Chicken was the theme last week.
I shopped on Sunday, and I ended up with a whole roaster as well as chicken pieces. I haven’t roasted a chicken in a long time. I love roasted chicken. It is really very easy, but so comforting, and for some reason, always seems to impress company. The best part I think is actually the leftovers. You can do so many things with them, but I opted for chicken pot pie this time around, which I will get to in a post of its own. The chicken pieces became an experiment in the heretofore unexplored world of fried chicken. That will also get a post of its own…
Typically, I roast chicken with butter and sage under the skin, and lemons in the cavity. Or occasionally I will make a paste of fresh herbs, lots of salt and pepper, garlic, balsamic and olive oil, but the roasted chicken from The Zuni Cafe in California is stuff of legend, and I wanted to give it a try.
Roasted chicken really is fantastic. You can’t get much more bang for your buck, and no meat-eater can turn down a piece of well roasted chicken, moist meat, crispy skin, a ton of flavor. And it really is pretty easy to do. You don’t want to over cook it, but with a little bit of practice, over cooking gets harder and harder to do.
The Zuni method involves a lot of salt on a chicken that has been rinsed and well dried. You salt it the day before you are going to cook it, and you leave it loosely wrapped in the fridge over night.
The idea is that the salt makes the chicken more flavorful and moist. You are supposed to use a pretty small chicken, like 3 1/2 pounds because it gets roasted on high heat, and a larger chicken might dry out at that temperature before it is cooked all the way through. I used a 4 1/2 pound chicken and thought it worked just fine, but I probably wouldn’t go any bigger than that.
So after the chicken was salted and hung out overnight, the skin seemed smoother, more taut, and drier than the chickens I usually roast. I am not sure why, but I took this as a good sign. I did a couple of things differently than I usually do, per the Zuni instructions. I roasted it at 475 degrees, and I did it in the cast iron frying pan. The instructions are to preheat the pan on top of the stove and effectively sear the bottom of the chicken on the hot pan before it goes into the oven. About half way through the cooking, you turn the bird up side down for a short time, and the sear at the beginning keeps the chicken from sticking and helps the skin get crispy.
It did look lovely when it came out of the oven…
Umm, chicken is a weird thing to photograph, raw or cooked. Which is perhaps why when you see professionally styled food photographs of poultry most of the time they are taken as part of a larger scene and not right up in the bird’s body cavity as I felt the need to do. Please pardon me for that. The photographs are a learning process for me. Trust me, I read other food blogs, blogs where the photography is astounding and makes everything look freakin fantastic, but this is real life, and this is what chicken looks like when it comes out of the oven and is photographed with a camera that has the very best intentions but is saddled with one auto focus lense and a mediocre photographer attached to it. I am just keeping it real here. Don’t want to give anyone false hope. How disappointed would you be if I took the most stunning photos ever, and then you made this chicken and it came out of the oven looking like the one in the photo and you were sad? I am actually doing you a favor as it turns out. You are welcome.
At any rate, this chicken was pretty dern tasty, and delightfully moist, as they promised it would be. My only gripe was the skin. It was delicious, and moderately crispy, but as long as the meat isn’t sawdust, I will usually sacrifice a little bit of moistness for the crispest skin ever (that may be sacrilege, but it is absolutely the truth, I like dark meat besides…) And this wasn’t the crispest skin ever. So I think it could be improved upon.
Which brings about a new project. I am embarking on a chicken roasting extravaganza this winter. I will try all different methods, and I will bring in an independent panel to taste them with me, and we will take notes and determine the best way to roast a chicken. I will report back each time I do it. This is gonna be fantastic. I need to wrangle some chicken testing volunteers. If you are interested, let me know. I will re-do the this one, so I can take appropriate notes on method and result, and I will find all the other ways out there to roast, and I will include them as well, and I will find my favorite way to roast a bird, come hell or high water. This is going to be fun.
To go with the chicken this time, I roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. I have been wanting to tell you about the broccoli forever, because it is easy and delicious and quite frankly, was a total revelation, since until I saw the recipe in Fine Cooking I had certainly never thought to roast broccoli. Now I am pretty sure I have not eaten it any other way since. It is very easy, and very delicious. And the best part is that it is as good room temperature as it is hot, so you can do it ahead of time, or eat it left over with excellent results.
You start with a head or two or three of broccoli. I like to find ones with long stems, because I like to trim up the stems and roast those as well. I cut the broccoli so all the stems are similar in size, and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
These get roasted for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, and I flip them once with a spatula during cooking. The broccoli will be cooked through and starting to brown. The broccoli comes out of the oven and goes into a bowl, and then I squeeze the juice of a lemon over it, and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For three heads of broccoli I used about a half cup of cheese. Taste the broccoli and if you want to add more cheese, go for it.
This is great hot, warm, room temperature or cold. I have eaten it at all temperatures, and I am not even sure I have a favorite. So there it is, the roasted broccoli I have been wanting to share for ever. Easy, quick and by far my favorite way to eat broccoli. A great side dish for the cooler weather.
Next post: fried chicken, chicken pot pie, ribs or guacamole, how could I possibly choose?