Chicken, anyone?

November 7, 2016

A moist, juicy slab of roasted chicken breast. With potato salad and squash.

A moist, juicy slab of roasted chicken breast. With potato salad and squash.

I continue to be amazed at how easy it is to cook good chicken.

Particularly when one starts with admittedly pricy fresh-frozen chickens from one’s local organic chicken farm. A whole chicken of between 4 and 5 pounds runs me somewhere in the neighborhood of $20, but when I look at the fact I can get four meals, plus several pints of stock, out of a chicken, it’s not that bad a deal.

This week’s Mr. Chicken came sliced with sauteed squash and potato salad, because that was what I felt like.  And it made me remember all over again just how…damn…good this chicken is.

I think I may have blogged about this before, but at the risk of repetition, I’ll repeat it. Steps to achieve the absolutely perfect roast chicken:

  1. Brine the chicken for 24 hours before you cook him. This is not as complex as it sounds, though it is much simpler if you, as I do, have a second refrigerator. If you don’t, and don’t  have room in your own fridge, you can make do with a cooler and ice. It is worth the effort.
  2. To brine said bird, get out your six-quart stock pot. Put in three cups of water, a cup of salt, a half-cup of sugar, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and two bay leaves. Heat that until the salt dissolves well. It won’t hurt if you bring it to a boil, but you don’t have to. Take if off the heat. Add two quarts of ice cubes  to the hot brine to help cool it. Stir and let them melt, and plunk in — here’s where you can fudge a bit on the planning ahead process — your frozen, or mostly frozen , chicken.
  3. Add enough water to be sure the bird is covered, and stash him in the fridge or cooler. Food experts will tell you to never put a chicken into warm brine, for food safety reasons. However, a frozen or mostly-frozen chicken, followed by a quick transfer to a cold environment, will take care of that, or at least none of us have died from it. If you’re using a cooler,  put some ice on the bottom, set the pot in, and surround with ice. It should hold well until you’re ready to cook the next day.
  4. Take out Mr. Bird, drain any water out from the body cavity, and put him on your roasting pan. You can put him on a rack if you want; I don’t bother, as I don’t wax as ecstatic over chicken skin as most folks do. Dry him off with paper towels, and rub a little olive oil over his surface. If you’re using any additional seasonings, sprinkle some in the cavity, and some on the skin  and/or under the skin. I don’t bother to salt, as it’s salty enough from the brine.
  5. Plunk him in your Cuisinart Combination Steam Oven, if you are fortunate enough to have one (I dearly love mine), and put him on steam bake at 375 for an hour and 20 minutes (again, for a bird between 4 and 5 pounds). When the bell dings, jab him in the thigh, away from a bone, with a meat thermometer and make sure he’s at least 170 degrees.
  6. Take him out, cover him loosely with foil, and let him sit for about 15 or 20 minutes while you finish up dinner. Slice him and swoon with the moist deliciousness of the breast meat.

If you do NOT have a CSO, do not despair. You can mimic the results by putting the bird on the upper shelf in your oven (after moving it where it’s low enough), and putting a roasting or sheet pan or skillet filled with water on the lower shelf. That works for your Thanksgiving turkey, too, which is too big for your CSO unless you find a mini-turkey the size of a chicken, and if so, why bother?

It’s the brine that’s really the key. And that requires a farm-raised bird (organic or otherwise) because ANY bird you get at the grocery store, organic or not, is going to have been injected with a saline solution. Which, btw, increases the weight you’re paying for in the grocery, so the farm bird is not such a price differential after all. And because of the time factor involved in processing grocery birds, not to mention how long it sat around in the freezer case before you bought it and brought it home, you’ve lost the beneficial effect of the brine.

You can also add any other seasonings you want to your brine; that’s just what I’ve settled on. If I knew I were doing an entire chicken in, say, an Asian style prep, I might add ginger and/or lemongrass. If it were going to be chicken cacciatore, I might go basil, thyme, oregano, and maybe a few garlic cloves and a quartered onion. Whatever you use, put it in the brine before you heat it.

Speaking of turkeys and their size, as we were doing a few paragraphs ago, I believe I’m going to detour a bit in turkey prep this year. My fresh bird is likely to be massive (he will be however big he gets by the time he meets his Maker and then comes to my house). Nobody ever eats the dark meat anyway. I have been thinking about rillettes in my holiday gift baskets.

I think I’ll carve a bit on Mr. Turkey when he comes out of the brine, and amputate his wings and legs, maybe his thighs as well. Those will go in the fridge until after Thanksgiving, while the breast goes in the oven to roast. Then the legs and wings will go into a braise with herbs and spices, and then canned as rillettes. They’ll make nice Christmas gifts. I’ve never been one for a big tableside carving production for the bird, so his amputee appearance won’t be a big issue.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em get busy and find you a source for farm-raised chicken, cook them like this, and then thank me. To my good buddy Don, the former Arkansas Poultry Association person, please note I refrained from talking about the third-arm scenario. But dadgummit, these just TASTE better!



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