Thursday, February 17, 2011

Roast Chicken, and a Bouquet to Baste

Roast chicken is my comfort food, more precisely, a home filled with the smell of roasting chicken is my comfort. Like a fire in the fireplace or a thick wool blanket on a cold night, roast chicken is deeply reassuring. When the girls and I all fell sick, the thought of finally being better, being hungry and roasting a chicken sustained me through the aches and pains of a dual bout of Strep throat and the flu.

We ate a lot of chicken in our house growing up. Chicken, pan roasted vegetables, salad and thick cut Sourdough bread was a weekly, or twice weekly meal. My parents were very popular with our friends for many reasons, among them, they let us eat our chicken with our fingers. To this day I rarely order chicken in a restaurant because I want to pick up the drumstick and eat it like a happy little savage.

In the world of farmers markets, there is a resurgence of very fine, well raised chickens of interesting breeds. Here in Ithaca, one of our favorites is the Poulet Rouge, raised by Kingbird Farm. As a parent I am glad to be able to feed the girls the crunchy, fatty skin of the bird and know that it is full of good fat from the bird's foraging based diet.

Roasting a chicken is barely a recipe, but there are two great ideas that Craig uses: one is trussing and the other is a Bouquet Garnis baster. Trussing sounds more fancy and complicated than it is. There are a lot of Youtube videos and long instructions, but I find if you cut yourself a long piece of kitchen string and just think about tucking the bird's legs up into a tight somersault, you can intuit your way. Trussing evens out the timing of your bird cooking, so the legs and larger breast all cook more evenly, resulting in moist meat throughout. No more dry legs and perfectly done breast!

The homemade Bouquet Garnis baster is so beautiful! Even after such frequent use, every time I use one I find them breathtakingly pretty. No more suction basters and their odd plastic-y smell. No more trying to pick off the tiny fibers from the paint brush style basters that always shed. The herbs soften in the heat of the pan juices as you baste and release a steady, delicate aroma.

Whether recovering from massive illness, or just need of a cozy, sustaining meal, find yourself a great chicken and give thanks for its diligent, foraging life. Golden fat and nourishing meat on another cold winter night.

Roast Chicken:

Pre-heat oven to 425.
Wash and pat bird dry. Rub with olive oil. Rub outside with salt and pepper. Inside cavity put a few smashed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, herbs, if you wish, and 1/2-1 onion (quartered). truss the legs (or not)and put in a roasting pan.
Sit the bird on a few strips of bacon.
Put in oven for about 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 350. A 5lb bird should be about an hour to an hour and a half. Juices will run clear and the skin will be brown.
Put any vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, brussel sprouts, celery, leeks, parsnips, rutabaga) in about 1/2-3/4 of an hour into the process. Or, you can slightly pre-cook them and throw in the pan near the end. Rub butter into the skin as it starts to brown and the baste the bird in pan juices every 15 minutes or so near the end.

Bouquet Garnis Baster:

In the spring and summer, use any and all fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley. This time of year, we buy fresh parsley and wrap that around dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary.
For the stick, get a set of the very large chopsticks that are a basic Asian cooking utensil.
Tie your herbs securely at their base to the stick with kitchen string.

And for extra decadence, Pan Fried Bread:

Cut French or Sourdough bread in thick slices. Dredge through the pan juices. Fry in hot cast iron skillet. Serve immediately.

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