Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roast me a chicken

When the weather turns cool, some people crave soup. But I always want a roast chicken. There's something about it that says fall, home, family, comfort, Sunday afternoon, and someone loves you enough to feed you.

Roast chicken is not hard, either. It's the dish that makes itself. You can spend fifteen minutes getting it ready, throw it in the oven, and spend the next hour lounging around reading. Perfect for a Sunday.

Since it's not quite hopelessly winter, there's still the possibility of using some fresh herbs from the garden (yours or Dehn's). I love the savory perfume that tarragon lends to a chicken. It's also fun to strew a few vegetables in the pan around the bird. Carrots, potatoes, and onions are de rigeur. Fennel ratchets it up from "bases covered" to "dreamy." Seriously, I'm going to swoon.

The really nice thing, though, is that with one more ounce of effort, you can have your soup after all. Pop the bones and trimmings into a stockpot for six hours, strain, and throw in any old vegetables in the house.

Roast Chicken Chez Amy
First off, two words: Kadejan Farms. Because happy chickens are tasty chickens.

1 chicken, about 4 lb
1 bunch tarragon
1 T butter
2 carrots
2 potatoes
2 onions
1 fennel bulb
2 T olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup stock

1. Prepare the chicken: Stuff a sprig of tarragon under the skin of each thigh and each side of the chicken breast. Stuff the rest of the tarragon in the cavity. Rub the chicken all over with the butter and salt. Put the chicken breast side down in a wide roasting pan.

Oh, fine. If you will be all sad that you don't get crispy browned breast skin, then put the chicken breast side up. But if you are interested in juicy, perfectly cooked white meat, then try it my way just this once.

2. Peel the carrots and potatoes, or don't. Cut them into 4-8 pieces each. Quarter the onion. Halve/quarter and core the fennel, then separate it into pieces. Toss the vegetable pieces with the olive oil and black pepper. Arrange the vegetables around the chicken in one layer.

3. Roast the chicken at 400°for an hour. Stir the vegetables two or three times during the cooking. You'll know the chicken is done because the juices run clear when you stick a knife in the thickest part of the thigh. The chicken's thigh. Not yours, for G-d's sake!

just-a like-a this

4. Remove the chicken to a carving board and the vegetables to a serving dish, which you can keep warm in the turned-off and left-open oven during the next part. Let the chicken rest about 10 minutes, then carve it into serving pieces. If juice runs off, try to catch it and return it to the pan.

5. Remove as much of the fat from the pan as you can, leaving any pan juices that may remain. Set the pan over the burners of your stove on medium to high heat. Pour in about a half cup of stock. Scrape up all the browned bits of chicken and vegetable yumminess and stir that stock around as it boils. When it has reduced by about half, pour this sauce over the chicken pieces and serve to acclaim.

Bonus! Chicken soup!

1. When you are done with dinner, if there are leftovers, pull the meat off the bones. Don't scrape off every scrap, though. Leave some on there for flavor. Throw all those bones, hard-to-retrieve meat scraps, and skin into a stockpot. Add garlic, an onion, a carrot if you want. Put in the stems of tarragon left over from the roasting. Add some peppercorns. Or don't. You can't do this wrong.

2. Add water just to cover. Bring to a just-barely-simmer and cook, covered, for six hours or more. When the bones have all disconnected and fallen to the bottom of the kettle; when you taste a piece of the meat and it has no flavor; then you are done.

3. Strain out the solids and discard them. Chill the stock until the fat is a hard layer on top. Remove this fat with a spoon.

4. Put the stock back in a pot and simmer it until it is reduced to about five or six cups. Add whatever you want: the leftover chicken meat cut up; noodles; rice; any vegetables. You can add these things alread cooked or simmer them in the stock until they are done.

My new favorite combination is to add two sliced zucchini; two sliced carrots; a cut-up bell pepper; some cut-up hot cherry peppers; the leftover chicken meat; and six torn-up corn tortillas. Simmer this until the vegetables are cooked. The tortillas will disintegrate and add wonderful thick body to your soup. I hesitate to call this a posole, but maybe that's the closest word for it. Let's call it posole-inspired. It is even better the next day.