Category Archives: Main courses

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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Holiday Party Part 4: Standing Rib Roast

Finally, the main course!  If you have been following along (or want to now), I’ve published all the recipes for a fabulous holiday party: a chicken liver pate appetizer, a potato gratin side dish, and a Meyer lemon tart for dessert.  A traditional (and delicious) main course for Christmas dinner is a big beef rib roast.  Not only is it delicious, it is one of  the easiest things you will ever make.  Thanksgiving turkey is like brain surgery compared to this.  There are just a few things to remember for the best results: 

1) Allow the meat to warm up before you start roasting; 1-2 hours on the counter before roasting should be sufficient.

2) After roasting, allow the meat to rest 20-30 minutes before carving.  This will allow the meat to finish cooking (the thermal mass of the meat will cause the internal temperature to rise 5-10 degrees after it is removed from the oven) and allow the juices to redistribute.

Standing Rib Roast

Ingredients

beef standing rib roast (prime rib) 

salt

pepper

Procedure

1.  Remove the meat from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before roasting.

2.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Place the meat in a roasting pan, fat side up.  Sprinkle salt and pepper copiously over the roast.

roast-raw

3.  Roast the meat in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Lower the temperature to 350 and roast to an internal temperature of about 115-117 degrees for medium rare (the temperature will continnue to rise after the roast is removed from the oven).

roast-cooked

Yep, that is it.  No basting, no stuffing, no worries.  Nothing but beefy goodness.  Just carve the roast into nice slices and serve to your guests.

roast-carving

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Duck Part 3: Duck Breast Salad

So I have to admit that project duck was not a total success…between work, traveling home for the holidays, and hosting a Thanksgiving get together for myself plus about 15 coworkers and friends I didn’t get a chance to use the duck liver.  I was reminded of this because when I returned home after the holiday and opened my refrigerator I was greeted by a most malodorous substance.  After quickly scurrying outside to dispose of a small plastic bag with a very smelly duck liver (and hoping that no one called the police to report a potential corpse) the situation was rectified.  Perhaps I’ll buy some chicken livers this weekend and make some pate. However, before project duck went south, I did make a really tasty warm duck breast salad.  As a matter of fact, it was so good that I make it twice (don’t worry, I really like duck so I’ll provide more recipes when I buy the next one).

Warm Duck Breast Salad

adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

Ingredients

2 duck breasts

1 T minced shallots

1/2 T salt

2 T white wine vinegar

zest of 1 orange

1/3 c olive oil

2 heads Belgian endive, trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces

2 oz. salad greens

2 oranges, cut into segments

1/2 pint raspberries

1/2 c pecans

Procedure

1. Liberally salt the duck breasts.  Be sure to leave the thick pad of subcutaneous fat on the breasts.  Roast in a 400 oven for about 20 minutes, until medium-rare (about 135 degrees internal temperature).  Wrap the breasts in foil until ready to slice and add to the salad.   The actual roasting time will depend on the size of the duck breasts.  There are a few species of duck (Muscovy and Pekin) that are available and they differ in size.  Be sure to remove the skin and fat pad from the duck breasts before serving.  

 

before roasting

before roasting

 

 

2.  Mix the shallots, orange zest, salt, and vinegar in a small bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil to emulsify (albeit temporarily, oil and vinegar mix only for a short time without some extra help).

 

shallot-orange vinaigrette

shallot-orange vinaigrette

 

 

3.  Mix the endive, greens, orange segments, raspberries, and pecans in a bowl.  Mix in dressing.  Slice duck breasts and serve over the salad mixture.

 

salad mixture

salad mixture

 

yum!

yum!

So there it is.  The sweetness of the orange and raspberries and nutty taste from the pecans help to offset the richness and fattiness of the duck.  It was so tasty that I made it twice (the recipe above uses both breast halves from a duck, I made two 1/2 recipes).

Up next: I have no idea, whatever food project I tackle this weekend; any ideas?

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Duck Part Two: Duck Confit

That’s right folks, today we’re cooking pieces of duck in a pool of duck fat. At this point you are either revolted or salivating, either way take a moment to regain your composure before proceeding. Just in case anyone was revolted, cooking duck (or other meats) like this does have a (historical) purpose. Before the advent of refrigeration, people would use a process similar to what I’ll show below to preserve meats. First the meat would be salted to extract much of the water, it would then be slowly cooked in fat, and finally stored totally submerged in the fat to protect it from spoilage. If properly made and stored in a cool place, duck confit can be stored like this for months; I’m not sure I am brave enough to test that part out for myself…

Duck Confit

adapted from “Bouchon” by Thomas Keller

Ingredients

1/4 c kosher salt

2 T parsley

1 T thyme

1 bay leaf, crumbled

a few black peppercorns

duck legs

duck fat 

Procedure

1.  Place the salt, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and peppercorns in a coffee/spice mill, food process, or mortar and process/grind until the herbs are incorporated.

