cooking a thing: marry yourself chicken

I have self-doubts that yawn from here to Hoboken. “Christ, will I ever learn how to draw” and “what is financially secure” and “ugh my voice sounds stupid” and so on. HOWEVER. One of the few things that I’m confident that I do well is cook. And roast chicken is one of my more notorious dishes.

Where most people freak out on making roast chicken is that there are a million recipes for roast chicken. From the sillyful “engagement chicken” to “Million Dollar Chicken”, from Julia to Zuni to Crisp & Juicy

I call this, instead, marry yourself chicken. This is less of a recipe, and more of a way to debunk chicken mythology. 

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The most important things to consider are, as with most cooking: simple things done with quality ingredients, technique, and timing.

Time: Start to finish, it’s about a day, but active time is probably 15 minutes.

Ingredients: a little tiny bird, the best quality you can find. This is non-negotiable. If you don’t want to marry your ownself after this chicken, you probably needed a better bird. (Someday, I’ll make this with a Bresse chicken and then I will vaporize on impact.)

Kosher salt. Butter. Herbs. Lemon. Veggies: carrots, onions, celery, whathaveyou.

Flavor: Think about your family/crowd. Sage and rosemary make for a holiday-ish bird. Cajun spices. Curry. Adobo and garlic. Think ahead for your leftovers - do you like chicken salad? Rogan Josh? Chicken tacos? Sammiches? Don’t start with too intense of a flavor profile unless you know you’ve got a small enough bird or a big enough crowd that you’re not going to have leftovers. 

Prep: kosher-salt your bird at least a few hours ahead. A day is preferable, as the longer, the better. You want about as much salt as sesame seeds on a bagel. Put it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks. You don’t need to wash it - you’ll be spraying chicken juice all over your kitchen all to-catch-a-predator style.

About an hour before you want to cook, the butter mixture goes under and on top of the skin. Chicken skin is the best part, and anyone who says different is crazy. Try not to rip the skin. You’re kind’ve making a meat glove. 

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Yeah. Meat glove.

Heat: your bird is made of different pieces, with different fat content. She probably has more evenly distributed fat in the lower half of herself: legs, thighs. Ahem.

Trussing vs. spatchcocking: it’s a mod, and depends on the size of your bird and the depth of your lassitude.

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I truss a bigger bird - weave some butcher’s twine between the legs to “tape” the bird to itself. There’s a million ways to do it, but your objective is to get a more even, “round” object.

A spatchcock is a good method for grilling- taking out the backbone and splaying it open.

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Both are means to an evenly-heated end. 

I don’t do either of these, normally, because I like the most surface area of crispy chicken skin.

How to cook: put the bird in a roasting pan on a latticework of celery, carrots, and onion, then buzz that up for gravy at the end of the cooking process.  Alternately, butter thick slices of bread on all sides, put them in the bottom of a cast-iron pan, and set the bird on that.

Stuffing: you’re trying for an even distribution of heat, so either stuff the thing compactly, or don’t stuff it at all. Onions, bread crusts and lemons work wonderfully. I scoop that out after cooking, put it in a ramekin, and put it back in the oven to get it crunchy on top.

Setup: a pan only a bit bigger than your chicken. 

Heat: set your oven to 400 degrees.

A word about letting meat come to room temperature - a water bath might do it, but leaving it on the counter just won’t work. Don’t believe me? Try it and test it with a thermometer. The difference is negligible. 

Depending on the size of the bird, and the accuracy of your oven, you’ll want a ratio - high heat on each side, then lower the heat until you get an internal temp of 165. Food safety rules say you want it to be 180 before you eat it, but it’ll finish cooking as it rests - if it’s still at 165 between the oven and 10 minutes on the counter, you’re living in the Arctic or something.

Example: a tiny cornish hen, you’ll want to blast it for 6-8 minutes a side, breast side first. Flip it. Then put the heat down for another 15 minutes, take it out at 165, let it rest on the counter.

Carve, serve with lots of salad and wine. 

thanksgiving mashed taters: cold butter, warm cream

After cooking for a million years and reading a million recipes, here’s my Thanksgiving mashed potato recipe that never fails to delight.

Assemble:
Salt
big stockpot
sack of Yukon Gold potatoes
butter
cream
optional: cream cheese or sour cream
fresh nutmeg

Peel, cut up, and soak potatoes in salt water for a half hour.

Rise twice.

Boil potatoes in more salty water for a half hour. Heat up cream.

