Thursday, February 25, 2010
How to Roast a Chicken Without Even Trying
Well, as the four of you that are still reading may have noticed, I've been absent from the blog for some time. You'd think that being home and unemployed as I have for a month (did I mention that?) would leave me with all the time in the world to blog, but unfortunately for me I've been uninspired as of late. As I've mentioned before, I enjoy cooking most as a release, and without anything to release from (except the stress of when I'll be seeing my next paycheck), I fell into a bit of a slump. I wasn't sure exactly what I needed to pick me up, but by my third week of moping it became clear that release or no release, I'm just not the same when I'm not cooking. So I picked myself up off the couch, shut off the Lost marathon and got back to cooking. I now have an arsenal of wonderful winter recipes to carry me (and anyone out there that is still reading) through the end of the season and into spring.
Shortly before my blogging sabbatical began I had an overwhelming urge to start making comfort food. The first thing that came to my mind was roast chicken, one of the many dishes I remember from my childhood with lip-smacking clarity. Despite the many misconceptions people have about roasting a chicken (it's hard/it takes too long/I don't know how to), it's actually a home cook's dream. There are a variety of different ways you can prep a chicken for roasting, but even if you did the bare minimum of washing, drying and salting it before tossing it into a hot oven, you'd only have spent 10 minutes on dinner, with an hour of roasting time left to help the kids with their homework, balance your checkbook or watch another Lost rerun (but that's just me).
My mother did it after an hour long commute home from work and it was perfect every time, with a side salad and mashed potatoes to boot. Hers was a classic and simple preparation with nothing more than salt and pepper and a butter rub on the skin for extra flavor. It's still the way I most often roast chicken, and by far my favorite, although I've recently started to experiment with some unlikely but delicious flavor combinations. I decided that a roast would be the perfect vehicle for the enormous bag of winter CSA veggies taking up residency in my crisper. Taking a little inspiration from a maple carrot recipe I made a while back, I decided to give the chicken a maple, butter, and soy sauce rub that would end up infusing the jus with a delicious east-meets-west flavor. They may sound like strange bedfellows, but trust me, these ingredients come together extremely well. Once I'd whisked the smokey maple syrup (the real stuff, guys--the fake stuff is mostly corn syrup) and soy sauce together and given the chicken a little bath with the mixture, I simply lathered on the butter. Then I scattered some carrots, parsnips and pink potatoes around the chicken so they could cook in the pan juices and impart their own flavor to the final jus (I also add half a cup of chicken stock and half a cup of water so there's enough of it for the whole chicken--I really looove gravy).
That's about it, and not to mention, it's really affordable and feeds a very large crowd. Roasting is one of my favorite things to do for company, whether it's a chicken, a duck or little Cornish hens, because you can get it started before anyone gets there and actually spend some time chatting with your guests instead of stuck in the kitchen. Not to mention that few smells are as delicious or as comforting as a chicken roasting in the oven. Your guests will automatically feel at ease, and your family will be itching to get to the table. Whether or not you make it a simple roast or one with more complex flavors, I can promise you you'll be shocked by how little effort is involved in making such a great meal. Here's the recipe for the chicken I most recently made:
Maple-Soy Roast Chicken
1 medium-sized whole chicken
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened if possible
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup water
1. Preheat your oven to 375 F degress. Wash your chicken thoroughly in cold water, careful to remove the neck and gizzards from the cavity first. Dry well with paper towel and place in an oven safe baking dish or casserole. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper (the soy sauce is fairly salty so don't go too crazy).
2. Whisk maple syrup and soy sauce together and brush or rub over the chicken. Give it a minute to dry and if you have time and place it in the fridge to give the process a hand (I like to do this while I prep the veggies), but if not just go ahead and rub the softened butter all over the skin. Tie drumsticks together with kitchen twine.
3. Add water and stock to the dish and any vegetables you'd like to roast along with the chicken. Place in the oven and roast for 1 to 1 and half hours until cooked, depending on the size of your bird. I recommend peeking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure the breast isn't browning too fast (and if it is, cover just the breast with a piece of tin foil) and that the juices aren't disappearing (if so, simply add water 1/2 cup at a time). However, if you don't have time to check in, it won't catch on fire or explode and you'll still have a delicious roast chicken, so don't sweat it, and enjoy!