before...

before...

confit-salt-2

after

2)  Coat the duck legs with about 1 tablespoon of green salt per pound of duck.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours (if you go more than this the duck will be overly salty).

confit-salted-legs

3) Heat your oven to 180 F.  Completely rinse the salt and herb mixture off the duck legs, pat dry, and place the duck legs in a small ovenproof container.  Cover the legs completely with melted duck fat.  Cook the legs, submerged in the fat, for 6-10 hours, until the duck is meltingly tender.

they should be completely submerged, oops

they should be completely submerged, oops

confit-confited

after 8 hours

4)  When the duck is done cooking allow it to cool to room temperature in the fat, transfer the legs to a storage container, strain any meat juices from the fat (they will settle to the bottom of the cooking container), cover the duck legs in the fat, and refrigerate.

Ok, so now we have some duck legs packed away under fat in the fridge.  What do you do with them?  There are lots of potential uses (google is your friend here); here is one example from the Bouchon cookbook.  I won’t go over it in exhaustive detail (I think this post is long enough and there is already an excellent blog post about this recipe at The Paupered Chef), so I’ll just tell you that I plucked the confit from the fat (scraping off any extra that clung on), heated a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, and placed the confit skin side down for about 7 minutes to crisp the skin.  The idea here is to contrast the crispy skin with the very tender meat…confit-cooking

 After that I boiled some brussels sprouts, whipped up a sauce of shallots, thyme, garlic, chicken stock, dijon mustard, and creme fraiche (you can use sour cream in a pinch; remind me to write a post on how to make your own creme fraiche sometime), and served it like this:

confit-plated

Next up:  Warm duck breast salad…

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Lamb Chops

Mary had a little lamb….then she grew up and realized it was more delicious than it was cute.  The end.  At least that is how the story would go if I was in charge of such things.  Come to think of it, perhaps that is why I’m not in charge of them.  At any rate, I love lamb (in case you couldn’t tell).  While I haven’t done a scientific study it is my observation that Americans as a whole don’t eat much of it, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose that we don’t have a lot of lambs running around the great plains (or the grocery store) so many people didn’t grow up eating them.  Not that this excuses not trying new things, but it seems like a plausible hypothesis.  So if you’ve never had it, try it.  This traditional grilled preparation with rosemary and garlic is as good as it gets.

Lamb Chops  

serves approx. 1 (feel free to scale as needed)

Ingredients

3 lamb loin chops (about 3/4 lb.; rib chops work as well)

2 t chopped fresh rosemary (please don’t use dried, I beg you)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 T olive oil

salt and pepper

 

Only 3 ingredients - make them good ones

Only 3 ingredients - make them good ones

 

Procedure

1.  Mix chopped rosemary, minced garlic, and olive oil in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.  Reserve a small amount of this marinade.

lamb-marinade

2.  Coat the lamb chops in the marinate; refrigerate 30 minutes.

3.  Heat a cast iron grill pan over high heat for about 5 minutes, or until very hot.

3′.  (optional) while the pan is heating grill a few slices of good bread.  When the bread is grilled, remove it from the heat, rub the cut side of a garlic clove over it, and top with the reserved marinade.  As a general rule, you don’t want to put olive oil on bread and then grill it.  That would destroy the flavor of the extra virgin olive oil that you paid for.

4.  Remove the chops from the marinade, and salt and pepper both sides.  Grill the chops to the desired doneness; about 3.5 minutes per side yielded medium rare (i.e. perfectly cooked)  for me.  Please don’t ruin your delicious piece of meat by overcooking it.  Remember hat a baby animal died for your meal.  Imagine him saying ‘bahhh’ in disapproval as you try your hardest to turn a piece of him into a tiny brick of charcoal (otherwise known as anything past medium).

 

The final result..

The final result..

Yum!!  The garlic and rosemary flavors really come through and nicely complement the richness of the lamb.  It doesn’t hurt that the chops were perfectly pink inside (I should have taken a picture).  I give it an A+.  You can’t ask for much more out of a dish that requires 3 ingredients (4 if you could the oil) and requires about 10 minutes of active preparation time.

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Mini Meatloaves

Tiny, single serving meatloaves aren't that weird, right?

Nanoscale meat amalgam

As far as I can tell, everything is cuter when it is small: babies, puppies, vegetables, etc.  So why not tiny meatloaves?  A sane person might ask why anyone would want a dwarf loaf of meat.  Let’s see…they would cook faster, they would have a higher surface area to volume ratio – thus yielding more browned tasty outside bits per serving, and they would be perfectly sized to pack in a lunch.  Don’t worry, the rude comments from your coworkers as you feast on your miniature creations stem from their meatloaf envy, not anything inherently ridiculous about diminutive portions of ketchup covered meat.          