Drain, don’t rinse, and put the potatoes back on low heat. Mash in a stick or so of cold butter. Add in the sour cream or cream cheese, if you’re using that. Add in slowly the hot cream. If you like chives or something similar, add that in last. Keep the heat even, and don’t overmash. 

Season with a bit of freshly-grated nutmeg, pepper, salt.

BONUS:

GOOD GRAVY gravy!

Butter and Wondra flour in a big pan until it’s a blonde roux.

Add in: turkey/chicken/roast beef drippings, properly strained. You can also add in stock, wine, or water, and let it get to gravy thickness. Pepper, salt - but taste it first if you use drippings or salted butter, it might be saltier than you think. A dash of cream at the end. 

cooking a thing: arrabbiata

Back in the Days Of Vox (…aww) I used to keep a series of non-scientific but well-loved recipes. I lived in a big group house, and my roommates would ask me to cook “shrimp thing" or "pasta thing”. I had a blast teaching people I lived with how to cook, though I’m by no means any expert. That is to say, any measurements are accidental and approximate.

Arrabbiata is marinara-like, but about 1000x better, because it has peppers in it. If you’ve never had arrabbiata before, Scarpetta makes a great store-bought one.

Here’s how I make mine: suitable for large crowds, dresses up Costco ravioli that are turning into a brick in the freezer, makes the house smell good, everyone wins.

Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until they’re translucent. You can add fresh sweet and/or hot peppers if you have ‘em. Salt & fresh-ground pepper.

Two glugs of red wine, red pepper flakes, fresh parsley, fresh basil, a can of San Marzanos/bunch of fresh plum or Creole tomatoes, lemon juice, and whatever other “italian seasonings” you’ve got powdering away in the pantry.

(Except oregano. Oregano only goes in pizza sauce, good people.)

A bit of sugar. Taste. Simmer. Taste again. You probably need more salt. Is it spicy enough? Good. If it isn’t, gradually add more pepper flakes, simmer some more, taste again.

Let it cook for as long as you have time to, 30 minutes is a minimum for all that tasting and correcting. If you want to veer off-course, roasted garlic is nice in this, capers instead of lemon juice, pancetta, whatever you like. 

Finish the sauce with butter before you serve it. Drop in small chunks of cold unsalted butter, stir until it looks like restaurant food. That’s why restaurant food tastes good. Margarine is for punks, don’t do that to your food.

Pasta suggestion: penne rigate or “penne with lines”, aforementioned frozen Costco ravioli brick, rotini, or whatever pasta you’ve got that holds sauce well. 

Salad, bread, done.

pasta presents

(This is from when I had time to jar & gift pasta sauce to people. Double-aww.)

Next up: chili thing!

two kinds of sick, two kinds of soup

For the winter hack-your-head-off-sick: Campbells. Mix a can of cream of chicken with a can of chicken noodle, and a can of water. Heat on the stove. Try to stop oozing.

For the other kind: Beans. Ham bones. Celery, onion, green pepper, hot sauce, whatever else you’ve neglected in the fridge, add to the slow cooker. Think about summer.

recipe: Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Best Of Vox, reblogged.

I learned this dish from a restaurant I worked at called Pazzo. It’s easy, it’s tasty, it’s wowed everyone I’ve made it for. I’ll probably keep fiddling with this dish for always, because I love it so, but here’s the basics.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

    * bucatini (looks like hollowed-out spaghetti)
    * 100 g guanciale or pancetta: diced
    * 1 can San Marzano tomatoes or, if fresh, 4-5 plum tomatos blanched/peeled/diced
    * 1 sweet onion, minced
    * Good Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

Prep:
-Fix your bucatini on the raw side of al dente.
-Cook the guanciale in a big ol’ pan.
-Add onion & tomato.
-Drain your pasta and leave some water aside.
-Add pasta to the pan with your guanciale etc, for a minute or so.
-Black pepper.
-A splash of dry red wine is nice, depending on your taste for acid. I like it.
-Add some pasta water to the mix if it’s all sticky.
-Add parm.
-Finish the sauce with half butter/half olive oil.


Guanciale is salt-cured pork jowl, and it’s awesome.

Amatriciana sauce derives from La Gricia, which shepherds used to make by sautéing diced guanciale so gently as to keep it from browning, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of pepper, and grated pecorino Romano.

The people of Amatrice prefer to use spaghetti in preparing their signature dish. The use of bucatini is more a Roman thing. The different shapes do produce different textures, and which you prefer is up to you.

Nice additions: red instead of black pepper, adjust the fats, balsamic vinegar instead of red wine (but not too much!), chiffonade of basil, arugula, capers. (These prolly make the sauce more of an Arrabiata, which is also delicious.)