Category - Cooking

Roast Chicken and Me

I love everything about roasting chickens. I love the way it makes your kitchen smell. I love the way the skin gets all crispy. I love the way the meat pulls away from the chicken’s ankle when it’s done. I love the oyster. I fricken’ love the oyster. I love how you can eat it for days, in as many ways – salads, sandwiches, soups. I love sneaking a bit of salty skin from the cooked bird, obviously from around the neck so no one will know about your sticky fingers. I love how no matter what recipe you use to roast a bird, IT WILL ALWAYS BE FANTASTIC.

This last point is pretty true. There are only a few ways you can screw up a roast chicken, the top two being underdone and overdone. Even if you forget to add salt (which is a baby move), you can correct that after the bird is cooked. I have roasted a ton of chickens in my kitchen, and I’ve employed different techniques. Brining is great – it guarantees a moist bird, as long as the ratio of salt to water is correct and the bird isn’t submerged for too long. Garlic, fresh herbs and lemon in the bird’s cavity will definitely give the chicken a savory flavour from within. This past weekend, though, I think I came up with a move that’s a bit of a game changer for me. Compound butter. I will never roast a chicken again without using this technique. And I implore you to try it out. You will end up with such a tasty bird.

Compound butter is nothing new in the general scheme of chicken roasting. I used to use a truffled compound butter under the skin of chickens at Mistura – that was a tasty dish, but looking back I wish I used more butter. Also, by using a ton (the scientifically correct amount) of butter, you get all this tasty roasting fat at the bottom of your pan that makes a killer gravy with just some flour, chicken stock, bay leaves and a splash of brandy.

Buttered Roast Chicken

  • 1 chicken, about 3.5-4 lbs, clean and dry
  • ½ lb unsalted butter, cut up and left at room temperature
  • 4 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ bunch thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • ½ bunch sage, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • ½ bunch rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

Using a wooden spoon, mash all of the ingredients (except the chicken, duh) together. The butter must be at room temperature for this. You will be left with a solid mixed up compound butter that is quite malleable.

Now, take your fingers and separate the skin from the breast meat of the chicken. Don’t be too forceful – you don’t want the skin to break – but you must separate as much of the skin that you can – you want to create a “pocket” where the butter can spread. Take your compound butter one tablespoon at a time and massage it through the pocket until the entire bird has butter under its skin. Check my photo to see what it should look like.  Then you have to truss the bird to ensure even cooking. If you don’t know how to do this, the easiest way is to “squish” the legs into the breast, make the chicken look like a rugby ball (a football is too elongated), and tie a loop around the whole bird. Ideally you would loop the twine around the ankles of the bird for uniformity, but don’t fret if you can’t do it. Eventually I’ll upload a video of me doing it so you know what to do.

Now rub olive oil all over the chicken, and season liberally with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Don’t worry, you do need all that fat and salt in your mouth.

Place the bird on a roasting rack on a pan and cook it in the oven for half an hour, then turn the oven down to 350°F and continue roasting for another hour or so, until an internal thermometer stuck in the meatiest part of the bird (the thigh) reads 180°F. Remove the chicken from the oven and tent foil on top of it. Let it rest about 30 minutes (in the meantime make your gravy), before carving and serving.

If this isn’t the greatest thing you do this weekend, it better be because you roasted the chicken right after having Bruce Springsteen serenade you while you get a foot massage from John Travolta. For reals.

1983 Stew, Reimagined

When I was a kid, my parents had a menu of meals they could prepare in advance (usually on a Sunday), and reheat during the week for speedy, post work and school dinners. I suspect most families do this now, although I also suspect most families nowadays don’t consist of four kids and two working parents. Even back then we were considered a large family, with large egos and larger appetites. It must have been a challenge to raise four kids, and my parents have my undying love and respect for the crap they had to put up with. Having said that, I don’t know if my love of good food stemmed from these years. The food was always good, hearty fare, but lack of good training and money (and I suspect time, given raising four kids was a little more difficult when you only had 5 tv channels and no video games/internet) meant we were subject to some menu items that I don’t think my sisters and brother and I would admit to looking back on fondly.