Miniature Meatloaves

adapted from Gourmet, February 2008

Ingredients

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup milk

1 onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 T butter

2 T Worchestershire sauce

1/2 t allspice

2 t salt

1 t pepper

1 lb. ground chuck

1 lb. ground pork

2 large eggs

1/3 cup chopped parsley

Procedure

1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter, and when foaming subsides saute the onion, carrot, and garlic until the carrots are soft (about 5-10 minutes).

2. Remove the skillet from the heat and mix in the Worchestershire sauce, allspice, salt, and pepper.

meatloaf-seasoning

3. Soak the bread in the milk.

4. Use your hands (clean please) to mix the beef, pork, bread mixture, onion and carrot mixture, eggs, and parsley in a large bowl to combine.

5.  Shape the mixture into 6 identical loaves.  

meatloaf-prepped

6. (optional) Cover each loaf with ketchup and/or bacon strips for additional flavor.

7.  Bake the loaves in a 350 oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.

And here is the result…

Yum!

Yum!

What is there not to like about delicious and individually sized loaves of meat?  Add some mashed potatoes and perhaps some cranberry sauce to form a yummy winter meal.  Better yet, surprise your friends and serve them at a dinner party (who would be expecting tiny meatloves?) along with some upscale sides; perhaps a potato gratin made with gruyere and cream (to finish off their coronary arteries) or some sauteed wild mushrooms with thyme and sherry, some roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta would also be great.  Anyway, use your imagination!

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Scary foods #3: Mussels

I firmly believe that any food able to stick out its tongue in search of a meal while sitting in a bowl on my kitchen counter is de facto scary.  Scary and tasty…  Perhaps they aren’t as scary as brussels sprouts or artichokes, but they certainly aren’t benign.  However, I can’t help but notice the delicious irony of tiny invertebrates searching for a meal moments before I cook them.  I suspect that many people avoid these tasty critters because they aren’t sure how to handle them or how to cook them.  They are actually one of the easiest and fastest foods to prepare that I can think of.  

Before the recipe, a few general tips:

1) Buy the mussels the same day you cook them.  You will lose fewer before cooking time this way (you want them alive when they go into the pan).  Fresh seafood = tasty (and safe) seafood.

2) When you get the mussels home, place them on a tray in your refrigerator covered with a moist cloth/paper towel until cooking time.

3) Clean and sort them just before cooking.  Rinse them under cool running water to remove any debris.  Pull off any beard (the stringy stuff on the side opposite the opening); farm raised mussels are generally quite clean and beardless, but no one wants sand in their food.  If any mussels are open, flick or tap their shell with your finger and they should close (perhaps very slowly if they are still cold).  If they don’t open back up after cooking, throw them away.

Frank here didn't know how to keep his mouth shut...

One good smack and he shut his mouth.

One good smack and he shut his mouth.

Alrighty, now that the basics are out of the way, on to the recipe!  Since I used an unaltered recipe from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, (“Mussels with Saffron and Mustard”, p. 166 for those that have the book)  I won’t post it here (sorry folks).  However, you can easily eyeball the ingredients and make a delicious dish, this isn’t a particularly fussy recipe (I suspect that Chef Keller might disagree, perfectionist that he is).

To begin, I melted some butter in a large pan, cooked some minced shallots, confited garlic cloves, thyme, salt and pepper for a few minutes, until the shallots were a bit soft and everything smelled yummy.

 

Delicious broth or Inquisition style invertebrate torture ?

Delicious broth or Inquisition style invertebrate torture ?

 I then added a bit of mustard and a few good glugs of white wine and cooked for a couple of minutes more.  At this point, I removed the pan from the heat, added a few nice pinches of saffron (yum!) and put a lid on the pan.  

 

Imagine being the person who has to pull these from the crocuses!!

Imagine being the person who has to pull these from the crocuses!!

 

This recipe is great for guests because you can do everything up to this point, cover the pan, and let it sit until you are ready to cook the mussels.  When you are ready, bring the broth back to a boil, place the mussels in the pan (cleaned and sorted), cover the pan, and cook for about 2 minutes.  When the mussels are done they will be opened (if any do not open, toss them out).  I then garnished the tasty filter feeders with some parsley and served them with a big hunk of bread.

 

Yum!!

Yum!!

Amazing!  They smelled like the ocean, a bit of mustard, wine, and saffron; they tasted even better!  There are hundreds of variations on this dish.  One of the most common is to omit the mustard and saffron (leaving shallots, garlic, thyme, white wine, and parsley).  Use your imagination!

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