Monday, March 1, 2010

The Olde Homestead

This is for my cousins.

Sarah, Anna, and Kristen.

Enjoy all of you...

The Perfect Roast Chicken

The Perfect Roast Chicken

Wars have been started over this.

Everyone on the planet has his or her own opinion on this subject, i.e. low and slow, high and slow, slow and high, to brine or not to brine, to sear or not to sear, blah, blah, blah...

The list goes on.

I adore the classic French methods, lots of butter and basting or spinning on a string in front of an open hearth (most Provençal), the beer-can method, a redneck favorite, on a grill, suburban “charm”, etc. But, I’ve managed to get fantastic results with this technique that I stole from Eric Ripert, of Le Bernardin in New York City, with my own personal modifications, of course. This is juicy and tasty every time, no matter whose lame kitchen you may be in. This is perfect for a quiet evening at home with the kids or at your best friend’s beach house over the weekend.

You pick it.

A Cast Iron Grille Pan 10” (25 cm.)
If you do not have a cast iron grill pan, you know, the one with the ribs across the bottom that your Grandmother gave you? Then, her cast iron skillet will work just as well. Otherwise, an enameled cast iron baking or gratin dish will be great (Le Creuset, being a prime example). If not, anything that can go from the stovetop to the oven is what you want. Regardless, go to the nearest flea market or yard sale and get some cast iron for all of a dollar. You only need to buy it once, as it lasts forever.

Heavy Tongs 12” (30 cm.)
I’m not talking about the island nation.

A few Paper Towels

Two (2) Trusty Coffee Mugs
Don’t stay home without them. In tough times, only the dog and the Coffee Mug are your best friends. Take heed.

A Table Spoon

A sharp paring Knife or Kitchen Snips

An Egg Timer
Or a stopwatch, if you are that desperate or OCD enough to really need everything clocked to the micro-second; stop worrying so much. Time is not that crucial here, so relax.

A Serving Platter or Large Dinner Plate

1 (one) 4 lb. (2 kg.) Whole Organic Free Range Chicken
First, they taste better. Two, they have less fat and more meat. Three, why not?? Otherwise, your basic supermarket chicken will work just fine. Now, for Cornish Hens and so-called “Oven Stuffer Roasters”, skip to the Variations section below for technique modifications.

A Bunch O’ Fresh Herbs - Your Favorite
This requires a single bunch of fresh herbs. How much is a bunch you may ask? The amount that the supermarket or greenmarket has rubber banded or packaged for you is a bunch. Whatever herbs you may be in the mood for; a bunch of rosemary (personal favorite), or sage, or thyme, or tarragon, or marjoram, or basil, or parsley, etc. All of which are readily available in any supermarket these days.  You can combine them, but I believe that a single flavour is best. Unfortunately, this recipe does not work so well with dried herbs. For a dried herb method, see the Variations section below for options.

Herbed Salt
There is a brand called “Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt” that is readily available in most supermarkets, which is fantastic; I use it all the time. However, it’s just as simple to make your own. It really is as simple as it sounds. Take a small jelly or peanut butter jar (we all have one somewhere, don’t deny it) and add three (3) parts Kosher Salt, one (1) part Fresh Black Pepper, and a palm-full of your favorite dried herb combination. Give everything a shake, and Voila!

Some Port, Cognac, Bourbon, Whiskey, Dark Rum, Sweet Vermouth, or Dark Beer (OPTIONAL)
Personally, this is not an option. But, then again, this is my recipe, so I can do what I want with it. Any amount of sweet liquor will offset the amount of salt in the pan and create a fabulous Jus to accompany your bird. If you want to be really exotic Lillet or Pernod would be really neat variations as well. Unfortunately, wine does not work so well here due to it’s acidic nature. If you are really opposed to this, you can simply use water and a small bit of AP flour to offset the salt content. See below for details.

Cooking Oil (any kind will do)

Some Soothing Music

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C), and move the rack to the middle.

Place the cast iron grill pan onto a stovetop burner on full heat and forget about it for twenty (20) minutes.

