A Chef’s Techniques for Roasting a Whole Chicken

The Bird II

A couple of days ago I came across a video from a french chef demonstrating his techniques for creating the perfect roast chicken in his home oven.  I was intrigued and set out to follow his techniques along with a few of my own.  To add to the experiment I decided to try a “farm roaming” chicken from Whole Foods that came from Crystal Lake Farms in Arkansas.  Typically I buy the smallest bird possible from whatever the local grocer has to offer but I thought it might be interesting to consider both technique and quality of the bird this time around.  Another difference here from my usual routine for roasting chicken is that I have not included any herbs or spices; just salt, pepper, and garlic (one whole head broken down into individual cloves).    I thought the French Chef’s technique  would work well here with testing this “high-end” roaming chicken.  This would essentially insure that we would be tasting just the chicken with no interference of herbs or spices.

The Techniques:

  • Wash and dry the bird with paper towels and allow to sit and finish air drying before roasting. This will help insure a crispy skin. It also let’s the bird warm up to room temperature therefore cutting the cooking time by just a bit.
  • Add salt and ground pepper in the cavity of the bird.
  • Add about 3 Tbs. of butter to the cavity of the bird. This is important as it keeps the chicken moist while roasting. Rub the entire chicken with cooking oil.
  • Choose a roasting pan that is not much bigger than the bird and place the chicken it the pan on its side and place in a 375 degree oven for 15- 20 min. The smaller roasting pan makes this easier than a larger pan as it supports the chicken and keeps it from rolling over.

Ready To Roast

      • Repeat this step for the other side.
      • When both sides have finished roasting turn the chicken over on its back and add the garlic around the chicken and continue to roast for 40-45 minutes longer or until the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

The Garlic

 

    • When the chicken is done remove and allow to rest on a plate.

The Final Bird

    • For the sauce simply drain off any fat from the roasting juices collected in the pan and add a bit of water and the garlic and bring to a simmer to reduce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over carved chicken.

The Sauce

    • Carve the chicken on a serving platter and serve.

The Carved Bird

Note: The first two steps are part of my normal routine. The rest of the steps listed are from the french chef.

My Results and thoughts of the “high-end” chicken:

No doubt these techniques produce a moist and succulent chicken.  It was plenty flavorful with the sauce and garlic.  I served it with grilled baby zucchini and a potato gratin which was delicious.
The Plated Bird

However, I am not sure that for the cost of the chicken, $4.29/Ib. that it really stood up to my expectations.  Normally as I explained earlier I choose the smallest chicken possible from Bell and Evans which is around $2.75/Ib. and for the most part I have been completely satisfied.  I am going to try these same techniques on the Bell and Evans chicken next time and see how it fares.

On another note, laying aside the quality of the bird, I missed the addition of herbs that I usually include in roasting a chicken.  In past roasts I have added whole lemons, onions, bunches of thyme, rosemary or  tarragon   to the cavity of the bird creating tremendous layering and complexity of flavors that for me the above version did not yield.

My thoughts on the chef’s techniques:

I believe the cooking techniques will be adopted into my roasting routine for chicken.  Admittedly I have had, on occasion, turned out a dry roast which is always frustrating.  What I liked about the sort of three step process of starting with the sides  and ending with the bird on its back is that it keeps you in touch with the roasting during the whole process therefore avoiding any over roasting and dried out chicken.

 

 

Crawfish Pie

 

crawfishpie final

Crawfish season is upon us here in Louisiana.  Mardi-Gras has come and gone with many crawfish boils prepared as part of the celebration.  But the real crawfish season is still in full swing.  I enjoy the boils but what I really like are the richer versions from etouffee to fried.  The crawfish pie here is a favorite and really offers the chance to serve the cajun crustaceans in both of my prefered ways: encased in a buttery pie crust pastry (the pie) and etouffee style over long grain rice using the leftover filling from the pies.  This recipe for crawfish pie is one I developed after reading and researching different methods of for the filling and uses my basic pie crust that I use for both sweet and savory dishes.  One somewhat radical departure from the normal pie, which is prepared essentially the same as a chicken pot pie, is that I have blind baked the crust and then filled them with the crawfish filling just before serving.  This makes it easier to control the thickness of the filling and also helps preserve the crispiness of the crust.  The pies could certainly be made in one large pie and baked with the filling enclosed and served family style.

