Friday, October 26, 2007

(Almost) Perfect Roast Chicken

Last night we treated ourselves to the always-delicious Roast Dinner. Kym usually takes care of the roasted veggies, Yorkshire pudding and gravy while I, in true patriarchal-style take care of the meat. Probably a bit unbalanced since the meat is for me really, but at least it has given me a lot of practice roasting chickens:

The first step of course is buying the raw chicken itself. At my vegetarian wife's request, I always purchase a free range hen. I can see her point of course--I don't exactly like the thought or sight of battery-caged hens--but I'd be lying if I said all the chicken I eat is free range. As a bonus point, the free range chickens, like the eggs they lay, do seem to taste better than their counterparts and are usually a bit more manageable of a size (less worry of overcooking the breasts while cooking the legs all the way through). I have heard that Kosher chickens are the best choice, however I have yet to see a combination Kosher and free range chicken. Maybe some day? For now, Trader Joe's has a pretty decent price on their free range chickens, though there is certainly a sizable premium you pay for the guilt relief.

The second step is one that most people seem to go without but can drastically improve the taste and texture of the chicken: brining. Though it takes a bit of foresight and planning, the final product is rewarding. Simply dissolve 1/2 cup of salt into 1/2 gallon of water in a stock pot. Then place the chicken into the water and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. If you can squeeze the chicken into a gallon ziploc back and remove as much air as possible, even better.

After brining, remove the chicken from pot or bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a V-rack roasting pan (I strongly recommend lining the bottom with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) breast-side up and set aside. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup dijon mustard and 2 Tbl of fresh or dried mixed herbs. Then
using a pastry brush, brush the breast-side of the bird, sprinkle with kosher salt, flip over and repeat. For the final preparation of the bird, peel 5-6 cloves of garlic and toss in to the cavity of the bird.

Place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, then flip over the bird and increase the temperature to 450 to finish off the breasts for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast reads 160 and the thigh reads 165. Now as a side note, in my experience I've had the best results going by the color of the skin (a dark golden brown) rather than the thermometer. Of course when using the latter method you need to slice open part part of the breast and legs to make sure its not dark pink on the inside and that the juices run clear. The down side of this of course is are allowing juice to escape from the chicken which brings me to the final part: let the chicken rest! This is an essential step to avoiding stringy dry meat. Allow at least 25-30 minutes for the bird to rest before carving it up. It will still be plenty warm, like a lot of cooking it just requires patience and planning.

When carving the chicken up, although the slices will look cleanest when done with a chef's knife, I love the convenience of an electric serrated knife. Start with the breasts, then cut off the drumsticks, flip over and slice off the thighs and wings. If that's enough meat for the meal, I prefer to let the rest of the chicken cool off and pick the meat off later to refrigerate. Bon appetit!

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