Category — Seasons

A Roast Chicken Recipe for a Cold Autumn Day

The brilliant colors of the turning leaves have given way to bare branches in just a matter of days, and everything around us is turning into ugly shades of gray and brown. Sunday morning greeted us with blustery winds and plummeting temperatures, the kind of cold that makes you glad it’s not cloudy, because anything that comes down out of the sky would likely take the form of snow.

On a day that so definitively announces the onset of fall weather, I needed a strong counter, something that warms the kitchen and the soul, something that provides a reassuring counterpoint to the bleakness of the coming cold season.

I decided to roast a chicken, hardcore. And by hardcore, I mean going beyond just a sprinkle of salt and pepper and treating the bird as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey. Doing it this way adds a nice dose of complexity to an otherwise humble chicken recipe.  It also makes it taste awesome.

Rather inadvertently, my vegetable garden has transformed itself into a nice perennial herb garden. While the basil may have died off a long while ago, I still have thriving patches of thyme, sage, and rosemary that have taken very well to the cooler weather. I slipped into the backyard and snipped a few sprigs of thyme and a few leaves of sage, and some rosemary to go with the roasted potatoes that would be served as an accompaniment. It was good to run back into the house and take off my jacket, returning to the kitchen with a fistful of herb clippings.

When it comes to roasting chickens and turkeys, I’m a big proponent of under-skin seasoning. If you think about it, most of the seasonings that you apply to the outside of a chicken or turkey will be melted off into the roasting pan as the fat in the skin renders. If you’re a baster, you’re accelerating this process each time you ladle more liquid over the skin, although admittedly you are basting the roast with the seasoned pan drippings.

Applying seasonings under the skin avoids this problem, and makes for much more flavorful meat. To do this, I mash softened butter with a mishmash of chopped herbs, sea salt, and black pepper. Using a gentle touch, you can loosen the skin from the chicken and use a spoon or fork to push clumps of the flavored butter underneath – use your fingers to massage the skin to ensure even distribution.

As for the outside of the chicken, I apply a thin coating of olive oil to the entire bird, front-back-top-bottom, and then a liberal application of salt and pepper. The oil helps to crisp the skin while the seasoned butter flavors the meat beneath it. As you may have suspected, I don’t baste – on one account, because I’m lazy, and on another, because I think it washes away the surface seasonings.

One thing to keep in mind about roasting anything is that there’s no reliable way of estimating weight/time/temperature – this is what screws most people up at Thanksgiving, because they consult some guide that tells them they should roast the bird for 15 minutes per pound or some other rule of thumb. Everyone’s oven is different, and the true temperature of an oven can vary widely from what the setting on the dial reads. Also, the weight of a roast is less important than its temperature as it goes into the oven – it may not be fully thawed, or have a chunk of ice in its cavity.

For all of these reasons, the only way I will ever roast chicken is by using a probe thermometer. The probe goes into the chicken, provides a constant read on the internal temperature, and allows me to pull the chicken out of the oven as soon as it reaches doneness, and not a minute longer. Chicken is free of any salmonella at 160 degrees, and as the roast rests, the internal temperature will climb a few degrees higher. By taking the chicken out of the oven when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, it guards against drying the meat out. By relying on the internal temperature of the chicken, you can have a little bit of leeway in terms of your oven temperature – if you have time, you can roast at 350 degrees, if you are in more of a rush, you can push that to 425 degrees or more.

A Roast Chicken Recipe for a Cold Autumn Day

1 chicken, rinsed well, patted dry, and allowed to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbs assorted herbs, chopped (thereabouts)
1 Tsp salt (coarse, if you grind it yourself)
1 Tsp fresh ground pepper

1 onion, peeled and halved
4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Olive oil

Wine (red or white)
1 Tbs or so of additional chopped herbs
Chicken stock (canned is fine)
Flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mash together the butter, herbs, salt, and pepper until uniformly mixed.

