Simple Roast Chicken

Many times I feel that people making cooking much more complicated that it needs to be.  Roast chicken is the perfect example of this phenomenon.  A brief search of roast chicken recipes online and in my cookbooks gives a bewildering array of procedures and complications.  I have seen procedures for turning, basting, trusing, shoving butter and herbs under the skin, a bewildering array of oven temperatures, etc.  Frankly, most of them are worthless.  The most sensible roast chicken recipe I have seen comes from (of all people) Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook.  Chicken, salt, pepper, roast.  That is it.  In my experience, good technique and a good chicken are what make a successful roast chicken, not complicated preparation.  I do sometimes break my own rules and insert tasty things (lemons, onions, herbs) laying around my kitchen into the cavity before roasting.

While we are discussing chicken, I’m not sure I really understand the very unusual relationship people have with chicken.  Perhaps one of you can explain it to me??  I have the impression that every evening, millions of people all over the country carefully don hazmat suits, unwrap packages of tasteless grocery store chicken as though an army of salmonella are preparing to leap out of the package and into the souls of their children, cook  the chicken until it has the consistency of a rubber band, and then congratulate themselves that they have consumed something resembling a healthy meal.  In my  mental caricature they then proceed to hose down every surface in their home with industrial strength disinfectants and antibiotics as though they just handled a biohazard that in a sane universe would only be contained in a biosafety level 4 lab…

Caricatures aside, I have never understood this mentality.  I can hardly imaging sitting down to eat a steaming plate of something I feared would kill me mere moments before.

On that happy note here are the details…

1) Start with a good chicken – grocery store chicken will taste like…..grocery store chicken.  Free-range, organic chicken from your local farmer’s market will taste 1000x better.  Use it.  You can thank me later.

2) Preheat the oven to 450 C.  Carefully dry the chicken inside and out, sprinkle the cavity and the skin liberally with salt and pepper.

3) (optional) Insert an onion, herbs, lemon, or any other tasty flavoring that you have into the cavity of the chicken.  Throw some veggies under the chicken if you would like (potatoes, onions, carrots, fennel,etc. are all good choices).

roast chicken - raw

4) Roast the chicken until it is done.  Do not overcook the chicken.  Do not overcook the chicken.  Do not overcook the chicken.  There are various guidelines for how to determine when the chicken is done available around the net.  I am not going to recommend a specific temperature here.  I will say that I prefer to err on the side of juicy chicken rather than government approved chicken leather.  Don’t forget that the internal temperature of the chicken will continue to increase after it is removed from the oven, so let the chicken rest at least 10-15 minutes before carving.

roast chicken - done

Mmmmmm.  Crispy skin, juicy meat, minimal effort…delicious!!

P.S.  Sorry for the mediocre pictures this time around – the lighting was bad and I was too lazy to get out my tripod :)

Next time: Heirloom tomato salad

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What I’ve been cooking…

Sorry for the unexpectedly long hiatus!  I’m working on a new post now.  Until then, here are a few photos of what I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen…

Cumin-crusted salmon with citrus butter and chive mashed potatoes…

cumin salmon

Heirloom tomoato, basil, mozzarella salad….

tomato salad

Basil ice cream…

basil ice cream

See you soon….

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I’m back…..

Hi! Sorry for the recent hiatus. Writing a Ph.D. thesis has a way of sucking up all of your time. Now that I’m officially Dr. King I will be able to begin writing new blog posts again! To celebrate my accomplishment, I hosted a party this saturday for a group of friends and coworkers with a latin/caribbean theme. I served a huge pitcher of mojtos (the only really important part) pork arepas with pickled onion, shrimp ceviche, mango salsa, and roasted plantains.  Sorry for the lack of pictures!!

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Butter

This article from the New York times is so good I had to pass it along. It addresses something that we all take for granted in baking – butter. Apparently, many of the most common baking problems we encounter are caused by mishandling butter. I could say more, but just read the article :)

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Homemade Pasta

There are few things better than fresh, homemade pasta.  It has a vastly superior texture and flavor when compared to that dried stuff from a box.  I suspect that more people don’t make it because it seems somewhat intimidating if you haven’t done it before.  While it does take a bit of time to complete, it isn’t difficult at all.  However, it is somewhat difficult to give a procedure with precise measurements because the exact size of eggs and the hydration of flour can vary with time and location.  Making pasta dough is definitely one of those kitchen activities that requires some on the fly adaptation to the conditions at hand.  If the dough looks dry add a bit of water or oil; if it is too sticky, knead in some flour.  Below I give directions for making the dough by hand – you can also throw everything into a food processor and whirl it around until clumps of dough form.    

