Tuesday, March 4, 2008

CSA week 14 - roast butterflied chicken over root vegetables

This is essentially a cross between a Good Eats roast chicken recipe and America's Test Kitchen's version. ATK's is unusual for them in that they haven't managed to overcomplicate it until it isn't worth the trouble to make. I've cooked my version twice and was thrilled with the results the first time and somewhat less so the second. I'll note the differences as I go along, but I don't know which ones made a real difference in the end result.

Step one is to get yourself a chicken. The first time I used a slightly-under-3-lbs. Greenwise chicken from Publix. The second time a slightly-over-3-lbs. regular chicken from Fresh Market. I was rather surprised that Publix (at least that particular one) had an organic-ish free-ish range option while Fresh Market didn't. Next time I'll try a full deluxe grass-fed free-range chicken wherever I can find one. Whole Foods maybe?

Step two is brining: 2 quarts water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 to 1 cup salt depending on how fine grained it is. I could get my first chicken fully submerged, but not the second. I can't really see a mechanism for the slight surface exposure making a big difference, but second chicken was substantially blander and dryer. Maybe I should just have let the bigger chicken soak for longer than the suggested hour. (The short soak in a very salty brine is a ATK innovation I should point out.)

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and roughly chop up the vegetables. I used potatoes, carrots and onions the first time and added some peppers the second. ATK's recipe uses just potatoes sliced and laid out. The chunky vegetables are from a similar Good Eats recipe. However Alton uses vegetables past their prime and only uses them to hold up the chicken and add flavor to the sauce that develops. I liked the results splitting the difference made. Roll the chopped vegetables in olive oil and salt and/or whatever seasoning you're using on the chicken. Take a Tablespoon of butter out to soften and mix it with your chicken seasoning.

When the chicken is done its soak bring it over to a cutting board and cut out the backbone with a pair of scissors. Cut off any extra fat too, but try not to split the skin anywhere; exposed meat dries out. I save the backbones and other various chicken bits for making stock, but this method produces far fewer scraps than cutting a chicken into serving pieces so the bits I have accumulated have been getting freezer burnt waiting for a stock-making quorum. I may have to dump the lot.

Once the backbone is out slice the meat away on both sides of the breastbone. Turn the chicken over and flatten it; the cuts you just made will make it much easier. Take a paper towel and pat the skin dry. Slip your fingers under the skin to loosen it. Once you've made some space take pieces of the seasoned butter you made earlier and rub them into the underside of the skin. You should be able to get it distributed around both the breast and thigh areas. If you want to be tidier you can spoon a bit of the butter under the skin and distribute it from above, but I don't think it's nearly as effective. Finally, massage generous amounts of olive oil into the chicken skin. If this step isn't embarrassing, you're not doing it right. I don't think I used enough of either spices or oil on my second chicken so be generous; remember that you're seasoning a whole three pounds of meat.

Splay the chicken out on top of the vegetables making sure the meat is all covered and any loose flaps of skin are laid out flat. The skin that's exposed gets golden brown, crispy and delicious while hidden skin stays flabby and unpleasant so make the effort. At this point in my second attempt I tossed the extra bits of fat I had cut off the chicken earlier into the baking dish but I think it was a mistake as my vegetables ended up nearly submerged and didn't get the caramelization that was the highlight of the dish the first time around. That's also probably a good reason to not use the pepper either. I liked how it turned out, but the moisture it lost cost flavor in the rest of the vegetables.

And that's about it. The chicken goes into the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the pan around and put it back for 20-25 more until the thickest part of the breast reaches 160 degrees F and it looks at least as good as this:

Nothing complicated really to chopping the chicken and serving it with the vegetables. You can separate the au jus from the fat and make some gravy, but if you did things right the chicken will be juicy enough to not need it. Save it for some other application. I'll probably add it to the stock I'll eventually make as a chicken flavor concentrate. Don't toss the fat either as it's very tasty and should be good for frying or salad dressing or some such.

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