Set the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, and use your fingers to loosen the skin from the breast (be careful not to tear or otherwise poke a hole in the skin). Pull out and discard the pop-up timer because it is literally worthless to the cooking effort.

Using a spoon, scoop the herb butter and slide the spoon under the skin of the chicken, using your fingers to push the butter off of the spoon onto the meat. Massage the butter so that you achieve an even coating of butter underneath the loosened skin.

Using the same spoon, drizzle some olive oil over the chicken and use the spoon to smear it around to coat. You may elect to do this to the back of the bird as well, or you can skip it.

Apply a liberal coating of salt and pepper to the outside of the chicken. Insert the onion halves and garlic cloves into the cavity.

Insert the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, parallel to the bone. Other recipes may have you take the temperature of the thigh, but by the time the thigh meat is done, it is likely that your white meat is dry. When in doubt, I’d rather put the dark meat back into the oven later. Place the roasting pan, with the chicken and probe in place, into the oven.

When the internal temperature of the breast meat has reached 165 degrees, take the roast chicken out of the oven and set it on the stovetop to rest, for at least fifteen minutes. At this time, you may pull the probe out of the chicken and spot-check temperatures in the thigh and throughout – all temperature readings should be at least 160 degrees. If you are preparing a pan sauce, move the chicken to a platter and remove the rack from the pan.

Drain all of the liquid from the pan into a measuring cup. If the liquid is mostly fat, you can discard it – if there are some non-fat pan drippings, you can add this back to the sauce later.

Set the pan over one or two stovetop burners set to high, until the contents begin to sizzle. Pour about a cup, cup and a half, of wine into the pan and scrape up all of the sticky bits with a wooden spoon – let that simmer for a minute or so. Add about a cup of chicken stock and stir to combine, then throw in the remaining chopped herbs. Turn the heat down and let that simmer for about five minutes.

Sprinkle about two tablespoons of flour over the sauce, and whisk, making sure to break up any lumps, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Taste for salt (it probably won’t need any).

Carve both breast halves off of the chicken by slicing lengthwise down the bird, parallel to the breastbone – angle the knife slightly so that you can carve each half off in one piece – and set aside onto a serving platter. Check the thigh meat – if the juices are not running clear, put the legs and thighs back into the oven for another fifteen minutes while covering the white meat with foil. Otherwise, carve the dark meat and set onto the serving platter.

Serve the roasted chicken with the sauce in separate ramekins for dipping.

November 17, 2008   Comments

On an Overcast November Day, Christmas Comes Early

This has been an interesting weekend, in a good way.

Up until Friday afternoon, we had been planning on going up to New York City to visit the New York Chocolate Show.  We went once, about three years ago, and it was all flavors of awesome – rows and rows of high end chocolate vendors from Paris, Japan, and the United States, all giving out free samples, plus many culinary demonstrations from top chefs.  Hell, this year they even had chocolate covered bacon.

The couple that we had wanted to go with, though, weren’t able to do the show on Saturday, and as the day passed on Friday, I became increasingly disenchanted with the notion of doing this grand day in NYC on a Sunday, standing in line to get Chocolate Show tickets, maneuvering among the throngs of chocolate-faithful, then having to do the drive back to Pennsylvania and getting in late.  So, on Friday evening, we decided to cancel the weekend.

On Saturday, with a suddenly open schedule in front of us, we decided to take a drive through the rain-soaked farmlands of Chester County.  On a whim, we decided to stop into Talula’s Table in Kennett Square to pick up some cheese and bread, and ran into Aimee Olexy who, as usual, was found running around doing a bit of everything.  As readers may recall, Talula’s Table is the neighborhood foodie shop that transforms into a 12 seat BYOB private dinner at night, and it takes reservations 365 days ahead of when you really want to eat there.  For a recap, read here, here, and here.

