Pickin’ a Chicken.

We’ve got busy lives, Keith and I.  The working week can be particularly crazy.  Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays Keith is at the gym until 8.30 at the earliest; on those same nights, I try to be in bed by ten o’clock at the latest, as I’m slogging through my own work out Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5.45.  Those evenings, I teach Puppy Kindergarten and don’t leave sometimes until after eight.  Other nights, I may meet with clients and their dogs and not return home until past nine.

Basically, it’s a little crazy around here.

To make things even trickier, I cook dinner several times a week, probably four meals on average.  A lot of the time, I cook in stages; perhaps I’ll prep my mise en place in the morning, or maybe I’ll make my meatballs several hours before broiling, or I might possibly start a recipe only to finish it later.  If I can, I find a recipe that can cook itself while I’m out — this chicken is a great example of that.

Soy-Ginger Chicken -- 10thirty.I like Asian food; it’s what I grew up eating.  This recipe brings all those sweet and savory flavors together in a highly-satisfying way, and the fact that everything can just be tossed into a pot and left alone is a solid plus.

Next time around, I’ll definitely add more ginger, and I was without a doubt more generous with my scallions and cilantro than the recipe called for, but I think it’s better that way.  And while I’m sure that this chicken is delicious with a pillow of steamed rice, I chose to pair it with some roasted cauliflower since Keith is off grains at the moment.  In my opinion, you can never go wrong with some roasted cauliflower.  Keith didn’t complain, anyway…

Soy-Ginger Chicken, from Everyday Food
Makes four portions

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2/3 cups fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
1 piece fresh ginger, about 2 inches, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 packed cup scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground pepper
4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs, about 2 ½ pounds total, skin removed
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cooked rice for serving (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.  In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot, stir together soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, cilantro, ginger, ½ cup scallions, vinegar, coriander and pepper.  Add chicken and carrots; toss to coat, then stir in 1 cup water.  Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until chicken is tender, about 1 ½ hours.  Using a large spoon, skim off any fat from surface of cooking liquid.
  2. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water.  Ladle 1 cup cooking liquid into measuring cup; whisk to combine.  Pour into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil; cook until thickened, about 1 minute.  Stir mixture into pot to combine.
  3. Serve chicken mixture with rice, if desired, garnished with cilantro leaves and remaining ½ cup scallions.
Pickin’ a Chicken” by Eve Boswell.
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Know Your Chicken.

This is a tale of two chickens.

Both chickens are sweet and savory, both chickens spent some time in a 400° oven, and both chickens were devoured with relish.  One chicken Keith really loved, and one chicken I just couldn’t stop eating.  Truly.  Nonstop eating.  By me.

Chicken w. Roasted Grapes + ShallotsKeith’s chicken — roasted with grapes and shallots and rosemary and thyme — reminded me of something my mother made once or twice when I was growing up.  That too was a chicken with grapes, and in my memory that chicken was mostly sweet and bathed in a honey-colored broth.  Its grapes were not as deeply baked as Keith’s chicken, whose grapes were roasted until unctuous and almost jammy.

This chicken was meant to be made with thyme and thyme alone, but I had a little pinch bowl of minced rosemary leftover from another dinner, so I figured, Why not, and threw it in the mix too.  I think Keith’s chicken was the better for it, especially since the evergreen-ness of the rosemary paired so well with both the shallots and the grapes.

Once last thing about those grapes: the burnt ones were best — crispy, crunchy, juicy and buttery-smooth.

Roast Chicken w. Potatoes + Butternut Squash

My chicken, the chicken of the nonstop eating, was earthier than Keith’s and a bit sweeter, probably because of all of the butternut squash that got roasted alongside it.  The red potatoes took on some of the sweetness as well, which was actually pretty awesome when you think about it — crispy-on-the-outside candy-coated carb wedges.

Something else that was actually pretty awesome about my chicken was that its recipe called for dried rubbed sage and minced garlic, and the fact that the recipe was leagues better when I subbed in a combination of fresh sage and thyme for the dried and a garlic paste for the minced.  In the oven, all the flavors beneath the chicken’s skin came together in a rich and satisfying way.  I normally find fresh sage to be a bit bitter and wood-ish; in my mind, it only pairs well with strong profiles that can really stand up to it.  When roasted with the thyme and garlic paste, the sage became almost like a sauce under the skin.

But this isn’t a chicken competition; it’s all about preferences, mine and Keith’s.  I suggest buying two birds and giving both recipes a whirl.  That way, no one loses and everyone wins.

