Friday, November 9, 2007

Difficult Simplicity

roasting chickens are an art. ask any french cooking teacher or chef or anyone. roasted chicken takes a finessing that is more in the knowing than in the doing. or so i've learned.

tonight or, better yet, last night, we didn't use a recipe. sorry. i got home, things were crazed, i prepped a chicken for roasting, then had to leave for a basketball game with brandon. so, i brought out our meatball toasts, heated those while the chicken finished cooking and put some fruit with it, there ya go, eat up, let's go.

however, the chicken i make is based upon a recipe i created/learned a LONG time ago and i will try to recreate this for you, but here's the truth about roasting chicken --

often, you will discover, your roast chicken is overcooked or undercooked. it happens to ALL of us. i must say that it has been my experience that things like roasted chicken, a perfect turkey -- also very difficult -- great pork chops, lamb that doesn't taste gamey and ick, duck that isn't too fatty, good bread, well-baked goods and hollandaise sauce (oh, and poached eggs) are, well, a feeling. a feeling, yes. and pie crust. you FEEL when it's good. it takes practice and a willingness to fail in order to become proficient at any of these. practice. i adore cooking and the way it makes me feel inside to create things for my family that make them smile and feel loved, so i'm willing to fail in order to succeed. i trust my palate to my own hand instead of constantly fearing my own hand with my tastebuds then trusting my tongue to a stranger who doesn't know me at all. it's not because i'm super confident. it's because i'm completely ignorant of my failings in the kitchen. really. it's that simple and stupid.

i swear.

and so, here is the roast chicken i put in the oven last night that we are eating in the next little bit with something terrific you will see in the next post. or, at least, i hope is terrific.

linda's roast chicken
1-3 to 4 pound whole chicken
good quality olive oil
rosemary (fresh or dried)
thyme (fresh or dried)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 whole head of garlic, the tip cut
1 whole lime or lemon, cut in half

what to do:
1. preheat the oven to 375ºF. rub the chicken with olive oil all over, even under the skin. be careful when you go under the skin, because you don't want to break it, because it protects the meat and keeps in the moisture.
2. if using fresh herbs, you'll be stuffing them inside of the cavity of the chicken, so we'll get there in a minute. but if you want to use dried herbs, sprinkle them over the chicken and into the cavity. if you've got the time and a mortar and pestle, then crush the herbs first to release the oils that really bring out the flavor and sprinkle them over and inside the chix. liberally salt and pepper the chicken all over, even the underside (same with the dried herbs) and inside the cavity. rub, rub, rub -- feel free to massage the chix. if using fresh herbs, salt and pepper the inside the cavity before you put in a few sprigs of herbs inside.
3. after that is all done, put in the garlic head, that has been sliced to reveal the top of the cloves thereby releasing the flavor, and the lime or lemon, sliced in half lengthwise, then put into the cavity. if you want to squeeze it lightly around the whole chicken, go ahead. i do and it adds a really nice tang.
4. roast the chicken for about 1-1 1/2 hours at 375º WITHOUT BASTING. i think i may have said that the purpose of the skin of a chicken is to keep things out, not let things in, so to baste it really makes no sense. so, don't baste it. if you're totally married to basting, then who am i to dissuade you? but, i NEVER, EVER DO and the chicken comes out moist and faboo.

like i said, i go by feeling with chicken rather than temperature. but, if memory serves, when a chicken is 165 or something with a meat thermometer, take it out of the oven, tent it and let it rest for 15 minutes. it'll continue to cook. check temp. in the meaty part of the thigh, do not touch the bone. your reading will be off.

a really good roast chicken is SPECTACULAR, as i'm sure you know. a well-stocked pantry to enhance that chicken is even better. let me tell you about mine:

i keep my pantry as well-stocked as i can, because we enjoy and cook a ton of different types of foods, however, i also like unique types of food that require unique types of pantry items. to me, my pantry is ALWAYS lacking, because for all we cook, you would assume i would have more or i would like to have more. i realize in stating what i actually do keep in my pantry, others may stare at me in disbelief and say, "you don't think you're well-stocked enough? puh-LEASE!" but, hey, i still believe what i believe.

these days, i keep the basics in my pantry -- real vanilla (don't EVER use imitation vanilla, unless you're doing a baking job that requires pure white fondant or frosting with a vanilla flavor, then use imitation, but it better be a really good paying job), dried herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, savory, sage, parsley, mint, dill, basil, bay leaves and vanilla beans. i use a lot of vanilla beans. i also keep ground cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, garam masala, curry, chili powder, red pepper flakes, cayenne, season salt, whole peppercorns -- multi-colored, white and black (couldn't find pink here, but if i could, i'd have those as well -- i use a coffee grinder to grind my whole spices when i need them) -- five spice powder, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole cloves, allspice seeds, fennel seeds, black and white sesame seeds, lavender, saffron (yep, it's worth it to me), chicken boullion cubes and paprika (hungarian, preferably). i also have dried mustard, good raw honey, real maple syrup, almond extract (some of the stuff i bake calls for it), real lemon extract (again, the baking thing), olive oil, sesame oil, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry wine vinegar, rice vinegar (seasoned and unseasoned), worcestershire sauce, soy sauce (regular and low sodium), organic chicken broth, beef broth, beef consomme, stick cinnamon, ground ginger (i always keep tons of real ginger in my fridge, because i use it A LOT), garlic powder, garlic salt, cream of tartar, corn starch, fresh baking powder and soda (i go through these pretty quickly, so they never go bad), various nuts including pecan and peanuts and walnuts and almonds, kosher salt, sea salt, all-purpose flour, cake flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour (although i keep that in my fridge), blue cornmeal (which i also keep in my fridge), rye flour (yep, fridge), white onions, brown onions, maui onions, shallots, garlic bulbs, potatoes -- russet, red and yukon gold -- all sorts of rice -- we'll get to that in the next blog -- um... hmm... let me see... and a bunch more like sun dried tomatoes, tomato paste, superfine sugar and on and on.