Before attempting fresh pasta on my own I did a survey of all the recipes I could easily find and they ranged from a ratio of 3/4 egg per cup of flour to recipes with a ratio of slightly more than 1 egg/cup flour with extra yolks added as an enrichment.  As a sensible compromise I chose to use 1 egg per cup of flour – this has the added benefit of being supremely easy to remember. 

Fresh Pasta

Ingredients

1 cup flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

large pinch salt

Procedure

1.  Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.  Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the eggs.
pasta-1
 2.  Working outwards from the center, slowly stir the flour into the eggs until it becomes difficult to incorporate more flour.

3.  Dump the contents of the bowl onto the counter and knead the dough until a smooth, elastic dough is formed (about 5 minutes).  

4.  Wrap the dough in plastic and rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

5.  Cut the dough into pieces and use a pasta machine to roll it, typically the pasta sheet is rolled 1-2 times on each setting, decreasing the roller spacing one notch at a time until the desired thickness is reached.

pasta-3

6.  Cut the dough into the desired shape.

the homogeneity of my cutting leaves something to be desired...

You can cut the dough by hand into large pappardelle as I have above, or any other shape you like.  At this point it helps to let the pasta lay on the counter to dry slightly before handling it, this will prevent clumping.  A light dusting of flour is also helpful.  If you want to be really fancy you can buy one of those spiffy pasta drying racks with all the arms (this would be really helpful if you don’t have lots of empty counter space).

Next up:  Christmas candies

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Lemon Tart Update

lemon-tart-finished1

In my recent lemon tart entry (part of my holiday menu) I said that  Sara over at Small Kitchen, Big Ideas was the expert on the topic.  Now she has posted verifiable evidence of her lemon tart obsession – check it out.

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Cheese plate

 cheese-plate2

A Cheese plate is one of my favorite things to serve at at party or before dinner.  Why? A few reasons: 1) I can assemble it before everyone arrives and they can munch away and chat while I finish cooking, 2) the only work on my part is to buy things from the grocery store and arrange them, and 3) almost everyone loves cheese, not everyone loves things like chicken liver pate (until they try it).  I’m pretty sure that having everything (or at least almost everything) planned out and in place before your guests arrive makes them think that you are some kind of domestic deity (or that you are a hyperanal freak show of a host).  

I am lucky enough to have several specialty stores with tons of cheese to choose from at my disposal.  If you don’t have a cheesemonger around, try your grocery store, several smaller regional grocery chains I’ve been in have nice selections of high quality cheeses.  Target even has a few nice cheeses in its grocery section.  If all else fails check out some online retailers.

Here are a few of my rules for putting together a cheese plate

1) No more than three kinds of cheese (for a small group anyway).  Three varieties of cheese is enough to have an interesting mixture of cheeses; I find that more can be overwhelming.

2) Try to have some kind of theme or progression.  For example: pick three cheese from Spain such as Manchego (probably the most famous cheese from Spain), Cabrales (a blue cheese), and Garrotxa (a goat cheese).  A selection of different goat cheeses of varying texture could also be cool.  When in doubt, pick something soft, something hard (or semi-hard), and something blue.  The axiom is: something old, something new, something stinky, and something blue.

3) Make it really good cheese.  Please don’t serve your guests slices from a block of Kraft swiss cheese.  Not only will they hate you, they will talk about you behind your back once they leave (if they were raised right; if they weren’t they might tell you to your face)

4) Have some tasty accompaniments.  Good french bread is a must.  Don’t use any bread that is too highly flavored, it will compete with the cheese.  Olives, cured meats, nuts, and fresh fruit are all good choices.  If you are really good, whip up (or buy) some membrillo, a sweet paste made from quince.  

5) Make it pretty.  No one wants to eat ugly food.  Arrange the cheese on a slate cheese board or a pretty wood cutting board.  An attractive plate or tray would work too.  Make sure that all of the cheese are easy to access so your guests can cut off pieces without struggling.  Also make sure that there are enough utensils to cut the cheeses.

6) Throw away the wrapper your cheese came in.  As convenient as they lovely sheet of plastic wrap is for your grocer, your cheese doesn’t love it.  Rewrap your cheese in parchment paper and throw it in your crisper for storage.

7) Feel free to break all of these rules.  You’ll notice that in the photo I have brie, ricotta salata, and emmenthaler.  It may be a slightly odd combination, but I pulled it out of my fridge in about 5 minutes before some people came over.  Note the domestic deity/hyperanal freak comment above.

 

Next up on Chez Travie: Christmas candy (I think)

 

 

 

 

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