Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sunday #7: Chicken Dinner

About a month ago I bought a ten dollar chicken. That's about twice the price you'd pay for a regular whole chicken. I wasn't sure what I was buying at the time so I did a quick search on the "Open Nature" label on my phone. I didn't find much there either. Now, our Safeway makes it barely possible to have a decent phone conversation, let alone access the intarwebs, so I didn't look very hard.

In the end I decided to give it a go. I wasn't kidding myself. Even though the label, just like lots of other labels, showed a peak at a happy little farm with free-roaming farm critters I knew that my chicken probably had the same miserable life as lots of other chickens.

That's not what I really cared about. I'm a horrible person, I know.

What I really cared about is if this chicken would taste any different. Would a chicken not being fed it's own feces (oh, wait, we feed those to cows) and not plumped with saltwater taste better? See, being a selfish oinky American I'm not concerned with a critter living a happy life before it ends up on my plate (secretly I am, but shhhh, that's not for this post.) I'd prefer a better quality product over 59 cents a pound chicken.

Having since consumed the chicken, I'm not sure there was much difference in flavor. After getting some time to look into the Open Nature product, I don't have any reason to expect much difference between this or any of the other chickens Safeway has to offer.  There did seem to be a difference in color, possibly related to feed, so that may have accounted for some difference in flavor. All in all I'm not comfortable coming down on one side or the other. I'd have to prepare two birds the same way and then try them to see if there was a real taste difference. That's science, bitches.

I probably won't do that though. When I have my thinking head (that's right, head, not hat) on I know that I need to vote with my dollars and all that, and it's unlikely that anything I buy at Safeway will cast too strong a vote.

Someday soon I hope to spend those dollars and pay the higher price for beef, chicken, and lamb not raised on a feedlot, in a overcrowded barncage, or shipped from New Zealand (where the lambs, from what I hear, do have a better quality of life and aren't eating cows blood - but seriously, New Zealand?) There really is more than critter feelings to consider in our food choices. Eating grassfed beef isn't just a treehugger thing, it's health thing too. Beef wouldn't be such a no-no with regards to health if it wasn't so high in fat. Grassfed beef is, cut for cut, about 100 calories less per six ounce serving because it's not as high in fat. Just sayin'.

Okay, enough of that.

The Menu:

High Roast Chicken and Potatoes (recipe courtesy of America's Test Kitchen)
Honey Carrots
Asparagus with grilled onion and Parmesan

The Chicken:

I'd seen America's Test Chicken do a high-roast technique and went hunting it down. They used a whole bird, and left it in the traditional presentation style. I didn't find it. I found this one.

As you can see (if you bothered to look) America's Test Kitchen wants you to pay for the luxury of that recipe. Don't worry though, youtube has my back.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I made the brine with 4 quarts of chicken stock, some allspice berries, peppercorns, a quartered onion, 3/4 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup or so of sugar. Probably some other stuff too that I can't remember. Basically, if you think it'll taste alright, if it goes with whatever else is in the brine, and if you wont have to pick it out of the crannies of the chicken (meaning that it dissolves completely or is big enough to wash away - like the peppercorns) then toss it in there.

I brought this to a boil and then left it that way until Mark asked how long I was going to boil it. I'd guess a 1/2 hour or so. Then I added another 4 quarts worth of water, and plopped in the chicken. It stayed in there about 12 hours all together, with one flip of the bird somewhere in the middle of that.

If you watch the video you'll notice some differences between their brining instructions and what I did.

  • The first thing would be the volume of liquid. My brining container was bigger, so if I'd used less brine the chicken wouldn't have been covered.
  • Considering the volume, there wasn't nearly enough sugar and salt to match the recipe. There was plenty of salt in the chicken stock, so no worries there. As for the sugar - I dunno, I thought that was an awful lot of sugar so I didn't use as much. So there.
  • Ingredients: America's Test Kitchen didn't use any flavoring ingredients. What's the sense in that? All of the flavor in the brine is supposed to be pulled in along with it as it fills up the bird. Yay for flavor is what I'm saying.
  • Time: I brined my bird for half a day. Alton brines his turkey for up to 16 hours... whatever. I was too lazy to take it out in a reasonable amount of time. It needed flipping once we got home from the movies for... gravitational purposes, and then I wanted to go to bed. Obviously there was no other way.

This recipe has you butterfly the chicken. This calls for cutting the spine out of the chicken. I'd taken a chicken apart before and it was a giant pain in the ass, so I wasn't looking forward to it. It didn't turn out to be too hard, though I did use my old crusty kitchen shears rather than my new ones. That probably didn't help but I didn't want to ding up my new shears with chicken bones!

I kept it pretty close to the spine. I think this was my only mistake. In the future I'll cut out most of the back. It'll help the chicken lay flatter, the bones I'll have to cut through will be thinner, and who wants back meat? Starving children, that's who, and we're not them.

The recipe has you make a compound butter (butter, and mix-ins basically, I used garlic and Italian seasoning blend) and smear it up under the chicken skin. Butterflying the chicken made this a whole lot easier, by the way.

I decided this would be a good time to start taking pictures. My bird ended up looking a little whorey:

but I helped it to look more decent:

I left it on the rack to air dry. Our kitchen doesn't get much above 55 degrees so I wasn't worried about it taking on  life of it's own and crawling away with disease or anything.