Chicken with Roasted Grapes + Shallots, from Bon Appétit
Makes four portions

1 ¼ pounds assorted seedless grapes, cut into small clusters
6 large shallots, peeled, halved through root end
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme plus 6 large sprigs (I used a mixture of rosemary and thyme.)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 4-to 4 ½-pound chicken, excess fat removed from cavity

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Gently toss grape clusters, shallots, chopped thyme, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in large bowl to coat. Rub chicken with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place thyme sprigs in cavity. Place chicken in large roasting pan; arrange grape mixture around chicken. Roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken thigh registers 165° and grapes are shriveled, about 1 hour 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer chicken to platter; let rest 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, arrange grapes and shallots around chicken. Transfer pan juices to small pitcher; spoon fat from surface of juices and discard. Serve chicken with pan juices alongside.

Roast Chicken with Potatoes + Butternut Squash, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided (I made a garlic paste instead.)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ teaspoon dried rubbed sage (I used a mixture of fresh sage and thyme.)
1 3 ½-pound roasting chicken
Cooking spray
12 ounces red potatoes, cut into wedges
1 ½ cups cubed peeled butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Combine 1 ½ tablespoons garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and sage in a small bowl. Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken. Rub garlic mixture under loosened skin. Place chicken, breast side up, on rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Place rack in broiler pan.
  2. Combine potatoes, squash, butter, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Arrange vegetable mixture around chicken. Bake at 400° for 1 hour or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 165°. Let stand 10 minutes. Discard skin.
Know Your Chicken” by Cibo Matto.

On Chicken.

I don’t know why chicken sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Is it not as “exciting” a protein as beef?  I mean, I love a nice rare steak, but few things are as comforting as chicken pot pie, as versatile as a chicken breast or as pretty as a burnished roast bird straight out of the oven.  The golden crispy skin, the promising plump meat, the fun of eating a drumstick with your hands…  There isn’t a beef equivalent of that.

So, now that I’ve gone on a bit about the culinary virtues of poultry, you’d think that I’d be cutting up chicken left, right and center (and saving the bones for stock, of course).  The sad truth is this: I’ve never even roasted a whole bird.

I know, I know.  Shameful.  I haven’t a good excuse either.  You know what else I haven’t done, now that I’m in a confessional sort of mood and am listing all of my shortcomings? Deboned a chicken.  I swear, I am not scared of chicken — you know I would tell you if I were.

When I saw that this recipe called for a boned bird, I decided to not take the easy road, buying breasts and thighs.  I was going to disassemble a chicken, dammit.

If you haven’t yet taken apart a bird, please take two pieces of advice: get your hands on a sharp knife, and don’t try to figure this out on your own.

The whole procedure is really quite simple, but only if you follow some instructions.  I propped open my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s excellent River Cottage Meat Book to use as my guide; not only does Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall clearly explain each step, there are also helpful photographs as well.  Also, the kitchn has got a great post and accompanying video that will take you through the entire process.  Personally, I prefer the book method, not because I am a technophobe (how can I be? I have a blog, I tweet and carry around an iPhone) but because I’m kinda grossed out at using my raw-chickeny fingers to constantly pause the video while I catch up.  And, oh yes, you will have raw-chickeny fingers.  You’re going to have raw-chickeny hands, so you may as well embrace it.  Just don’t embrace anyone or anything until you’ve washed.

There are so many things that you can make from your freshly broken-down chicken, and it’s far more economical to buy whole birds and take them apart than to purchase the pieces.  If you’re really on top of things, and I oftentimes am not, you could buy birds and freeze the parts you don’t use for another date.

Or you could just make this recipe, which is even simpler than deboning a chicken and far more appetizing.  I’ve made this both for a crowd and for just Keith and me; I think it’s safe to say that you’ll satisfy pretty much anyone.

Another plus: the flavors are so big that anyone will think the meal was a lot of effort, rather than child’s play (though with that sharp knife, maybe another phrase would be best).  The bulk of the work is done by a yogurt-based marinade and your oven.  All you have to do is chop some cilantro, slice a couple onions, mince a bit of garlic, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  The most strenuous part of this meal is scrubbing your hands after finishing prep.  Oh, and fighting over who gets first dibs on the pieces.

Easy Chicken Masala, from Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, pressed (I mince)
1 4- to 4 ½-pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces, backbone removed
2 small onions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

  1. Mix yogurt, chopped cilantro, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and garlic in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken to marinade, 1 piece at a time, coating all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
  2. Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven; preheat to 400°. Arrange onions in thin layer on large rimmed baking sheet to form bed for chicken. Top with chicken pieces in single layer, spacing apart for even roasting (chicken will still be coated with marinade). Discard remaining marinade.
  3. Roast chicken on top rack until cooked through and juices run clear when thickest portion of thigh is pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Serve chicken atop onion slices. Spoon pan juices around.