RECIPE. Jan 22, 2010

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect. This is far from explaining how my experiment with roasting chicken, with a new recipe turned out. It was my intention, to begin this next week by roasting a chicken, making sandwiches from the leftovers, chicken stock from the carcass and finally, teaching you all how to make chicken soup. The beginning of this exciting adventure, however, was going to start by roasting a chicken. Of course, I couldn’t possibly try the good ol’ standby recipe that a friend gave me when I first learned how to roast a whole chicken. I had to get daring, inventive and down right, well, impossible. After searching a few of my favorite sites, I landed on a recipe that appeared to be the rave of every cooking blog on the world wide web. Zuni Roasted Chicken from the restaurant in San Francisco. It started out easily enough. You just salt the bird, stick in some rosemary, cover and wait for a few days. It was during the waiting that I began to dream of my birds future.

I imagined perfection. My bird was going to be the best roasted chicken anyone had ever made. It was going to go into the oven and come out blistering, succulent, moist and smelling like salt, rosemary and garlic. I would don my oven mitts and carry my bird out of the oven, humming a little tune, just like the 1950’s housewife. I would smile at my perfect bird and set it to cool, letting the smell waft through the house. My husband and I would sit down to dinner, cut into the meat and it would fall away into perfect pieces. Each bite would send us into little waves of “mmm” and “ohhh” and my husband would adore me because I cooked the perfect chicken.

This is when you know you have become a little, well, obsessed about cooking. Needless to say, I took my bird out after letting it saturate in salt and rosemary for three days and followed the recipe. The first twenty minutes in the oven were exactly like I dreamed, only further highlighting the downfall that was soon to come. At about 25 minutes the oven started smoking. The recipe recommended to turn down the temperature 25 degrees if “the fat starts to char excessively”. I followed these steps and turned the chicken over.

From this point on, the kitchen was just a black smoke of doom and my oven was my fatal enemy. My little chicken was getting second hand smoke and so was I. Every time I opened the oven, black smoke billowed out and I could hardly see my little dream in the darkness. I continued to turn down the temperature to compensate and eventually got the oven under some control. I pulled my traumatized little bird out of the oven and let it set. I finished making brussel sprouts and cutting the bread, quickly darting my eyes over to my masterpiece and just pleading with the great domestic goddess in the sky that it would be okay.

My husband and I sat down to eat our bird, which looked rather wonderful and upon first slice it was clear, or it was actually red, that the lowered temperature had not allowed the meat to cook enough. Determined to finish this project, I turned the temperature back up to 475 degrees, slung my bird in there with a quick prayer to the poultry gods and let the oven smoke to it’s hearts content. After this additional 30 min stint in the oven, my chicken met my expectations and more. It was salty, moist and perfect. It was the best roasted chicken anyone had ever made.

I learned a few lessons along this adventure in cooking. I don’t like cooking big chucks of meat. It really, sorta, kinda makes me sick to reach inside it’s skin, pull out innards and even use the word “carcass”.  My oven likes to smoke, and I can trust the recipe recommended temperatures to cook my little bird, I just need to open a few windows in the process. I used a 4.5 pound chicken instead of the recommended weight (it was on sale) and I needed to adjust the cooking time and keep the temperature roaring. The more I welcomed the mystery of what was happening, the more enjoyable and humorous the adventure became. The more I tried to rigidly control what was going on, the more frustrated, exasperated and hopeless I became. Not to mention, the more I embraced the mystery, the better I was at being flexible and inventive.

As a note, I added a small orange and head of garlic to the inside of the chicken. I then squeezed the orange juice into the gravy at the end and pulled the garlic out, which has roasted inside the chicken by now, cut off the top of the head and spread on french bread. I will be adding a post for brussel sprouts in butter/mustard sauce soon.

So if you want to try this recipe, which I recommend you do,even after hearing of my adventure, you can find it here. Good luck, trust your instincts and be open to the mystery. As the week follows, I will have recipes for chicken leftovers, chicken stock and chicken soup. Cross your fingers, wish me luck and follow me as I embrace the disasters of cooking.



kat commented at 9:53 Jan 22, 2010

I had a feeling you were going to do the Zuni chicken. I’m so glad it turned out for you. I leave my husband to do the roasting of large pieces of meat in our house. He always spatchcocks the chicken now which makes it cook so evenly & perfectly.