Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chicken in curdled milk

Curdled on purpose; you were wondering, right?

This is a Jaime Oliver recipe that got a fabulous review on the thekitchn blog. Thekitchn's kind of a mixed bag for me. I could do without (most of) the Cooking-101-level posts, the reviews of farmers markets places I'm not and the kitchen design stuff, but they also put up some interesting but simple recipes that are just the sort of thing I like for weeknight cooking. This one I've got to admit I was skeptical of, but they liked it a lot so I took a chance.

Here's the original version from Oliver's website. You'll notice he leaves the "curdled" out of the title. I'm for truth in advertising myself.

"chicken in milk
serves 4
A slightly odd, but really fantastic combination that must be tried.

• 1 x 1.5k/ 3½lb organic chicken [Publix Greenwise will do]
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 115g/4oz or ½ a pack of butter
• olive oil
• 1/2 cinnamon stick
• 1 good handful of fresh sage, leaves picked
• zest of 2 lemons
• 10 cloves of garlic, skin left on
• 565ml/1 pint milk

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5, and find a snug-fitting pot for the chicken. Season it generously all over, and fry it in the butter and a little olive oil, turning the chicken to get an even colour all over, until golden. Remove from the heat, put the chicken on a plate, and throw away the oil and butter left in the pot. [Or save it for frying something later.] This will leave you with tasty sticky goodness at the bottom of the pan which will give you a lovely caramelly flavour later on.

Put your chicken back in the pot with the rest of the ingredients, and cook in the preheated oven for 1½ hours. Baste with the cooking juice when you remember. The lemon zest will sort of split the milk, making a sauce which is absolutely fantastic.

To serve, pull the meat off the bones and divide it on to your plates. Spoon over plenty of juice and the little curds. Serve with wilted spinach or greens and some mashed potato."

Mine actually looks a little better than the picture on his website. He seems to have burned his a little bit. You can't see it while it's still in the pot, but it turns out kind of weird with lovely crisp skin on top and soggy soaked skin on the bottom.

I followed his direction all the way down to the side dishes so I have some lovely smashed red potatoes and braised Swiss chard I had saved in the freezer. Be carefully defrosting chard; I ended up with a big puddle of bright red juices on the cutting board and dripping onto the floor. But, back to the main dish: the meat is falling off the bone as advertised throughout, but on the top it's the overcooked sort of falling off the bone. Not extraordinarily juicy on the bottom, either. Not compared to a brined bird, anyway. A good bit of flavor infused, more in the bottom half than the top, but the combination of garlic, sage, cinnamon and lemon isn't something I would have picked out if I wasn't following a recipe.

The sauce thinned out as the milk solids bunched up leaving the remaining liquid to just about turn into chicken stock. I would have liked it to cook down a little, but the chicken juices formed a film on top keeping evaporation low. It's definitely not an elegant presentation with the watery sauce with the curdy bits floating around. The flavors are in there, though, if somewhat diffuse. I may cook it down a bit later. I was worried about the curdling, but I'm actually finding the broken milk less off-putting than the big pieces of sage and scraps of garlic paper floating around in there. On the plus side, I fished out a couple of the garlic cloves, squeezed them out of their pods and mashed them into the potatoes. Now that's the stuff.

Overall, a decent roast chicken variation. Not the best I've made; not the worst either. Some points for the novelty factor, but I don't know where the raves TheKitchn gave it come from. I'm going to go back and take a look...Oh, I see. They accidentally put the lid on the pot so the chicken steamed. I'd miss the crisp skin I suppose, but I can see how that would infuse more flavor and keep the chicken moist as it cooked. If you're going to try it, keep the lid on for the first hour and then take it off. That might be enough time for the skin to dry out and the meat not to.


kat said...

Hmmm, the flavors sound good but the look of the curds is a little creepy (& I say this as someone in the midwest who loves cheese curds). Seems like there would be a way to get those flavors in a more traditional roast chicken.

billjac said...

I would think marinating instead of brining would get those flavors into the chicken without the weirdness of this recipe. The curds are probably a side effect of Oliver's attempt to keep the chicken moist and create a sauce rather than something he deliberately did.

I wonder how this might work with, say, a pot of chicken stock or chopped tomatoes instead of the dairy. How important was it to use milk specifically? It could be worth some experimentation, but I might try the Zuni-style chicken that has all the buzz first.

LaDivaCucina said...

Hmmm...I agree with Kat based on appearances alone. The Indians use yogurt as a marinade for chicken with excellent results (tandoori) so it's milk-based but not quite milk. Then there's the Americans from the south that use buttermilk for fried chicken. So, the milk obviously does something to tenderize and taste but I agree, don't like the curds!

billjac said...

Both yogurt and buttermilk are slightly acid which makes them proper for marinades. But there must be something in the dairy too; I wonder if McGee has anything to say on the subject.

Big Shamu said...

Youza! There's something internal that just won't let me accept that "look". I do appreciate your efforts though.

billjac said...

It's better than it looks, but I'm not convinced it needs to look like that to get the flavor it's got. If so, the sauce wouldn't lose much if it were strained. The curdy bits are texturally interesting, but don't have a lot of flavor.