Turn on the soothing music and enjoy it for a few moments as you collect your thoughts.

As everything is warming up, wash the chicken thoroughly under cold water and pat it dry, inside and out, with Paper Towels. Using a Knife or a pair of Kitchen Snips, remove any extra fat from around the cavity opening and toss. Let the chicken camp out on a plate on the counter uncovered; it’s content being out of the fridge. Ignore it and allow it to come to room temperature while the pan and oven are heating up.

Go pet the cat, play with the dog, smooch the kids, have a cockytail, read a trashy magazine, whatever. Come back in about fifteen (15) minutes.

Take the chicken and tuck the wingtips underneath the body. Don’t be afraid, they will fold neatly under with a little help. Season the interior cavity heavily with the herbed salt, approximately two (2) to three (3) fat tablespoons, and massage the salt into the flesh. Yes, use your hands, and, no it’s not rude.

Stuff the seasoned cavity with the Bunch O’ Fresh Herbs, make sure you take off the rubber band holding them together; it doesn’t roast so well.

Season the exterior of the chicken with the herbed salt, approximately two (2) tablespoons and massage it into the flesh. The bird will like you for it.

Fold a Paper Towel into quarters and pour a glug of cooking oil into the centre. Take the Heavy Tongs and swab the oil soaked towel across the ribs of the molten grille pan to help keep the bird from sticking. Don’t worry there will be some smoke. Toss the towel.

Place the chicken, backside down, into the oiled wicked hot Cast Iron Grille Pan with the legs facing away from the handle. Let the chicken sear for ten (10) to twenty (20) seconds.

Place the skillet into the oven with the handle pointing towards the seven (7) o’clock position. Think of the oven door as six (6) o’clock.

Set the Egg Timer for twenty-five (25) minutes.

Go watch Oprah.

After twenty-five (25) minutes, open the oven and rotate the skillet so that the handle points to the four (4) o’clock position.

Reset the Egg Timer and come back in twenty (20) minutes.

Finish watching Oprah.

Pull the skillet out of the oven and check the bird for doneness. The legs should be loose at the joints, just give them a wiggle with your fingers; the juices should run clear out of the cavity, i.e. they should not be red or pink; the internal temperature at the breast should be 150°F (65°C) on an instant read thermometer ($5.00USD at the hardware store, go get one, it has saved many a dinner). If not, throw it back in the oven for an additional ten (10) minutes.

Feed the cat.

When the bird is done, place the Heavy Tongs inside of the cavity and lift the bird out of the pan, don’t worry if it sticks a bit, just pull gently.  Place it onto a serving platter. Move the platter off to the side and leave it alone in a quiet part of the kitchen for about twenty (20) minutes to let it calm down. Don’t bother covering it with aluminum foil; it’s just happy being out of the inferno.

The skin should be golden brown and crispy.

Time for Jus!

Take the skillet and pour out all of the fat into one of the Coffee Mugs, for the dog. Place the gunky skillet onto a stovetop burner on full heat until sizzling; it shouldn’t take long. Add about half a Coffee Mug full of water, three quarters (3/4) of a cup (177 ml.) if you’re truly concerned; it will sizzle and make lots of noise and steam. Begin scraping up the brown bits, or fond (a fancy “cooking” term), from between the ribs of the pan using a Wooden Spoon until a brown liquid forms. About a minute or so. Let it come to a boil.

This is Optional, but adds a whole realm of flavours. Once the liquid has reached a boil, add about four (4) or five (5) healthy glugs (a quarter (1/4) to a half (1/2) cup (60 to 120 ml.) for those of  you who are truly terrified) of either Port, Cognac, Dark Rum, Sweet Vermouth, Bourbon, Whiskey, or Dark Beer; and one additional shot for the chef. The Jus will be okay without this, but kind of weak.

Stir the mixture, and let it reduce until there is a little less that half a Coffee Mug full (one third (1/3) of a cup (80 ml.), get with the program guys) or so of liquid left in the pan, about ten (10) to fifteen (15) minutes.