While we were talking to Aimee, I noticed a small handwritten note on a whiteboard behind the cheese counter which directed folks to watch The Martha Stewart Show today, Monday, November 10.  As it turns out, Aimee’s husband, Bryan Sikora – who is the chef here – was going to be doing a cooking demonstration on the show.

We remarked that we were glad to have secured our June 2009 reservations, because while it was impossible to get reservations as it is today, after being featured on The Martha Stewart Show, it would become even more impossible.  Aimee agreed, and said that while she tried to keep the reservations process democratic (first come, first served, which means that the reservation for November 10, 2009 was locked up within moments of the first phone call being answered this morning) it was still pretty difficult, and the wait list was getting out of hand and not serving anyone well at all.

Aimee said that she had just started this new tactic, of editing the Talula’s Table website to list cancellations when they came in, to give people a chance to grab it.  In fact, she said, she had just listed a cancellation for a night within the next two weeks. “We’ll take it!  We’ll take it!” was my wife’s reaction.  I was sampling an extremely ripe Camembert, and would have concurred if I wasn’t chewing at the time.

So now, because we elected not to go to NYC this weekend, and just because we decided it would be a nice day to have some cheese, we managed to score an on-the-spot reservation for the farmhouse table.  And the funny thing is, the June 2009 reservations were so far off, I had put that entire affair into the back of my mind and haven’t really thought on it.  Now, we’ll be eating there in less than two weeks, and it still hasn’t really sunk in, because I’m so used to regarding dinner at Talula’s Table as something of a “coming much later” concept.

And, as I do think about it, I get more and more excited because Sikora is a genius with seasonal ingredients.  We used to make a point of going to Django at least twice a year, once in the warm months and once in the cold months, just to see what was coming out of the kitchen – now, we’ll be lucky enough to experience the Talula’s Table menu in both seasons.

November 10, 2008   Comments

The Big Decision in November

In just a matter of days, each of us, as Americans, will be faced with a decision of critical importance, and with profound consequences.  It is a choice not to be taken lightly, for it carries the weight of generations of tradition and obligation, and the path that each of us takes will have lasting effects on how we are viewed and respected by our family and our friends.

I’m talking, of course, about making your own gravy for Thanksgiving.

I like cooking for Thankgiving.  It’s one of the few days where there is nothing else that needs to be done other than preparing the big meal, and, for me, preparing gravy from scratch is my favorite part.  It signals the turn into the final stretch of cooking, and the process, and results, are immensely gratifying.  It also throws all caution to the wind with respect to calorie counts and fat content.

The idea for this post came when our supermarket recently went into holiday mode, and with it comes many many endcaps filled with gravy in a can, gravy in a box, or gravy in a pouch.

This year, if I hear that any of you bought gravy from a store, or made it from a mix, I will personally come to your house and punch you in the head.  I’m that serious about gravy.

Before I list the recipe, let me explain the process and try to convince any of you gravy-purchasers of the validity of my argument.  Gravy, at its essence, is nothing more than a mixture of a thickening agent with liquid.  For my gravy recipe, I use butter and flour to thicken a combination of pan drippings from the turkey and stock.  That’s pretty much it, so you see why I am so vehemently against packaged preparations.

The long form is this – when start to prepare the turkey on Thanksgiving morning, I throw the giblets and the neck into a pot with some vegetables and water, and get a stock going, which simmers for most of the afternoon, extracting as much turkey flavor out of the meat and bones as possible.  When it’s time to make the gravy, I make a roux out of butter and flour, and let that cook until it’s a deep, deep brown, then strain the stock into the roux, mix it up, and keep it at a low simmer.  The pan drippings from the turkey get stirred in whenever the turkey’s done and been transferred to a carving platter.  And that’s it.

I realize that some people may be apprehensive about cooking in general, and for this reason Thanksgiving tends to kick off the holiday season of stress.  The only thing that I can think of that could go wrong with this recipe is you could burn the roux, either by cooking it on too high a heat setting or letting it cook for too long.  Remember, making a roux is the act of toasting flour in butter – some words to remember are “toast” or “peanut butter”, which are the levels of browning that you are looking for.  If you reach this point and discover that you haven’t strained the stock, or are otherwise not ready to add stock, just move the pot with the roux to a cool burner and keep stirring until it cools off a little.

Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy by The Best Food Blog Ever

Stock (can use prepared stock if necessary)
[stock] 10 cups water
[stock] Olive oil
[stock] Contents of giblet bag from the turkey, minus the liver
[stock] 2 carrots, unpeeled
[stock] 2 onions, unpeeled, hacked into halves
[stock] 3 stalks celery, broken in half
[stock] 1 Tbs peppercorns
[stock] Fresh parsley and thyme, no need to chop

1 stick of butter

1/4 cup of flour

Salt

Pan drippings from the roasting pan

Red or white wine

If you are using prepared stock, make sure you have 10 cups available, heated, and proceed past the next part.

If preparing your own stock, take a large pot and heat a thin coating of olive oil over medium heat until shiny.  Add the contents of the giblet bag (no liver) and the turkey neck and saute until browned, about five minutes per side (flip with tongs).  Throw your carrots, onions, celery, and peppercorns in, along with half of the parsley and thyme, give everything a stir, and cover.  Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go and let that cook for 20 minutes.  This is called ’sweating’ and the process extracts a lot of flavor out of the pot ingredients that would otherwise not be available by just boiling them in liquid.

After 20 minutes, add the remaining parsley and thyme and 10 cups of water.  Cover, bring the heat to high, and bring it all up to a boil.  Once boiling, you can reduce the heat and let that simmer on the back burner until you need it.  When you need it, you can either strain the solids out or just use a slotted spoon to scoop most of the solids out and use a ladle to pull out the stock you need.  Keep the giblets and the turkey neck, though.

Make the roux – in a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the stick of butter until its fully melted and no longer foamy.  If you want to live on the edge, you can even wait until it starts to brown a bit.  Dump all of the 1/4 cup of flour in at once and stir vigorously to absorb the butter (a whisk will help immensely with this part).  At first, all of the flour will clump up into chunks and balls, but as the mixture heats up and relaxes it will become more viscous.  Keep on stirring until the roux has darkened to the color of peanut butter, then add 10 cups of hot stock, whisking mightily as it bubbles and squeaks.  Once all of the stock has been incorporated, maintain the gravy at a simmer while you finish preparing Thanksgiving.

Once the turkey is done and moved out of the roasting pan and onto a carving platter, drain all of the pan drippings into a bowl or large measuring cup (or even a defatting beaker).

Set the roasting pan across two burners set to high heat (if you have a vent fan, now would be a good time to turn it on).  Using an oven mitt to hold onto the pan and give it some stability, pour a good amount of wine into the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the bits that are stuck to the bottom.  Once everything is loosened up, let all of it cook for about a minute, turn off your burners, and (use two mitts) carefully pour all of it into the simmering gravy.  Add the pan drippings, defatted or not as is your preference (if there’s a large amount of fat, it’s probably better to defat it).   Stir it all together.

This part is optional.  If you’d like, you can now take the meat off of the turkey neck with your fingers, and chop the meat up along with the giblets.  Add all of this to the gravy, taste, and adjust for salt just before serving.

I want everyone to join the homemade Thanksgiving gravy revolution.  Feel free to email me at ddl[at]bestfoodblogever.com if you have any questions about this recipe.

October 31, 2008   Comments

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Stout Beer

We returned from our beach house vacation to 50 degree weather.  One of the few good things about colder weather is that it puts stews, braises, and richer meats on the menu.  I found a good set of boneless beef short ribs at the supermarket, which were originally intended to be prepared in a red wine sauce until I remembered that we had a cache of stout beer.

