Roast Chicken, part I

Last night I faced another one of my food anxieties and bravely roasted a whole chicken.  This doesn’t sound like much, but for a girl who is capable of producing every side dish in a Thanksgiving feast but is afraid of the turkey, it was kind of a big deal for me.  First, I did my research.  And my research, I mean I asked around for suggestions on Facebook.  I got two recommendations, both from clever friends.  A. told me to stuff an herb and garlic mixture under the skin and into the cavity.  J. told me not to skimp on the rosemary.  I heeded their words.  At about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, I traipsed out to the garden in the misting spurts of drizzle and picked a big handful of parsley, pineapple sage, silver thyme, and several large twigs of the tiny rosemary bush I am so proud of.*

Back in the kitchen, I chopped the herbs roughly, threw them into a container with four cloves of garlic, a few tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil, before attacking the whole mixture with my immersion blender.  What resulted looked and tasted like the best spread for garlic bread there has ever been.

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The next part was probably the most fun, though it could also be construed as the most icky, depending on how you feel about raw chicken.  To get the best flavors going, I carefully loosened the skin of the chicken from the meat by jamming my fingers in between them and breaking through the thin layer that attaches the skin to the muscles.  When I had loosened quite a bit of the skin on the chicken’s back (I have adopted my mom’s suggestion to roast poultry breast-side down, so the white meat doesn’t dry out as much), I shoved several fingerfuls of my herb butter mixture underneath the chicken’s skin, massaging the flavor into the meat.  The mixture was visible from the outside, making the chicken look like it had grown green spots.  It was like some strange miniature speckled pterodactyl.

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With the tiny bit of leftover butter mixture, I coated the inside of the cavity before placing my 4-pounder in the oven at 350F.  Almost exactly 90 minutes later, it was done.  I pulled it out and admired the crisp, brown skin for a few moments before quickly tenting it with aluminum foil to stay warm while I made our side dishes.

I steamed a bunch of asparagus to provide some greens, and then, with reverence, sliced up our first gigantic Brandywine tomato for caprese salad.  We wanted to be sure and put this first huge beautiful heirloom to good use, since our bush is only promising a few choice specimens, and with the weather as schizophrenic as it usually is at this time of year, we may not get many more.  Caprese seemed noble enough.  I layered the thick, meaty slices of tomato with fresh mozzarella and just-picked basil, then sprinkled the whole thing with salt and pepper before giving it a healthy drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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Gorgeous, no?  Who needs lettuce?

We dug in.  The caprese was marvelous; the acidic sweetness of the tomato juice mingled with the balsamic vinegar into a beautiful sweet-tangy jus that soaked into the fresh mozzarella, which had enough creaminess to stand up to the firm, meaty flesh of the tomato slices.  It was perfect.  And then it was gone.

The chicken was delicious as well.  It was moist and savory, and the herbs both added some welcome flavors and made it smell really enticing.  I forced myself not to eat more than a bite or two of the skin, which was crispy and golden and marvelous.  It’s a shame that fat tastes so wonderful, because it is always difficult for me to avoid it.  I love that marbling in any cut of meat, and I’m a fiend for the thigh and leg on poultry both because it is moister meat, but also because the skin often gets left on the leg, and I get to chew on some of it as a special treat.

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Dinner was delectable, but almost more exciting than dinner was the fate of the leftovers.  There was plenty of meat left over after we were finished; even at our hungriest, I doubt that N. and I could polish off a 4 pound chicken with just the two of us, so I picked the carcass pretty thoroughly and will use the meat again soon.  As for the carcass, all I can tell you is to stay tuned for “Roast Chicken, part II.”

*Early this spring, I picked a sprig of rosemary from a bush in the neighborhood that was leaning out over the sidewalk.  I put it in a vase (read: cleaned and dried empty artichoke hearts jar) and waited.  It took about three weeks, but it sprouted roots and I, holding my breath, planted it in a small pot outside.  It flourished.  It is still pretty small, probably because I keep using its fragrant, pine-scented leaves to cook with, but next spring I will re-pot it to really let it go wild.

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