined many chickens and turkeys, but never had such great results. When I was in L.A. last month, I was in Surfa's (heaven on earth, if you love to cook), and bought myself a marinade syringe. I made an herbed brine with lavender, shallot, rosemary and thyme and injected and then submerged a plain old Tyson's chicken from Costco in brine in a ziplock bag overnight. The next day, I rinsed, dried it off, coated it with olive oil and roasted it in my Weber kettle, using indirect method--not directly over the coals. The result was uneffing incredible--the best chicken I've ever eaten, including at Palena. The skin crackled, it was so crispy, and the meat was succulent and deeply flavored with herbs. Birdman and I inhaled that baby, and washed it down with a really nice qpr California pinot. We had some new potatoes and roasted figs and plums and some green beans with it.

I love Palena. I believe that Frank Ruta is the only chef in town who could make me moan with pleasure over a wedge of cooked cabbage--this happened in the back room last Fall. We can't afford to go out to eat in great places very often, and middling ones are not worth it, when you can produce great meals at home.

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Oh, yes! Poached in stock, it was. Meltingly tender without being the least bit mushy. The natural sweetness in the cabbage may have been enhanced with just a smidgen of sugar, but the savoryness of the stock was also evident. It was served with some pork and foie gras and roasted fig. DeLIcious!

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  • 3 months later...

PS - Since it's bound to come out eventually -- Yes, I do admit that when I got everything off possible with a knife and fork, I started pulling the remnants off with my fingers. However, in my own defense -

1)I asked my fellow barflies if they minded before doing so

2) Contrary to what you might hear, I did not pick up the bones and start to suck every last molecule off the carcass

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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I think my esteemed spouse committed sin #2 on that list last night.

I managed to restrain myself a little more, but not by much!

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PS - Since it's bound to come out eventually -- Yes, I do admit that when I got everything off possible with a knife and fork, I started pulling the remnants off with my fingers. However, in my own defense -

1)I asked my fellow barflies if they minded before doing so

2) Contrary to what you might hear, I did not pick up the bones and start to suck every last molecule off the carcass

You want the list of people I have seen do this? Without asking first? It's damn impressive.

BTW I do accept bribes of Ruta's chicken to keep my mouth shut or to spill the beans.:raz:

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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