I’ve modified this recipe from Epicurious to account for the smaller amount of short ribs.  I also decided to do the opposite of a slow cooker and instead used my pressure cooker, which enabled me to complete the dish in under an hour.  The result was exceedingly tender chunks of beef, immersed in a thick sauce that was made slightly sweet by the stout and the spices used in this recipe.  You’d be surprised that you don’t need many short ribs to make a meal, since they’re very rich – one, or at most two, per person.  I served this over roasted potatoes, but the next time I’ll be sure to have some egg noodles on hand.

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Stout Beer

1 lb beef short ribs

2 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 Tsp paprika
1/2 Tsp curry powder
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1/2 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp mustard powder

Olive oil

1 onion, 1 carrot, and 1 celery rib, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 cup broth (chicken or beef)

1 bottle stout beer

1 small can of tomato sauce

Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel and set aside.  Combine all of the spices in a bowl and shake to mix thoroughly.  Rub all sides of the beef ribs with the spice mixture and set aside, uncovered, in the fridge for about an hour (skip the resting period if you lack the time).

Take a pressure cooker and set it over medium-high heat.  Add a splash of olive oil, and when it’s hot and shimmery, add the short ribs and brown for 1 minute per side (watch to make sure the spice mixture doesn’t stick and burn).  Remove the ribs to a plate, and add another splash of oil to the pot.

Throw in your onion/carrot/celery mix, along with the bay leaf.  Stir that up and let that cook for about 3 minutes, or until the onion looks softish.  Throw the chopped garlic in, give it a stir, and let that go for a minute or two.

Add all of your liquids at this time – the beer, the broth, and the tomato sauce, and stir up the bottom of the pot to get all the sticky stuff off and into the goop.  Add the ribs to the sauce, turn the heat up, and lock the pressure cooker lid on.

Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure, until the excess steam steadily escapes from the valve.  Reduce the heat to medium, or to the point where the pressure is maintained, and cook for 40 minutes.  Rapid-release the pressure, taste for salt, and serve.

October 23, 2008   Comments

Slow Roasted Zucchini, Sea Salt, Olive Oil

Deb Puchalla, who is an editor for Martha Stewart Everyday Food, sent out a call on the Dinner Tonight blog for stories about zukes and cukes.  Here’s mine.

Since it’s the height of summer, there’s a lot of fresh, local produce to be had.  While we don’t get out to the farmers’ stands often enough, the local supermarket has a wonderful program where they sell locally sourced fruits and vegetables, highlighting exactly where the food that you’re buying is coming from.  A couple of weeks ago, there was a nice mound of zucchini that was so tempting, we bought a few without a real plan for what to do with them.
Here’s the thing about food – you can coax the best out of anything that you cook if you respect the season and respect the ingredient.  So, the best ways with various foods are often the simplest, and, in this case, you really can’t get any simpler than olive oil and sea salt.

I have a truffle shaver which has, for years, been one of my favorite gadgets in the kitchen.  Mind you, I’ve only ever shaved a single truffle on this contraption, but it works especially well with parmesan cheese, chocolate, and hard vegetables.  It’s got a blade attached to a screw, and you turn the screw to make the opening wider or narrower as you need it.  I hacked the ends off of the zucchini and, in a flash, had passed them over the truffle shaver, forming a neat pile of uniformly thin rounds on my cutting board.

Now, if the preparation is going to be simple, I suppose I’ll have to make the presentation a little snappier.  I took a big round pan and started layering the zucchini rounds in concentric circles, alternating directions with each full layer.  Between each layer I drizzled some good-quality olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.  When I was done, I popped the whole thing into the oven and slow roasted the zucchini for about an hour, until the rounds were browned along the edges and top.

This approach concentrates the already-summer fresh flavor of the zucchini quite well.  The salt, as salt does with any food, enhances the subtle qualities of the vegetable, while roasting condenses and focuses the flavor.  Next time, though, I think I’ll cut the rounds thicker, or into matchsticks, since slicing them this thin sacrificed texture a little, resulting in soft rounds instead of crisps.

July 31, 2008   Comments