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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Roast Chicken

Not for the sentimental:

I can understand vegetarianism. I may or may not have cried a little when I picked up the pale, naked little chicken and buttered generously under it's bony wings. Okay, I did cry. I couldn't help it. It's not that I don't like chicken: I do. But, there is something impersonal about a skinless, boneless chicken breast. The puckered little carcass staring back at me as I unceremoniously smeared butter all over it, however, felt very personal. Will it stop me from enjoying a little helping of succulent leg meat tomorrow night? Probably not; roast chicken is amazing. I'm just glad I didn't name it before I cooked it. I couldn't handle that kind of guilt. Nevertheless, roasting a chicken, or fowl of any kind, is a powerful time for the home cook. Ye be warned.

My emotional idiosyncrasies aside, roast chicken is an amazing, and impressive, dinner. It is also extraordinarily economical: for roughly the same price as a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts a whole chicken provides a mixture of white and dark meat, crispy skin (if you're into that) and the most precious of commodities: homemade broth. This stuff should be minted and used as legal currency it is so good. You can use it in soups, gravy, pan sauces or freeze it for future meals like Sopa de Tortilla. If you are planning a harvest get-together, however, turkey is a great idea, but it can be expensive if you are only feeding a few guests. For this reason, I have chosen to roast a chicken for our harvest entree post. But, if you are truly interested in the classic roast turkey dinner see the additional tips for turkeys.

Considering my first-ever published article was on pasture-raised turkeys, I think it only right that I take a moment to explore with you, briefly, the wide world of pasture-raised and heritage fowl. There is a movement among farmers today against the "conventional" methods used by the super producers of the poultry world. I like to think of it this way: how would I taste pumped full of antibiotics, barely able to scratch through my own excrement and living in almost constant darkness? If you're interested in finding a local provider of organic or pasture-raised fowl try Local Harvest for a helpful and informative guide to area farms and markets.

How to roast a chicken:

  1. Use the number of guests to decide how large your chicken should be. Remember, a serving is only a few ounces. For example, a 6-8 lbs chicken would easily feed a party of four.

  2. Buy the appropriately sized "oven bag" or "cooking bag" of your choice. The size will be determined by the weight of the bird.

  3. Place your open your cooking bag in a glass or aluminum baking dish, slightly larger than your chicken. Place 1/2 a tablespoon of flour inside the bag, shaking it around to lightly dust the interior. This will keep the skin from sticking.

  4. Thaw your fowl, at room temperature, if it is frozen. Never thaw and then refreeze poultry(or any meat as a rule of thumb). Remove the bird from its bag.

  5. Preheat your oven to 350.

  6. Some brands will leave the gizzard, giblets etc. in a small bag in the main cavity. Remove these, checking to make sure that the cavity is empty.

  7. Rinse the bird in cool water. Rinse the cavity thoroughly as well as underneath the wings and legs.

  8. Pat the bird dry. Using room temperature (or melted) butter, coat the underside of the bird and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken (with the buttered underside on the bottom) in the cooking bag and butter the breast and wings (top side), and season.

  9. If you are going to fill the cavity with extra seasonings (sprigs of fresh rosemary, halved onions, apples or lemon slices) now would be the time. If not, secure the cooking bag using the tie provided, cutting slits in the bag to keep it from bursting.

  10. Consult the cooking guide provided with your oven bags and roast the chicken accordingly. Most cooking times will range from an hour and fifteen minutes to two hours.

Notes on turkeys: Roasting a turkey is, essentially, very similar to roasting a chicken. However, there are some subtle differences. Firstly, a turkey will have two cavities (one at the neck and one at the tail). The giblets, gizzard etc. could be located in either cavity so be sure to check that both are clear, and thoroughly rinsed. If your turkey is fairly large, you may need to remove one of your oven racks before preheating the oven to make space. Some turkeys will have a "button" that measures its internal temperature. When the turkey reaches a certain temperature the button will pop, signifying that is done. Not all turkeys will have the the timer "button", but even if yours does be vigilant. If the button pops and your bird has only been in the oven for thirty minutes, think again. When the turkey is sufficiently cooked the pan juices should be clear and the bird should be browned on top and bottom (the bottom will not be as golden as the top but it should not be pale). Bloody or pink turkey should never be eaten.

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