Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nobody Here But Us Chickens

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to roasting whole chicken(s).

I don't recall any disastrous early attempts that might have put me off on the technique.

I don't honestly recall any attempts at all, truth be told. I think the first whole bird I ever tried to roast was a Thanksgiving turkey, long ago and far away. And it turned out OK, anyway.So I am not sure if roasting a whole chicken just seemed quaint or ethnic or maybe it was the cutting up the chicken after the roasting that deterred me.

It could have been mistaken assumptions I held that it would require a special pan (it doesn't) or a long time in the oven (roughly an hour). Maybe it was just years of getting home from an office with starving kids around needing something to eat fast before they hopped back out into the world of "after school activities" that held me back. Well, that and the availability of whole roasted Tyson chickens that looked and tasted pretty good. I don't know.

What I do know is that once I roasted a whole bird on my own there was no going back. I also know there are several easy ways to roast a "foolproof" chicken and if you haven't tried any one of them yourself yet, you should run, not walk, to your best source for responsibly raised birds, buy one, and prove it to yourself. Roasting a whole bird is one of the easiest best ways to reliably provide yourself with feast-worthy protein.

It can even be very economical. I got an organic bird that was on "clearance" because it had just hit its sell-by date and it came to 99 cents a pound. I planned on roasting it that night so the sell-by date didn't make a bit of difference. Even without a sale, once you've roasted your bird you can end up with amazing leftovers and a chance to make stock to boot.

Ready? Here is a quick sampling of two or three of the go-to recipes that frequent roasters swear by.

On Serious Eats last February, food writer Robin Bellnger broke down her (new then) favorite method, an adaptation of Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken with Lemons. If you take the time to cruise the Comments section that follows, you will see there are any number of other devoted chicken roasters willing to share their own tips and methodologies for that perfect roasted bird. Doesn't that give you confidence that you too will soon be calling this your own go-to technique? No?

Then take a look here. The Thomas Keller "My Favorite Roast Chicken" technique is the one I actually end up using most often. It was featured on Epicurious in October of 2004, and once again, if you will cruise the comments to that post, you will note nearly everybody has some sort of tweak they swear by when roasting a bird.

If this many people have that much to say about how great "their version" of a roast bird turns out, how can you not feel better about trying one out yourself?

I will shortcut the Keller recipe comment section for you and share this one amazing trick that will save your ears if not your relationship with any close neighbors. Keller is a proponent of a quick dry roast at very high temperatures. This results in a beautiful bird in a reasonable amount of time with the lovely delectable crisp skin that most devotees are so enamored of.

However, this technique also results in a fair amount of smoke as the chicken fat drips into a superheated pan. If you are not a fan of pre-dinner conversation shouted over the dulcet tones of your smoke detector, then follow the advice of one clever commenter, who advised thin slicing potatoes and placing them under the chicken while it roasts. This puts a starch layer in between the dripping juices and the hot pan. No burning juices means no smoke in your kitchen.

Once your bird is done, the potatoes have soaked up all the fat and juices which means you end up with a side of golden chicken basted potatoes to perfectly complement your roasted bird. Yum and yummer.

Keller recommends trussing the bird and I get off scott free on this point because I typically buy a local (Gonzales, Texas) Buddy's Natural bird for roasting and they come already trussed. This means I take my chicken out of the refrigerator about 30-40 minutes before I want to start cooking. I preheat the oven, rinse, dry, salt and pepper my bird. I then place that bird on a layer of sliced potatoes and in a little over an hour (slightly longer for a larger bird) it is done. How easy is that!

It smells fabulous to boot. Nothing says "welcome home honey!" any more warmly than a house filled with the aroma of roasting chicken. Chanel can't do better.

Try one or both of these recipes. Immediately if not sooner. Then, once you've hit upon your own "favorite way" to roast a bird, at some hazy point in the distant future, you may begin crave a little more excitement. A way to spice things up. At this point, it will be fun to try something more adventurous (but still easy!) such as Jaden Hair of the http://steamykitchen.com/blog/'s Szechuan Peppercorn Roasted Chicken, found here.

I did not get a photo of the plated portions of my bird to share with you but I won't apologize for that here. We are thoroughly enjoying family time during the holidays and making my hub and daughter wait while I set up food photos is not part of the drill these days. There are any number of wonderful roast chicken recipes with their own gorgeous photos on the interweb to visually inspire you. See for yourself how gorgeous a well roasted bird is and how very photogenic they can be when you don't have eaters eagerly awaiting their plates as a rationale to skip that step.

Then, take a deep breath, get to the store and find yourself an organic local chicken all your own and get to roasting! You will not be sorry. And if you do have any leftover meat or a bit of roasted carcass after everyone has eaten their fill? No worries. The meat is moist and ready for any of your favorite "add cooked chicken" recipes. That carcass is one of the best first steps to making your own chicken stock you will ever have.

What's that you say? You meant to but haven't made your own chicken stock yet either? Honey, that's fine, it isn't a big thing but we need to get you past whatever it is holding you back from making the most of your protein purchases. With the economy still trying to tank, wringing every bit of flavor out of those pricey proteins is well worth your time.

But we won't get into that just now. Making your own stock is another one of those iconic activities that has been well covered in many other places. For today, let me just advise you to throw that carcass in the freezer if you aren't ready to make stock right away and we will get back to that soon enough.

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