One of my least favourite dinner items was definitely in the “make on the weekend and reheat on a Tuesday” camp. My parents made something we called “stew”, which was (if I recall properly and impartially) chunks of stewing beef boiled in water with very largely cut chunks of onion (I think with some skin still left on), carrot and potato. Maybe salt and pepper if we were feeling rich. The stew was done when the beef was tender and the potatoes were properly falling apart. In cooking school years later I found out that my parents were basically making a white beef stock, albeit a failing one with potatoes and no bones. The finished dish was ladled onto a plate (not even a bowl!), and was sided with the three items always on our dinner table – slices of sandwich bread (you couldn’t get a damn baguette in Owen Sound in 1983 if your life depended on it),  the plastic tub of margarine (butter apparently was bad for you then), and a chopped salad which the kids were responsible for creating as we got a little older, which led to whole radishes, terribly cut chucks of carrots and iceberg lettuce sided with a veritable buffet of Kraft-copy dressings (my favourite was Creamy Cucumber). *I must note that my parents have blossomed into proper Euro-style peasant gourmets – my dad has turned to organic vegetable farming and preserving and my mom draws inspiration from that time they went to Italy for meals. Their cutting board is still garbage.

Years went on and my tastes grew, as did my ability to cook these things for myself. I still think it’s a great idea to cook things on a weekend and reheat throughout the week. I love the idea of simmering meat for a long time to create dense flavours with soul. I just think there’s a better a more flavourful way to do it. I hope you agree.

Boiled Meat Dinner (also known as Bollito Misto or Pot Au Feu)
serves a family of six, maybe twice

  • 2 beef short ribs, cut 1 ” thick
  • 1.5 lbs brisket
  • 1 lb beef blade steak
  • 3 beef shanks, osso buco style
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 3 pork sausages (the simpler the seasonings the better – I used one seasoned with just nutmeg, salt and pepper)
  • 1/3 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and diced
  • 4 turnips, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 lb small potatoes, washed and halved
  • 1 bunch kale, washed well and chopped fine
  • herb bundle (3 bay leaves, 4 branches of thyme, 1 sprig of rosemary)
  • 1 L chicken stock
  • 1 L beef stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • green onion or italian parsley, sliced for topping the stew

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil then add the bacon and the onion. Sweat over a medium heat until the onions are translucent – about ten minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, turnips and herb bundle and season. Cover and sweat the vegetables for another ten minutes to develop the flavour. Add both stocks and bring to a boil. As the stock heats some impurities will rise to the top – these should be ladled off.

When the stock is at a rolling boil add the beef cuts one by one, allowing the stock to come to a boil again before adding the next cut. The logic behind this is you want to “sear” the meat with the hot stock before simmering it. Alternatively you could actually sear the meat in a skillet with oil before adding to the stock, but I wanted to stay traditional to the “boiled” theme here. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and place in oven for about an hour and a half. 

Take the pot out of the oven and place back on a medium high heat on the stovetop. Take the lid off. You want some of the liquid to evaporate now – this will concentrate the flavours. After simmering/reducing the liquid for about twenty more minutes add the chicken legs. Cover and put back in the oven for another thirty minutes.

Take the pot out of the oven again and put on a medium high heat. Remove the lid. Add the sausages, potatoes and finally the kale. Let the heat wilt the kale a bit before putting stirring. Put the lid back on and return to the oven for forty five minutes or so, or until the potatoes are just cooked through and all of the beef feels tender.

Remove the pot from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Using tongs, remove the meat one piece at a time and cut/slice each piece into smaller bits. Arrange a bit of each meat in a bowl before ladling the broth with the vegetables over top. Put any leftover cut meat back in the pot so it doesn’t dry out. Sprinkle each bowl with sliced green onions or parsley. Serve with lots of crusty, toasted country bread and mustard, horseradish and pickles.

So hey new moms and dads out there, if you don’t want your kids calling you out in 36 years for making a bad stew, take the time to do something like this. They might go into therapy for other reasons, but they won’t be able to talk smack about your family meals!