Pour the Jus into a Coffee Mug and give it a stir with the Table Spoon.

Feed the dog, and drizzle the liquid chicken fat from the other Coffee Mug over the kibble. Good for their coat and Rover will love you forever.

After the chicken has calmed down and can be fondled, carve it into serving pieces, you know, breast slices (try to keep the nice crispy skin intact), wings, thighs, legs and serve with the Coffee Mug Jus on the side.

Serves : Four (4)

If you’re truly stuck andfresh herbs are not available, a similar method can be used with dried herbs. I love dried tarragon and kosher salt for this. Make a mixture of one third (1/3) cup of kosher salt, one (1) tablespoon of Fresh Black Pepper, and one (1) fat tablespoon of dried tarragon smushed in the palm of your hand. Place the combination into a jelly jar with a lid and give it a good shake. Salsa or Rumba are good beats for this and an excellent workout too, Foxtrot or Cha Cha won’t work (not enough tempo). Now, slather the cavity with half of the salt mixture and add a tablespoon (one (1) pat) of Sweet Crème Butter to the inside. Massage the exterior of the bird with the remainder of the salt mixture. Now, continue with the rest of the recipe for sublime perfection.

For Cornish Hens, do not be fooled by their small stature, explosive flavour is contained therein. Three or four of these can be made at the same time in a large roasting pan and depending on the size of your oven. Reduce the amount of herb salt by half for every Hen and use only half a Bunch O’ Fresh Herbs per bird. Change the overall oven time to approximately thirty (30) to forty (40) minutes total. More birds in the pan means a longer oven time. Personally, I do one of these in Gran’ma’s cast iron skillet just for myself in about twenty (20) minutes; we are selfish, after all.

Now, for the epic “Oven Stuffer Roaster”. Essentially, these are either Capons, Roosters, or oftentimes Stewing Hens. Tough birds, and I’m not talking about your Great Auntie Frimp, because nobody messes with her. They are wondrous for a fricassee or for a braised soup. The Jamaicans make a fantastic dish called “Brown Stewed Chicken” that is slow cooked to Caribbean lusciousness. So, for your five (5) to six (6) lb. bird, increase the above proportions of salt and fresh herbs by about a third. Reduce the oven temperature to between 400°F. Set your timer for forty (40) minutes. Go start the crossword puzzle. Rotate the pan at the forty (40) minute mark and let it go for an additional forty (40) minutes. Finish the crossword puzzle. Check for doneness. Otherwise let it go for an additional twenty (20) minutes. Have a cockytail. When done, make Jus and be in heaven. Serve with some herbed smashed breadfruit, your Rasta brethren will adore you, Irie.

Now, the jus recipe can be modified at will. For those completely opposed to any kind of alcohol, simply add a full Coffee Mug full of plain water to the pan after you have poured out all of the fat. Scrape the pan with your wooden spoon to remove all of the brown tasty bits from the bottom, and let the resulting brown liquid come to a boil. Reduce the liquid by about a third and sprinkle about a teaspoon of AP Flour into the liquid and keep stirring until it begins to thicken slightly. Add a good pinch of whatever fresh herb that you used in its dried form and stir until you have a thin gravy. Pour into your trust Coffee Mug and go to town.

An important note here, all ovens are different. The timings above are only guidelines. If your oven runs hot, things will come out sooner; if your oven runs cool, it will take longer. I’ve “over-cooked” this recipe as much as twenty (20) extra minutes with good results. Also, all of the amounts are purely approximate. You know what you like, so work from there.

©2010 Wait At The Bar, Inc.


  1. I've done something very similar but did not know how to tame the salt in the jus...and now I have yet another reason to bring out the cognac.

    Cousin Kathleen

  2. Was there any question???

  3. I just got back into town myself and immediately went to the store for a whole chicken and rosemary so as to be able to attempt what you verbally described. But now this! Written down! Beautiful. ~Anna

  4. coffee mugs & glugs-o-liquor, great auntie frimp notwithstanding.... i knew i loved this recipe for good reasons. thank you much for sharing!