 

Crawfish Pie Recipe

1 Ib. of Crawfish Tails

2 Celery Stalks with Leaves Attached Finely Diced

1 Bell Pepper (any color works) Finely Diced

1 Medium Onion Finely Diced

2 Green or Spring Onion Finely Diced

3 Tbs.  Butter

3 Tbs. Flour

Cajun Seasoning To Taste

3/4 Pint Half and Half

1/4 Cup Cream Sherry

Pastry Crust For  9″ Pie

Instructions:

      1.  While dicing all the vegetables melt 3 Tbs. of butter in a medium sauce pan and add 3 Tbs. of flour.  Whisk together and leave on medium heat checking from time to time.  When the bubbles reside and the butter flour mixture starts to brown slightly add the diced vegetables and cook them until all of the vegetables are coated with the flour and butter mixture and are tender.
      2. Once the vegetables are nice and tender set aside and divide the crawfish tails into equal 1/2 Ib. portions. Take one portion and place it in a food processor and process until finely minced. Do not over process.
      3. Turn up the heat of the vegetables and slowly add the Half and Half until the mixture is smooth and has thickened enough to coat the back of  a spoon.  If your mixture is too thick add more Half and Half.
      4. Add the minced crawfish tales and season with the Cajun seasoning and salt to taste.
      5. Add the cream sherry and mix thoroughly.  Add the final 1/2 Ib. of whole crawfish tales. Allow mixture to remain cooking on low heat while you prepare the individual pie crusts.
      6. Blind bake 2 to 4 pie crust shells in small pastry molds and cut out tops to fit the molds like lids once they are baked. You should have a flat lid (pastry top) for each shell you are baking.
      7. When the shells are baked and cool enough to remove from the mold plate them and fill them with the crawfish filling placing a lid on each one. More filling can be poured around each pie as desired.

Note: Any remaining crawfish filling can be served etouffee style over rice; garnish with additional chopped green onions!

Cannellini Beans and Pasta

Referencing the blog I posted a couple of weeks ago about a local restaurant here in Rome that serves typical Roman dishes I have provided here a recipe with some variations on the same theme of beans and pasta.  I am sure this sounds strange, or at least it did to me when I first saw this on menus here in Rome.  But in fact the two work quite well together.  The misconception lies in the fact that the pasta does not share equal billing with the beans.  Essentially the pasta’s role is more about being a vehicle for the sauce as well as adding a layer of texture that would otherwise not exist.   I don’t consider the pasta to be a  key figure in the flavor profile of the dish.   Having said this I highly recommend you try it in the dish before opting to leave it out on the first try.  I have now made this several times and frankly can’t imagine the dish without the addition of pasta.  Almost any type of pasta works as long as it is a small one.
This dish could be served as an appetizer in a small portion or larger portion as a main dish.

One thing that is also really nice about this dish it’s very adaptable to a wide range of herbs and spices to transform it into a totally different dish. It also works well as a base for meat as well as fish.  I have provide a few alternatives at the end of this post to the basic recipe provided below.

Cannellini Beans with Pasta

8 oz. cannellini beans fresh or dried. If dried soak in salted water overnight.

1 small carrot chopped finely

1 small onion chopped finely

½ a stalk of celery plus any leaves attached chopped finely

2 tbs. of tomato paste or tomato sauce

1tbs. or more of chopped fresh Rosemary (or other fresh herb)

Instructions:

1). Cook the beans on medium heat in enough salted water to cover the beans by half in a pot. Add water as needed during the cooking process.

2). When the beans are tender remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Cooked Cannellini Beans

3) Meanwhile sautee the chopped ingredients in olive oil until soft and tender. It’s fine if they brown slightly.

4) Drain the beans and add only the bean’s cooking liquid to the sautéed vegetables.  Allow to simmer with more water if necessary until the vegetables are tender. Puree in a blender or blitz with a hand held blender and return puree to the pot.