i also keep on top of my pantry enough to know that when i find a recipe i plan to use, read it, i know what on there i don't have and what i do. i am in touch with my pantry, feeling it, aware of what's in there without needing a list, and agument it accordingly for the most part. but i also trust enough in what i'm doing to know that if i'm missing something i either move on and find something else or i will rework it to accommodate what i DO have. that is not easy for everyone and i understand that. so, keeping the basics in your pantry is all you need to do in order to succeed. but what are the basics? well, i'm no expert, but i can tell you that whatever your heart gravitates toward with this stuff is what you need in there. it has to be based upon your own tastes, not what some book tells you. you may love indonesian cooking in theory, but keeping coconut milk and jasmine rice on a regular basis for personal cooking may not suit you. do what you FEEL. cooking is very tactile and sensual, as you know.

there was a time when i kept my pantry so well-stocked, it freaked even me out. i had stuff like herbes de provence, fleur de sel and kaffir lime leaves. really. nowadays, if i need that, i go look for it. it's not so hard to find something you want when you're committed.

a pantry is a funny thing. we often tend to have just the minimum and when we find a recipe we like, we have to go out and buy EVERYTIHNG, thereby making us feel pretty lacking. that's not to say to have things that you will use only once and, therefore, will lose their flavor within six months -- for example, if you find a great recipe for paella that calls for saffron and you really won't be using it that much, then don't spend the kazillion dollars it will cost for one micromilligram. but if you know you'll be using it frequently, then buy it. don't scrimp and cheat yourself, budget it into your grocery bill and be prepared for anything, including whims of your own in the kitchen. splurge on yourself once in awhile if you're interested in cooking. buy a specialty herb -- real curry powder instead of basic, real maple syrup instead of corn syrup masquerading as maple.

as i mentioned before, i am adamant about having fresh mozzarella and the best parmgiano reggiano in my home. we cook too much with it not to have it at our disposal. i use my saffron, so it is economical for me to buy it and have it on hand. i cook with a great deal of exotic spices and herbs, so buying them makes sense, because i use them. and that's what a pantry is for. to be stocked with the staples you use and will use. not to hold stuff that you won't use for 20 years, unless there is some sort of significance with all of this, because food does create a sense memory within us all. the smell of campbell's chicken noodle soup on the stove reminds me of lunches as a kid in these cool mug and plate sets with chix noodle soup and a pb&j or tuna sandwich on white bread. omg. i remember those things all the time, so significance of pantry items comes into play also. and i'll give you an example of this:

when i was a kid, we had one of those pantries you could basically walk in. in this pantry were a myriad of things we used and some i had never heard of nor tasted. there were the typical cans of tuna, soups, boxes of dried goods and baskets of onions and potatoes (we didn't use fresh garlic back then -- when i discovered it, i couldn't believe i had been fed dried all these years -- i was 8 when i discovered fresh garlic whereas my sons have never known differently). we also had cans of sardines, salmon and underwood deviled whatever my father's taste was at that moment -- ham, beef or anything. and something i had never tasted in my life -- spam. we had this can of spam in our pantry since, i think, the day we moved into our house in 1970. maybe it had even moved there with us. i remember going into that pantry and seeing that spam and wondering what the hell it was every single time, but i never opened it to taste it and no one ever moved it. it stayed in its same place on the shelf of our pantry until we moved out in 1979.

my father had put that there. no, he didn't like spam. he had once lived on it when he was younger and he never forgot it. that can was NEVER OPENED. let me repeat this, that can of spam was NEVER OPENED. i have yet to taste it. i mean, i have lived on top ramen and tap water in my day. crackers and air. nothing but water and canned pasta dishes and i've lived on leftover campbell's chicken noodle soup. but i have yet to eat spam and i think it's because my father kept that can of spam on our shelf for 10 years as a reminder of what he hoped would never happen to any of us again -- a need to eat only that. he never mentioned whether he liked it or didn't, so don't go off thinking we eschewed spam because of the taste. i have no idea what it tastes like and since i adore hawaiian culture and respect it as well as loving monty python and their little viking friends, i can not comment on the quality of spam on any level. i can only say that can sitting on our pantry shelf for all those years was enough to make me seek anything else in my food keepsake world other than that.

a pantry is your friend. it is your savior. your guide. that's why reading through a recipe before you attempt to make it is a good thing. then you can decide if you're going to fill your pantry with what you need or just wing it.

me? i keep my pantry as stocked as i can given the times
or i just wing it.
because i'm a big believer in making the simplest of things as hard as possible.
you think i'm lying, but i'm not.
i told you i'm a flibbertigibbet.
such is life.

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