Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recipe: The story of my roast chicken

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I'm going to say something really radical here. Are you ready? Sitting down?

I like roasting chicken cut up, rather than whole.

I know this is clearly not the mark of a real cook. I admit it. I am not a real cook. I am a busy, multitasking, corner-cutting home cook. And I have a butcher who is willing to do all the messy stuff.

So I go to the wonderful Bob's Market, just around the corner, and I ask Rich the butcher for two of their terrific corn-fed whole chickens. And I ask him to cut them up for me. He knows how I like it by now: in eighths, with the backbones in a separate package for making stock.

I come home with four legs, four wings, four breast halves, and four thighs, which go onto baking sheets. No, I do not separate the dark and light meat. I like them to commingle, so that the fat from the dark is available to baste the light. I sprinkle everything with a generous amount of garlic salt, which I consider to be a deity among seasonings. And then into the oven it goes.

The oven I preheat to 450. When I slide in the chicken, I turn on the convection for 15 minutes. No more, or things will be dried out. I find that the blast of circulating hot air gives the skin a head start on crisping. After this initial period, I turn off the convection and turn the oven down to 375. About 40 minutes later, it's all done. Oh, I look in on it occasionally, baste once or twice. But that's all the TLC this chicken requires.

While the chicken is roasting I start the stock. I put the backs and any odd scraps of fat I've pulled off the thighs into a pot with water and turn it on. No onion or carrot or anything else. Just chicken. I let that simmer until the roasted chicken is done.

The first thing I do when the chicken is cool enough to handle is to eat the wings. All of them. All by myself. My reward for being the cook. Haven't you wondered, Michael, why there are never any wings on the chickens I roast? Ha.

And then I do something completely un-real-cook-like.

I get out a big plastic container. I take all the chicken meat off the bones. Some comes off in big pieces, some I have to pick. Doesn't matter. This chicken I will serve to my kids, or put into quesadillas, or make into chicken salad, or throw into a casserole. It is a necessary component of my culinary life.

And I take all the bones and skin - including the ones left from the wings after I've devoured them - and throw them into the stock pot. Using already-roasted chicken scraps gives my stock a full, meaty flavor you just don't get from raw chicken. My chicken stock takes like big, fat, weightlifting chickens. Nothing delicate about it. The stock simmers for another hour or so. I strain it, cool it, de-fat it, and put it away for soup, or casseroles, or cooking rice in, or a hundred other things.

The end.

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