It's only been in the past few years that I've been successfully roasting chickens.
In the past, they were either too well-done, or too pink way too far from the bone. They invariably caused squealing smoke-alarm issues (which I say, is the sign of an inventive and experimental cook, darn those smoke alarms!) The breast meat was dry, the rest was tough, and if it's true that you can tell a great cook by her roast chicken, well...
I was not a great cook.
Couple my lack of skill with the practices of commercial chicken production which tends towards huge, Stepford-perfect chickens, that taste less and less like the chicken of my childhood, and there you have it. A perfect storm of chicken-roasting failure.
As to the turnaround? Two things.
First, starting with a real bird.
It doesn't have to be from your own backyard, although that's certainly encouraged. We are out of our own birds (roosters don't last long around here and the rest are happily laying pretty little blue, pink, blush, khaki and brown packages of paradise), so I purchased this whole chicken from a respected butcher who sources only free-range, organically-raised, antibiotic-free chickens, just as we raise our own. You'll notice two things--they are smaller, and they cost more. They cost more, because it costs more to raise a chicken naturally than it does factory-style. But they still don't cost as much as a small roast, which would yield about as many servings. And they are smaller, because that is the size they are naturally. Yup...
Used to....chicken was smaller, and so were we.
Hmm. Coincidence? Well, I'm no scientist, and I'm not about preaching to you on food policy here. Whatever you may feel about the organic food movement, I invite you to compare the two chickens, and simply let your tastebuds make the decision. The bird we've chosen reminds me why chicken used to be my favorite food.
You've heard me go on about this before, so I'll spare you. It's just hard to not go on about one of the most important skills I've picked up in the last few years. It's changed our chicken-loathing selves into chicken-believers! And our turkeys, well, lots of grief has been spared since we began brining those sweet turkeys, and the dry bird of days past, well, is past.
How to brine?
Easy. For this one whole chicken, you'll need
4 cups lukewarm water, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup kosher salt. Combine all in a container or freezer bag large enough to accommodate the whole chicken, and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Wash the bird and pat dry. Add to brine, cover or seal, and refrigerate from minimum of one hour to maximum of six hours. Remove, rinse and pat dry. Proceed with chosen recipe, which today is simply...
one whole chicken
one bunch of cilantro, leaves removed and reserved for another use, (like this weekend's recipe)
one orange, quartered
one orange, halved
the zest and juice of one whole orange
1 clove of garlic, crushed
one knob of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon of roasted sesame oil
1/4 neutral oil (we used sunflower)
one tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
Note: We often double, triple, even quadruple this dressing recipe to use for other recipes (again, like this upcoming weekend's recipe.)
USDA's Is It Done Yet?), loosely tent with aluminum foil, and continue roasting. After removing, allow bird to sit for at least 20 minutes so that juices redistribute, and you'll find that every part of the bird will be moist and succulent. (For more information, see Resting Meat.)
We served this little crispy, juicy, aromatic beauty with Sesame Noodles with Lucky Greens and Pan Roasted Baby Bok Choy. (and if that sounds as yummy as it tastes, come back this weekend for the recipes!)
Why the whole chicken?
Chinese New Year is observed with its own unique set of customs and traditions. Serving this chicken whole represents one of those customs. Fish and chicken are symbolic of prosperity. It should always be presented as a whole, as it is inauspicious to cut them into pieces, which is a metaphor for having your prosperity 'cut'. In fact, in most homes and restaurants, the chicken is presented with head and feet attached. Though whole fish is not uncommon to see in our own culture, with all due respect, we chose to honor the tradition, give a nod to custom, but eschew the common presentation.
Now that said, If you find us, often this year, running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, well, we'll reconsider next year.