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Monday, January 19, 2009

sunday night supper: how can I truss you when I barely know you?

Brace yourselves for a long post, because no matter what anyone may tell you, perfect roast chicken is not a simple, easy meal. It is, however, ridiculously tasty, so I might as well dive in and tell you how I made it.

Early last week, I decided that for Sunday Night Supper I would try a roast chicken & garbanzo bean recipe from The Basque Story Cook Book. Drew & I went grocery shopping in preparation for dinner where I was shocked at how cheap a whole chicken is. Four dollars! Four dollars for a whole chicken! That's two breast halves, two thighs, two legs, and all those yummy bones for stock-making. (I am very excited by my discovery: expect numerous future posts on ways to cook a whole chicken.) They were so cheap, I decided to cook two 4-lb. birds.

Here's the thing about roast chicken, though: there are a million different recipes. Some say roast slowly; others throw the bird into a 475 degree oven. Some say butter the skin, others say oil it, still others recommend mayonnaise. My own cookbook helpfully stated only, "Roast chicken for two hours." No temperature for the oven, no nothing. I was on my own.

First, I had to prep the chickens. This, my friends, is disgusting. Recipes tell you "remove the giblets." They do not tell you what that entails. Saturday night I was wrist-deep inside the chicken's slimy cold body, cutting bloody little chicken kidneys out. Then, I had to pluck whatever pin feathers remained on the skin with a pair of tweezers. You'd think the Tyson workers who are in charge of plucking these chickens would take care of that for you, but no, there were many feathers on both Henny and Penny (by this point, I felt so familiar with the chickens that I named them).

Next, I chose to brine Henny and Penny in hope of avoiding dry birds. Below are the ingredients for the brine:

Basque Roast Chicken Brine:

24 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
6 lemons, halved
1/2 cup crushed garlic
1 cup brown sugar
5 jalapenos, split
several bay leaves
2 tablespoons peppercorns
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried cilantro
2 tablespoons dried thyme

Mix the ingredients together and submerge chickens for 6 hours. Then remove the chickens and put in the fridge uncovered on a rack over a cookie sheet. This dries the skin out, so that the skin can get crispy.

After letting Henny & Penny chill in the fridge for around 10 hours, I took them out. I stuffed them each with 1/2 a lemon, several crushed cloves of garlic, and whole sprigs of thyme. Then I rubbed each of them with a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic, kosher salt and pepper. I rubbed under the skin, too--another disgusting experience. After rubbing them down, I had to truss them. (Are you beginning to agree with me that this is not a simple dinner?)

So, after tying up the birds, I put the chickens in a large casserole dish on top of a bed of cooked garbanzo beans. I roasted Henny & Penny for 10 minutes at 425, then turned the heat down to 400 and roasted for about 20 more minutes. Then I took them out, and I learned that my meat thermometer had lied to me: the inside of Penny was still raw in places. Oh, no! I was distraught. But Drew reassured me and we just put the birds back in the oven and cooked them until the thermometer said 175 in the breast. We took them out, and oh, they were delicious. Even after cooking them twice, they were still juicy with crispy skin. Next time, I'll do them for 10 minutes, then 35 minutes and then check.

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