Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pan Roasted Chicken

This is French Country cooking on the Texas Prairie...

I grew up watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on KERA, and if you know these Chefs then you also know that Roasted Chicken is a cornerstone staple of French cooking.  But its more than taking a Chicken and tossing it into a hot oven.  Its about bringing out the delicate flavors in the Chicken, and also utilizing the whole Chicken and not just the meat.  Perhaps my favorite part of the Chicken isn't the meat, it is the stock that is made from the leftover carcass.  So we will start with the vegetable base which the chicken rides on during the roasting process.  Here we have Carrots, Potatoes, Onions, and Celery.
Each of these vegetable brings their own flavor to the broth.  After the roasting process I'll add the Carrots, Celery, and Onion into the stock pot with the carcass.  The potatoes will get pulled out after the roasting process because they will thicken the stock, and I want a thin stock.  We will coarse chop the vegetables and put them in the roasting pan.
This has a double purpose.  The steam from these vegetables will travel up during the cooking process and season the Chicken and act as a standoff for the Chicken preventing it from sitting on the bottom of the pan.  The juices that flow out of the Chicken will accumulate on the bottom of the pan, and if the Chicken is allowed to sit in these juices then it will boil instead of roast.  A roasted Chicken is supposed to be roasted, and not boiled.  Next I'll season the vegetables with a small amount of salt and pepper.  Then add a few sprigs of Rosemary.
Now we'll set the roasting pan aside, and prepare the Chicken.  For this particular recipe I use a whole Chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds.  When you buy a whole Chicken you also get a neck, heart, liver, and gizzard.  I take the spare parts and place them in the pan with the vegetables.  Wash the Chicken with cold water, and place on a secured cutting board.
Next we'll butterfly the Chicken.  I do this for a couple reasons.  First I don't like the open void space inside the Chicken because it creates thermal conductivity problems.  The void space doesn't heat up the same as the space around the Chicken, so we'll eliminate it by butterflying the Chicken.  Second, when you butterfly the Chicken it fits the pan better, and reduces the vertical space required to get it in the oven.  When you have many things cooking at once this becomes important.  So, we'll start the butterfly process by cleaning the breast meat away from the keel bone, which is the Sternum.
Here you can see the keel bone exposed.  In the front of the Chicken, where the neck is attached you will also find the wishbone.  I feel around for the ends of the wishbone and pull it out of there before I cut out the keel bone with a kitchen shears.
Now, with the keel bone removed we can flatten out the Chicken and get it seasoned.  The Chicken is still kind of lumpy at this point, and we want to flatten it as much as possible, again for vertical spacing, and also to widen it.  Take the Chicken and flip it over on the butterflied breast side, then press down on the hip area to dislocate the thigh bones.  Then press down on the upper back area to flatten the breast and rib bones.  Flip the Chicken over again, and season the bones side with whatever you like, but not too much salt, remember we are going to make broth with the vegetables and carcass.  I use Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning, and ground black pepper.
Time to add the Chicken to the pan.  Take the Chicken and flip it over again, skin side up, and place it on the vegetables in the pan.  Maneuver it in the pan to where it is centered as much as possible.  There are two things happening as the Chicken roasts, the steam from the vegetables is going up to the Chicken, and the drippings from the Chicken are going down on to the vegetables.  The symbiosis of this process is delicious. 
Now season the top side of the Chicken with the same thing you used to season the bone side.  I typically roast Chicken pieces in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, but for a whole Chicken and a pan full of vegetables I'm gonna bring the heat down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is to allow a slower roast to get more flavor mingling happening in there for the benefit of the broth later.
Typically it is going to take an hour and fifteen minutes to get the Chicken roasted to a safe temperature, but I do not rely on time to do this.  Cook the Chicken to temperature, which is 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast, or 185 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh.  Make sure your temperature probe is in the middle of the meat, and not sitting on a bone.  Then after you reach your target temperature pull the pan out of the oven, do not remove the temperature probe, cover the pan with foil, and let the Chicken rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  There is plenty of heat in there, and it will not cool quickly, so don't get in a rush.
Another reason to let the Chicken sit, and cool for a while is I need to used my finger to disassemble the Chicken.  Doing that is not very fun when the Chicken is 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, next I'll take the meat off the bones, and pull the Potatoes out of the pan.  I like to keep the breast meat as one large piece, but the leg, thigh, and wing meat I take apart in "rustic" pieces, which are not too small.
As I am taking the Chicken apart I can't help nibbling on the Chicken.  The breast meat is moist and flavorful with a hint of Rosemary.  Every part is thoroughly cooked, but also moist, the way it should be.  By thoroughly cooked I mean that the juices from every part are clear, no red, and this is the classic way you are able to tell that the Chicken is cooked properly.  The Carrots, Onions, and Celery are left in the pan, along with the drippings from the chicken, the spare parts like the neck, heart, and gizzard.  These will go on to become the Chicken broth.
Then I also want to add the bones from the Chicken pieces that were used for meat, like the thighs, drumsticks, and wings.  Here is what I have harvested from the process so far, the meat, potatoes, and the liver.  The liver is done now, and can be eaten as it, though its not my favorite part, its good none the less.
This is the prep cooking that I do on weekends for the week.  This stuff will wind up in whatever I fancy during the week.  Chicken Tacos, Chicken soup, like Pho Ga, Hashbrowns, whateverz.  Then all the leftover bones, vegetables, organ meat, and the neck go into the stock pot to make the chicken broth.  I am also going to add some more fresh carrots, celery, another sprig of Rosemary, and a half gallon of spring water to the stock pot.

All those leftover bits are valuable, and its just wrong to throw them away.  I'll bring the stock up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer them down for a couple hours.  Its the most awesome soup stock you done ever had...
After the Chicken broth has simmered for a couple hours I'll taste it and adjust the seasoning if it needs it, but usually I leave the final seasoning adjustment for the table.  I'll use a colander and another stock pot to strain all the solids from the broth, let it cool to room temperature, put it in serving size containers, an then refrigerate it until needed.  The solids that are left over are spend, and can be thrown away now, knowing that we extracted every bit of nutrition from them.  Its always a good idea to use you resources fully, and wisely...
 After the stock is strained I put it in the auxiliary fridge to cool over night.  The schmaltz, chicken fat, will come to the top of the broth and solidify.  Then we can separate the schmaltz from the stock.  Chicken soup should not have a pool of fat floating on the top of it.  Then the remainder is the stock which can be used promptly in the soup.
This stock was very strong with Rosemary and vegetable flavors as well as the Chicken.  Some might prefer to have a more fundamental Chicken stock, or broth with their soup.

Bon Appetit, Y'all...

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