with Chicken 101
~ by John C. Picardi
Gone are the macabre days of when eating chicken meant grabbing a small cage from the backyard and going down to the local chicken coop and picking out a plump one and bringing it home and slaughtering it with an axe. Nowadays, all we have to do is go to the Hingham Market Place or Wholefoods to find a fat Bell & Evans chicken and bring it home to cook, surpassing the gruesome task of murdering and plucking. However there is nothing like a freshly killed chicken. As uncivilized as it may seem, it’s worth those pangs of remorse. But don’t worry; you won’t need a chicken-cage, axe or a trip to your shrink to enjoy these two recipes that are perfect for the fall season.
The first recipe for roast chicken may seem overly simplistic because most everyone thinks roasting a chicken means tossing a chicken in a pan and throwing it in the oven and waiting for it to brown. But think again. How many of you dry-out your chicken until it becomes a stringy unpalatable mess that resembles a pile of deformed toothpicks and then run to Boston Chicken and pretend you roasted it (and don’t lie to me because I’ve seen many of you there wearing dark sunglasses and fake noses). I know who you are and I am here to tell you that this clandestine weird behavior has to stop immediately! It’s now time to learn how to roast a chicken properly and toss away your foolish disguises and admit defeat. Once you master the art of roasting a chicken, you can move onto the next chicken dish I am going to share with you — a stove-top browned chicken extravaganza with Italian sausages and sautéed broccoli rabe served on a bed of velvety polenta made with cream and Pecorino Romano. This fall dish is the quintessential Saturday night dinner with good friends.
Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables
Go wild at the store and grab a sweet potato, a white potato, onions, celery, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnip and any kind of squash; remember the idea is to make it a colorful and interesting assortment. Wash and peel them, cut them into cubes about the size of quarter, place them all in a big bowl, throw in a handful of garlic cloves, salt and pepper and add fresh thyme leaves. Toss it all with some olive oil and place it all in a deep baking pan. Put all that to the side. If you are using beets, and I hope you do, consider roasting them separately because they tend to turn everything they come in contact with red.
Now let’s get the chicken ready. I always wash my chicken with a handful of moist kosher salt. I rub it down good for a minute making sure to remove the package of innards. I let the chicken soak for a half hour in salty water. Other times I’ll brine it overnight in a large container in the refrigerator. I use a gallon of cool water and about ¼ cup salt and ¼ cup sugar and a bunch of bay leaves, sometimes fresh parsley and half of a cut-up lemon.
Whatever you choose, brine or a quick wash, when the bird is ready for roasting, dry it off with paper towels and place it on top of your medley of root vegetables. Take some fresh sage, rosemary and thyme (many stores sell a “poultry pack” of herbs) and roughly chop them with shallots and then stuff this herby-shallot goodness under the skin of your bird (all you do is poke your finger under the skin and make a pathway). If there is extra of this herby mixture, place it inside the cavity along with half of a lemon. If you like, ask the butcher for some butcher’s twine, but first let me say this; although I am a big fan of Julia Child, when she’s done trussing chicken it looks like she’s taking it hostage. Make it simple. The bird is dead; it’s not going anywhere so just tie the two legs together and tuck the wings under. Then rub it with olive oil and shake some salt and pepper onto it and place it in a preheated 450 degree oven. After it has been roasting for twenty minutes, reduce the heat to 400 degrees. Continue to roast it until your meat thermometer, after being stuck in the thickest part of the bird, reads about 165 degrees. (If you don’t have a meat thermometer, get one!) If the bird is done before the vegetables, no worries! Put it on a plate and cover it and put the vegetables back into the oven. Oh and this next bit of info is vital! Always, always let roasted meat sit for twenty minutes before you cut it; there are absolutely no excuses unless you’re a contestant on “Chopped.” Let me explain: when you’re in a hot environment you perspire and all your fluids come out of your pores because heat draws out moisture; when you are in a cool environment you stop sweating and your bodily fluids don’t escape. It’s the same with roasting meats. If you cut into a fresh-from-the oven-roast, you will give the bubbling juices a solid pathway to escape which will then rapidly dry out your roasted masterpiece. By letting freshly roasted meat rest while covered in foil, you’re allowing the juices to cool and settle and distribute evenly throughout. If the roasted veggies are done at the same time as the chicken, keep them in the pan and heat them while you carve you bird. This dish is particularly enjoyable served with salad greens dressed with red wine vinegar and safflower oil and a chilled Pinot Gringo. Apple pie with ice cream is must to follow this meal.
Pan Fried Chicken with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Polenta.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil, then season some chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place them skin side down in hot oil. Now, turn the heat way down and let the chicken simmer in the olive oil. Turn the chicken over after a while, wait for it to cook a bit more, then turn it again, wait and repeat. For the most part, leave the chicken alone and let it do its dance in the pan, keeping the heat low. When it starts to brown, bring the heat up a bit. After a while, the chicken will start separating from the bone and crunchy tasty pieces will fall off. Eat those when no one is looking. While the chicken is cooking, place Italian Sausages on a sheet pan and bake until they are brown. Just before the sausage and chicken are done, cut-up some broccoli rabe and peel a handful of garlic cloves. Take the chicken out of the pan and place on a plate. If needed, put more olive oil in the crusty pan that you used for the chicken and heat it up, toss in the garlic and when they start to brown take them out and save. Add the broccoli rabe, a bit of water, a splash of Balsamic Vinegar and cook the rabe down. Scarp all the chicken goodness off the bottom of the pan. Let this cook until the juices evaporate and the rabe starts to fry. Using a sauce pan, follow the directions on a polenta container but instead of using water, use milk or cream, tons of butter, about a cup of grated pecorino Romano cheese adding more if you like. Add more warm milk if needed and whisk like mad until you are sure it’s smooth and loose. When the polenta is done, spread it over a large serving platter. On top of the polenta place your sautéed broccoli rabe (that you mixed with your toasted whole garlic). Next, arrange the cooked sausages that you cut into bite-sized pieces and finally place the browned chicken on top of that and… whoop there it is! Now place your platter of goodness in the center of the table and dig in. Serve all this deliciousness with robust Chianti and some kind of fluffy lemony dessert. This truly is a phenomenal, succulent dish that fills your home with the aroma of fall.
John C. Picardi is the author of the new adult fiction novel, Oliver Pepper’s Pickle and the Off-Broadway Plays The Sweeper and Seven Rabbits On A Pole and the Popular Food Blog, Mastering The Art Of Pigging Out – My Life In Food www.johncpicardimasterintheartofpiggingout.com.