lundi 21 novembre 2005

Chicken heaven.

The end product.

When I first went off meal plan in college (my sophomore year; I couldn't stand cafeteria food), I had to truly cook for myself or starve (or eat out a lot, and options around a college campus are always limited to fast food, it seems, although Providence did have good restaurants). And while I'm an avid meat eater, I simply could NOT abide the feel of raw meat. It is gross, really. Really really gross. That summer, when my mom was showing me simple chicken recipes, I refused to touch the raw chicken and made her deal with it. And so when I went to off to school that fall, unbeknownst to me, my father packed a whole bunch of latex gloves in my suitcase so that I wouldn't have to touch raw meat when preparing it for myself.

It made a real good impression on my roommate, let me tell you, when I opened said suitcase and there were all those latex gloves there. Who knows what she was thinking.

Anyway, I got over my fear of raw meat (because basically, donning rubber gloves to cook smote of a person with too many issues to deal with, and there was no option of me becoming a vegetarian, please), because I'd buy meat in parts - you know, chicken breasts, steak, lamb chops, pork chops, lots of steak.. meat that, while I generally knew what part of the animal it was from, was disassociated with actually being from an animal because a steak doesn't really resemble an entire cow.

And all was good.

However, for the past couple of years, I've been fascinated by the thought of roasting a chicken. I love roast chicken. It's is perhaps the ultimate comfort food. And generally, I'd sate such a craving by buying a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket - so simple! Just pop in the oven and reheat!

But me being me, I got the idea in my head that I wanted to make my own roast chicken. By myself. No shortcuts - well, save buying an already killed, defeathered, and degutted chicken. No way I was doing any of that myself. I'm not that into preparing stuff from scratch.

So I bought a chicken.

Have you ever handled an entire raw chicken. It's just so... real.

I've dissected a cadaver - twice, as a matter of fact - and that's gross. And smelly. Formaldehyde just does NOT dissipate. There is nothing more attractive than walking home after a long day of dissection reeking of formaldehyde from head to toe. But somehow, having that thin layer of latex protecting my flesh from the other made dissection slightly tolerable. Slightly. Very slightly. Actually, dissecting a cadaver isn't that horrific - the head, hands, and feet are covered until the very end because they dry out quickly, so it's rather impersonal (albeit stinky). Until you get to the head, and for me, the hands. Then it hits you that this is a real preserved human body in front of you, and YOU ARE CUTTING IT TO PIECES. Funny how taking the handsaw to get into the chest cavity doesn't make such an impression - for me, it was the hands, which are especially creepy, what with their preserved skin and yellow nails and all. And fat? Preserved fat is yellow, and globby, and YUCKY and GROSS and SMELLY and you can pick it off with tweezers although it is really hard because even in death, fat just does not want to separate from your body, and it is really icky...

Enough. I can talk about how gross cadaver dissection is for forever, but I'm talking about roast chicken here, not about how med school was sucky for so many reasons. But aren't you enjoying the lovely imagery now?

Anyway. Handling a raw entire chicken, even headless - there is something creepy about it. Especially when you wash it, dry it, and massage it with salt and pepper. I get chills thinking about it now. It is just icky icky icky.

But hell. A roast chicken? While my brain might rebel against the thought of touching a raw chicken, but my stomach... it wanted a roast chicken, dammit.

So like any good student, I did my research. I read a lot about roasting chickens, and came to the consensus that I could go crazy trying to reconcile all the different techniques. Brining - either wet or dry - the chicken overnight (or over a couple of nights). Sticking herbs under the skin. Sticking butter under the skin. Stuffing the chicken. Not stuffing the chicken. Figuring out what to stuff the chicken with if stuffing. Trissing thte chicken. Not trussing the chicken. Using a roasting rack. Not using a roasting rack. Creating a mock roasting rack with a variety of vegetables. Searing the chicken in a cast iron pan on the stove. Searing the chicken in the oven. Keeping the oven the same temperature. Figuring out what temperature the chicken should be at in the thigh and in the breast. Covering the chicken wtih foil in case in case it starts burning. Turning the chicken over. Not touching the turkey at all during the roasting process. Creating a foil tent after taking the turkey out.

So on, and so forth.

It made me a little bit crazy reading all of this.

In the end, I took bits and pieces from these three recipes, picking the parts that were easiest for me to follow, so I can add to all the mass confusion.

  • Prepped the chicken the night before, washing it, rubbing it with salt and pepper (3/4 t. of salt to every pound of meat - I had a 5.5 lb bruiser on my hands, obviously not as much pepper!). I also stuffed two sprigs of rosemary underneath the skin on the breast.
So, a little digression here. Apparently I'm some kind of moron, because I couldn't figure out 100% for certain which side was the breast just by looking at it. Chickens are deceptively complex that way. So I had to go back to the good ol' internet and look at many many many pictures in order to figure out which way went up. Of course, I stuffed the rosemary in the backside of the turkey instead of in the breast side. Sigh. Back to what I did.

  • Let the chicken rest overnight in the fridge, with plastic covering it but leaving a small hole for ventilation.
  • Chopped up potatoes and onions for the chicken to rest on while roasting, and tossed them with a touch of olive oil.
  • Rubbed the chicken with some olive oil. Ergh. Oil and cold chicken skin. Ergh.
  • Stuffed another couple of sprigs of rosemary into the chicken cavity, because I forgot to do that the night before.
  • Did not truss the turkey. It did seem rather indecent to let the chicken be all wantonly untrussed, but it was just too much damn work.
  • After preheating the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, cooked the chicken in the hot oven for 20 minutes, then turned the oven down to 400 for the rest of the cooking time.
  • Added a cup of water when turning the oven temperature down.
  • Let the chicken roast for.. um, no idea. Probably about ninety minutes. We'd started drinking and watching Sleeping Beauty well before this time.
  • Took the chicken out when it was nice and brown, and wiggling the thigh was easy.
And that was it. Really. No fancy turning, no meat thermometers. And it was fine.

(No turning because I was scared of the chicken falling and splattering on the floor, taking the pan with the pan juices and potatoes and onions with it. If I could figure out a safe way to do it, I would have, but I couldn't.)

An action shot! No, just the chicken roasting in the oven.
If you look really really hard, you can see chicken fat dripping out of the chicken to the potatoes and onions beneath.

Better than fine, actually. Roast chicken is just amazing in its simplicity. And it smells so good!

I took the pan juices and reduced them with a touch of cornstarch to make a gravy.

My sad attempt at carving the chicken.

Oh, and after letting the chicken rest on my cutting board and draining the pan of pan juices, I stuck the potatoes and onions leftover in the pan under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown them further. I can't impress upon you how amazing the onions were after roasting in chicken fat for over an hour. The potatoes were good, sure, but ooh, those onions. Like butter, they were. Next time, I'm using more onions and fewer potatoes.

I would like to point out that we have plastic flamingo ice cubes in our wine glasses to chill the wine.
Because we're classy like that.

I am now going to roast a chicken like every single week. Okay, month. Or whenever I can get enough people over to eat said roasted chicken.

After we got back from drinking that night, however, apparently all the yummy roast chicken smells decided to congregate in my bedroom, which really wasn't that appetizing at 2 in the morning when I was trying to fall asleep.

And like any good cook, I used the leftover chicken bones to make a chicken stock. After roasting the chicken bones in the oven for an hour, I stuck them in a pot with some chopped up onions, carrots, and celery, along with some bay leaves, poured water over to cover, and let it barely simmer for a couple of hours. There was some skimming action, some straining action, all with the end result of my now having 6 cups of chicken stock in my freezer, just waiting for me to do fun things with it!