Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 37 - Perfect Roast Chicken, Brown Rice Pilaf with Currants, Pineapple Sorbet, How to Truss a Chicken, and How to Carve a Chicken

One of my first NY friends, Casey and I have know each other for over 20 years, and he's one of my favorite people ever. In my stable of friends, he is second only to Tracy for the title of Pickiest Eater. So my invitation to cook for him tonight was met with this response:

Oh my God! This is awesome! I would love for you to cook,..but you know how picky I am - so maybe we should discuss and then you can say "FXXX you, you pain in the aXX we're going out" if I'm too difficult.

(Censoring by me, fyi.)

As it turns out, I offered him some very safe fare, so there was no cursing, just good honest eats and a picky eater happy and accommodated.

Perfect Roast Chicken (p. 127)

I have to say, I thought this was a very immodest name for a recipe. Until tonight. And now I know, it is completely accurate. This roast chicken is absolutely perfect.

In my other favorite Martha book, Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, there's another recipe for "Perfect Roast Chicken," which is a sort of variation on this one. Tonight, I followed the recipe in my book to a tee, but I did incorporate one thing from the other recipe. I cooked the chicken resting on a bed of sliced onions. Yum!!

This chicken was defrosted and came out great, so my theory from an earlier entry blaming the toughness of the chicken on its having been frozen is now debunked. The chicken gets rinsed and dried, then salted/peppered inside and stuffed with loads of lemon slices, rosemary and garlic. Then, you rub it all over with butter, truss it, salt and pepper the outside and stick it in a skillet in a super-hot oven for not even an hour. Pull it out, transfer it to a plate, deglaze the skillet and make a sauce (Martha, I'm not sure that the sauce needed that extra tablespoon of butter), and then serve.

So easy. So quick. And SO delicious. The rosemary and lemon and garlic deliver so much intense flavor - unbelievable. The chicken is beautiful, browned and perfectly shaped (tucking the wings back and trussing helps in this dept.), and the meat is moist and flavorful. Casey didn't even want the sauce, it was so moist.

The bed of onions are there just to impart flavor during cooking, i.e. you're supposed to discard them after the chicken is done, but I think they're a special secret treat for the chef to enjoy while he's making the sauce. They're basically burnt, but they taste amazing! Mmm.

If you roast chicken, this is definitely a must-try for you. You will not believe the flavor - plus Martha mentions a ton of variations to try, so you can play with an infinite number of combinations and experimentations. This recipe is a perfect example of what I love the most about Martha: she shows us a definitive way of doing a very basic thing.

Jeff: A
Martha: A+

How to Truss a Chicken (p. 113)

I have a countertop rotisserie oven (don't ask), and I've made a handful of chickens in it. And every time I've tried to truss the chicken, it's been disastrous. Following this primer was so easy, now I'm trying to remember how I made it so complicated. This is a 30 second lesson, and it works like gangbusters.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

How to Carve a Chicken (p. 130)

After taking the How to Cut Up a Chicken lesson, this is a piece of cake. The only thing is that the chicken is hot, so it's a little harder to handle. Plus, Casey wanted the whole breast, so I didn't have to do any fancy breast slicing. I served the chicken whole and carved at the table, but maybe next time I make Perfect Roast Chicken, I'll go for the whole pre-carving thing and serve cut-up pieces on a platter. (Uh oh, I'm going to need to get a platter...)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Brown Rice Pilaf with Currants (p. 415)

This is a variation on the basic Rice Pilaf recipe, where rice gets sautéed in butter before being cooked in the oven. Once I got the go-ahead from Casey that he'd eat rice with currants and almonds in it (you have to check!), I took that variation detour, and it was delicious. The rice cooked perfectly in the oven (I'd never cooked rice this way before). Admittedly, I was expecting something a little more spectacular or exotic, given the sautéing of the rice and the oven cooking and the fact that I used the homemade chicken stock, but this turned out with a very traditional taste and texture. Delicious, for sure, but more traditional than I expected.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Pineapple Sorbet (p. 485)

Every once in a while, as a chef (I use that term loosely), I've had the experience of thinking, "I've nailed this." For some reason, usually dumb luck, I've hit on some special combination of flavors that seem impossibly well-suited to each other. Well, today I feel confident in saying: I've nailed this. I was looking for a companion for the Vanilla Ice Cream - it was so rich and so sweet, and it needed a friend to bring it down a notch or two.

Pineapple Sorbet is absolutely the perfect companion. It's tangy and tart and sweet and fresh, and it somehow makes sense of the creaminess and over-the-top richness of the custardy ice cream. One ball of each frozen treat, side by side in a bowl? Heaven!

Again, Martha's measurements are spot on. These sorbets practically make themselves! Just the right balance of fruitiness and sweetness, and great texture. I'm such a fool for turning up my nose at sorbet all those years!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again...

Casey presents Perfect Roast Chicken

My perfect frozen combo

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