While chicken was busy not being lewd, I prepared the potatoes.
This recipe calls for baking the chicken on a broiler pan at 500 degrees with potatoes in the part of the pan that usually catches the grease and oil. I was worried about the potatoes not only not cooking all the way, but being burnt to shit on the outside too.

I used white potatoes and a russet (the recipe calls for all russets to absorb some of the butter and chicken run-off) and sliced them very very thin to help alleviate my "what if they don't cook all the way!?" fears.

This was a thick one.

You toss all of those with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then spread them out on the bottom half of broiler pan (covered with heavy-duty foil, of course.) Then you put the top on and put the chicken on top and bake for forty minutes in the aforementioned 500 degree oven, turning once midway.


Ready to burn!

The Vegetation:

While chicken was or was not burning I got the carrots and asparagus together.

I told Mark that I wanted skinny, whippy asparagus, but not to bother at all if it was expensive. I don't know what he paid, but this is what he brought me.

Mmmm, bamboo!

So, I chopped about half the length off and microwaved them for 3 minutes in a semi-sealed container. Usually I don't parcook asparagus this way, but a few minutes in the tasty skillet wasn't going to cut it for these big boys.

I had a skillet with some garlic and onion going - 
I think this is going to be my stock
photo for "Denise is cooking
garlic and onions again"

 and added the parcooked asparagus to that. I'd briefly thought about splashing in some balsamic, but decided it'd ugly up the Parmesan. I cooked the branches for 5 minutes or so, turning often with tongs and scraping up onion bits when I could so they wouldn't burn. I layered half on to a plate, sprinkled some shredded Parmesan, and then add the rest with more parm, and the onions scraped from the pan.

The carrots were very easy. In a microwave container I sealed in a pound of peeled and halved carrots with a quarter cup of honey and a pat of butter, then microwaved it for 6 minutes. These were very simple carrots. That's all I really wanted out of them, complexity isn't something you need out of every dish.
Though, I did think later that some ginger would have been nice. Also, if you're the type who likes to salt their watermelon, you'll want to give these a sprinkle.


Oh yes, we also had biscuits. If I were making chicken and dumplings I would make my own, but my recent attempts at biscuit making haven't turned out anything very marvelous - at least not so marvelous that I feel the need to make my own.

So we had canned biscuits instead:

These were diseased with "butter" pellets. I can only imagine what sort of trans-fat nightmare they were really made up of. I usually go for the non-diseased kind, but I can't even blame Mark here, I got these on a shopping trip that I took all by myself.

These are spaced so weirdly on the sheet because I like my biscuits super soft, and Mark likes his stupid. He doesn't think they cook all the way when they're touching. Stupid.

Get to the kitchen!

Chicken: Not burned!

Mmmm, browny bits.

Before serving the potatoes you're supposed to blot off the oil. I used a mini bulb syringe. Yikes. I'd like to find a way to lessen the amount of butter schmaltz in a recipe like this. I'm thinking maybe less butter to begin with.

I was the only one excited for this.

I added some sliced tomato and cidered cucumbers (2 parts apple cider vinegar, 1 part water, tsp-tbsp of sugar, pepper, dill - refrigerate a couple hours, tasty!) to up the vegetable quotient.

Yay dinner!

The Verdict

There was nothing about this dinner that made me sad. Nothing got burned!

I'm usually don't go crazy for chicken skin, not like some people. Watching people pull off giant wads of fried chicken skin and cram it in kinda grosses me out. This was different though (you never notice how ugly your own children are) the skin was super thin and crispy crisp. I had a little sliver with each chicken bite and it was so tasty.

And the potatoes? So good. SO GOOD! Next time I'll use a bit fewer (the recipe video shows you filling the bottom pan completely) and hope for more browned bits. Most of the bottom brown bits were stuck to the foil, may I had the wrong side up, I'm not sure. I'd like to think that having less crammed in the pan would let them brown more. That aside, they were super tasty.

Really, everything was good. I don't usually get all "I'm so great!" about this stuff, but I was really happy with how this all turned out.

In fact, this is the only way I plan on making a whole chicken again. I might fiddle with the high-heat and cook times, but butterflying is definitely the way to go. I wasn't nearly as paranoid about it cooking through in the thighs as I have been every other time I've made a whole bird.

This recipe has given me a new love for the broiler pan. I've always hated that thing. It's a pain to clean, and the only real benefit to using it is being able to cook a whole package of bacon at once. That still just leaves you with weird bacon (I like mine better in the skillet) and a gross pan full of bacon grease. Ick.

But this recipe has opened my eyes. I'd never thought to use it with vegetables underneath as delicious flavor catchers. You know what I'm really excited to try? LAMB with roasted veggies. I'll have to figure cooking times and fat content, but I think I can figure something out. Yum.

Oh, also:

I made myself a lunch like a good girl. It was really hard not have the meat/carbwad switch places with the veggies, because really all I wanted was a giant bowl of potatoes.

And another also - I didn't make dessert. I'm not very inspired in that area just lately, so the boys had drumsticks and I kept stealing more potato slices until I finally put them in the fridge and hid them from myself.

That's all.

Well, I guess there's also this:
See Max's plate? He had that and a biscuit. So much for veggie variety.


  1. Very nice! Thanks for sharing, as always. :)

  2. That's a picture perfect Sunday dinner! Oh, and as to the feed making a difference to chicken color...they give 'em marigolds to make the skin yellower. Also makes for yellower egg yolks.

  3. Good job! Yay for no burning! I don't think I could cut the spine out of a chicken...