5) Add the beans and the tomato paste and chopped fresh rosemary and allow to simmer very gently. Add salt as needed.

6) If using fresh pasta chop into bite size pieces and add to the beans and liquid. If using dried pasta it is recommended to select a very small pasta such a small macaroni or small penne for this recipe. Cook separately and add to the beans when the past is cooked al dente.  It will continue to cook and absorb liquid in the liquid of the beans.

Other variations:

1) Add a meat ragu as a topping. (left photo)
2) Add chopped zucchini to the beans and past and allow to cook on medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Serve with seared salmon in a shallow bowl.(right photo)
3) Replace the rosemary with fresh thyme, lemon thyme, sage, or oregano. Could change out any of these for your favorite fresh herb.
4) Add crisped bacon or pancetta as a topping.
5) Can also be made with different beans. Here in Italy it is often prepared with chickpeas. I have it a couple of times with cranberry beans and the results are delicious and earthy.

Venice…and then Murano!

VeniceFeatureImage

We became tourists; Cara enlisted as guide a midget Venetian nobleman to whom all doors were open and with him at her side and a guide book in her hand, she came with us, flagging sometimes but never giving up, a neat, prosaic figure amid the immense splendors of the place.

The fortnight at Venice passed quickly and sweetly—perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless. On some days life kept pace with the gondola, as we nosed through the side-canals and the boatman uttered his plaintive musical bird-cry of warning; on other days with the speed-boat bouncing over the lagoon in a stream of sunlit foam; it left a confused memory of fierce sunlight on the sands and cool, marble interiors; of water everywhere, lapping on smooth stone, reflected in a dapple of light on painted ceilings; of a night at the Corombona palace such as Byron might have known, and another Byronic night fishing for scampi in the shallows of Chioggia, the phosphorescent wake of the little ship, the lantern swinging in the prow, and the net coming up full of weed and sand and floundering fishes; of melon and prosciutto on the balcony in the cool of the morning; of hot cheese sandwiches and champagne cocktails at Harry’s bar. [Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited]

We were in Venice a month or so ago. It is a magical and mysterious place to visit with all the seemingly endless canals and a labyrinth of narrow streets. This with a intriguing  mix of Byzantine influenced architecture and Renaissance palaces are a heady combination.
St.Marks Square

It can also be maddeningly crowded.  But there are the other lagoons to visit and I highly recommend this.  We opted for Murano as Geno Seguso, had invited us for a private tour of his family’s glass workshop, Seguso Archimede, http://www.aseguso.com. The tour  included a  museum of sorts with examples of the workshop’s early works as well as current production items.  Everything from tableware, mirrors, chandeliers, to figurines and bathroom accessories were on display.  The visit ended with a brief visit to the hot ovens to experience first hand the fabrication process.
MuranoglasschandelierI

After the tour we decided to stay on the lagoon for lunch. We had already spotted, what looked to be, an interesting Osteria on a brief walk through the center of town before our tour.  Osteria Acqua Stanca, http://www.acquastanca.it mainly specializes in freshly prepared seafood dishes.  There desserts are also made in house and are well known for a delicious lemon tart which was unavailable the day we visited.
AcquaStancaMurano
AcquaStancaInteriorI
We started with Shrimp that had been wrapped in shredded phylo and fried until crispy. Served with a mildly spicy mayonnaise they were crisp, fresh and flavorful.

Other dishes included seared tuna with a zucchini cream to which a drizzle of very flavorful olive oil was added. Italians love the combination of oil drizzled into creamed vegetables and so do I.  The combination of textures, oily and at the same time creamy offers a much welcomed complexity to what could otherwise be flat and unappealing.

ScampiPastaMurano
One dish that stood out was the spaghetti served with prawns.  This was a simply prepared dish; fresh prawns, house made spaghetti, all dressed with a light broth and a high quality olive oil. The scampi were sweet and tender while the pasta, sturdy and the sauce slick on the palate.

DessertMuarno

For dessert we ordered an apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Not a bad way to end our excursion to Murano.

This dish recalled one we used to order from a trattoria which was dangerously located only a few doors down from our apartment in New York.  Their version included radicchio along with the prawns. Radicchio is a variety of chicory that is quite popular here in Italy.  I used this as an opportunity to combine Osteria Acqua Stanca’s version with what I remembered from the trattoria in New York.   I  have also included a small amount of home made tomato sauce to feather out or transition flavors from sweet to bitter. So basically the dish is built around the sweetness of the prawns and tied together with a small amount of acidity in the form of tomato sauce and then delicately laced with the bitterness of the radicchio.

The procedure for this dish may seem like a lot of work and prep for a pasta dish. Really, I think it is worth the effort.  The flavors are more complex than your typical run of the mill pasta with seafood dish.  Feel free to replace the prawns with shrimp; rock shrimp would be a great option.  You can certainly use dried pasta that will cut down on some of the prep time. The rest is just preparing a quick tomato sauce and broth that will be used to bind the scampi with the pasta.

Prawns with Spaghetti and Radicchio

ScampiII

1 dozen whole fresh prawns

1/4 head of radicchio roughly chopped

1/2 -3/4 cup of tomato sauce, preferably homemade

spaghetti, fresh or dried

For the Scampi Broth

1 dozen heads and shells from fresh prawns

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/2 stalk of celery, roughly chopped

1/2 carrot, roughly chopped

2 stems and leaves of parsley, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

Instructions:

For the Scamp Broth

1). Remove the heads and shells from the flesh of the prawns.  Keep the meat of the prawns in a bowl covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator until needed.  Reserve the heads and outer shells in a medium size pot filled with cold water.

2). Add the chopped vegetables, salt and pepper and more water to sufficiently cover the shells and vegetables, bring to a medium boil.  Once it reaches a medium boil reduce the heat to keep the pot between a simmer and low boil for 25-30 minutes.

3) Strain the broth and discard the solids. DO NOT try to press the solids in an attempt to extract more liquid or flavor.  With fish and shellfish stocks or broth this will result in a cloudy and murky broth in both appearance and flavor.

Prawn and Radicchio Assembly

1).  In a medium sauté pan sauté the prawns in olive oil until opaque and reserve in another bowl.

2).  Deglaze the pan with a few splashes of white wine and then gradually add about 1/2 cup of the prepared broth.  Bring to a boil and allow to reduce slightly.

3).  Add the chopped radicchio and allow to wilt on medium heat.  It will turn quite dark which is normal.

ThreePlusComponents

4).  Gradually add about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and reduce slightly.  Add 1/2 the sautéd prawns and allow to simmer and reduce slightly.  The prawns will break down but will also start to intensify the flavor of the sauce. From this point on work back and forth between the broth and tomato sauce until you reach the desired thickness. Note in the photo that in my version the tomato sauce is barely present on the pasta.  You may only need the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce depending on how much broth you add in the intervals. Check and rectify the seasoning with salt.

5). Meanwhile prepare the spaghetti keeping it al dente to taste.

6). When the spaghetti is done add it to the sauce in the pan and toss to coat the pasta.  Serve and garnish with remaining prawns.

Sauced

Stuffed Pork Loin and Pumpkin Puree

Here is a dish that was inspired primarily by chilly Fall evenings and the abundance of fresh pumpkin showing up at all the markets here in Rome. You may remember the pumpkin risotto with clams we sampled a few weekends ago at La Quercia on an especially chilly and rainy Saturday. Pumpkin finds its way in many Roman dishes from Soups to Stuffing for Ravioli.  In fact this puree, thinned out with chicken or vegetable stock is really delicious as a soup the next day. Continue reading Stuffed Pork Loin and Pumpkin Puree

Cabbage Soup with Clams and Pancetta

The following is my interpretation of the cabbage soup from last weekend in Puglia.  I decided with Autumn in our midst that some crisped pancetta would make a nice addition to this dish.  I already consider cabbage an Autumn food so why not play that up?  Enjoy!

Continue reading Cabbage Soup with Clams and Pancetta