A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

I have a simple rule, whenever I figure out what good restaurant cooks like to make at home I follow suit.  It’s because most professional cooks like simple but deeply satisfying meals, roast chicken is one of those, it is a cook’s meal.  When I say simple I don’t mean in flavor and not necessarily in ease of cooking but more that it falls into the category of not being fussy.

And really, that is it isn’t it, that roast chicken is delicious, very satisfying and not at all fussy. Most importantly though it is easy on the cook and that is always something to grasp hold of and learn how to do.    So this is how I do it, I try not to complicate roast chicken, I use only a few dried spices  and I try to follow some simple guidelines I have come to trust over the years.

Roast Chicken Know-How:

  • Season the chicken with salt the day before you want to cook it.  Then set it into a tray with sides.  Place it uncovered into the refrigerator to dry out the skin and soak up the salt.  This drying of the skin makes for a deeply colored crispy skin.  The salt helps keep the chicken moist.
  • Trussing the chicken helps the chicken to cook evenly.  Besides we eat as much with our eyes so why not make it pretty.
  • You can cook the chicken on top of vegetables if you like letting the juices drip down onto them making for a wonderful side dish.  I do this as often as not but I never throw out the pan juices.  The pan juices make a wonderful addition to all sorts of things from pasta to…well, anything.
  • Adjust the top rack of your oven so the top of the bird is 5 to 7 inches from the top of the oven.  If it is to close to the top it will brown the skin well before the meat is cooked.
  • Avoid buying birds that are more the 4 or 5% juices added.  The birds that are 12% are brined and they are very, very salty.
  • Save any and all pan juices.  Use them in a vinaigrette to dress a salad, in pasta or in chicken salad but don’t waste them.

Cost to roast a chicken:  it depends on what kind of chicken and where you buy it but anywhere between 6 and 10 dollars for a 4 pound bird.  It should feed four with the added bonus of making soup from the carcass.

Click here for a pasta recipe using roast chicken leftovers: Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

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To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

1. Salt the chicken the day before you want to cook it or at least 4 hours before you want to cook it.  To do this sprinkle salt onto all sides of the bird including inside the cavity.  Place the bird onto a tray with side and put it back into the fridge.

2. Crush the fennel seeds either using the bottom of a heavy pan to grind it or with a mortar and pestle.  Combine the fennel with the rest of the spices and, again, sprinkle the spice rub all over the bird including the cavity.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

3. Let the bird sit at room temperature for a half an hour or up to an hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken, still on a tray with sides, into the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes.  Bast the chicken with the pan juices.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Check to see  if it is done.  I can usually tell by the legs.  If the meat has pulled away from the knee bones then there is a good chance the rest of the bird is done.  Wiggle a thigh.  If it seems loose then you are probably good to go.  Tilt the bird backwards and see if the juices running out from the cavity are red.  If  all three of these test are passed letting the bird rest will finish the cooking.   Let the bird rest cover with foil for 15 minutes.

5. Carve and serve.

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Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy

You can make meatloaf out of anything, from lentils to venison to duck.  You can get fancy and have the three meat combo made from equal parts beef, veal and pork or even a seafood loaf made from salmon.  The possibilities are endless.

From what you choose to make your meatloaf isn’t as important as how you make your meatloaf.  The steps you use will ultimately influence the outcome of the final product.

Meatloaf, in technical cooking terms, is a forcemeat.  A forcemeat comes in a few variations, from sausage to paté but is really nothing more then ground meat.  Sometimes it is emulsified until it is smooth such as in hotdogs and other times it is left coarse as in Italian sausage.  A binder is needed, bread crumbs, oats, rice might be typical and even eggs are sometimes used.

As you can see when making forcemeat you have options.  The one option I don’t stray from though is the ratio of fat to meat.  Without the right ratio for fat to meat you will more then likely end up with a dry meatloaf.  While it probably would still be edible it would be less then desirable.  So here is the ratio, 3 parts meat to 1 part fat.

Arguably this is tough to figure sometimes but generally grocery stores are good about marking such things as their ground beef with percentages of fat.  After ground beef though it is up to you to figure out.  I just apply a general rule of the thumb, the leaner the meat the closer to the ratio I stay.  Venison for example is very, very lean.  If I am making meatloaf from it I use 1 1/2 lbs venison to a 1/2 lb of pork belly.  On the other hand if I want a pork loaf I just by pork butt and grind it,  it always seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the ratio.

The other thing about meatloaf is it is designed to use less meat but feed more people or as we say it was meant to stretch out the protein and number of mouths it can feed.  To do this a filler is added.  Bread crumbs and oats are the first two that come to mind.  I used to use only breadcrumbs but over time I switched to oats and have pretty much stuck with oats ever since.  What the filler does is as important as how much fat you add.  It absorbs the fat and juices as the meatloaf cooks, hence retaining moisture.

When it comes to seasoning I find 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat works pretty well.  After salt you can spice your meatloaf however you want but I would be careful not to over spice it.  You need to find a balance.

Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy (Serves 6 to 8)

Turkey can be tricky in that it can become very dry.  I have found if I use equal parts ground thigh to breast meat it stays moist and succulent, of coarse the 1/2 and 1/2 soaked oats doesn’t hurt one bit either.  This is currently my favorite go-to-quick-to-prep meatloaf.  Here is why, more often then not I gently sauté any vegetables that will go into the loaf.  I do so for several reasons but the main reason is because I don’t like half cooked veggies in my meatloaf.  Sweating them before adding them to the meat keeps this from happening.  The two main vegetables I add to meatloaf are generally onions and garlic.  For this recipe I grated the onion and used garlic powder and it worked beautifully without any extra sautéing.

Note: of course you can add peas to the gravy along with the shoots or omit the shoots altogether and just add the peas.

1 pound ground turkey breast

1 pound ground turkey thigh

1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground

1/2 cup half & half

2 teaspoons kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sage

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoon grated onion, grated on the small whole of a grater

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

1 quart homemade chicken or turkey stock or no salt store bought broth

2 tablespoons rice or wheat flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

ketchup (for the crust)

Pea shoots

1. Heat the oven to 325˚ F.

2. In a 2 quart sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir it constantly with a wooden spoon until it smells nutty and becomes tan in color.  While stirring, and stirring is very important here to keep from getting lumps, add the chicken stock.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and let the gravy simmer till reduced by half.   Taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. While the gravy is reducing combine the cream and oats.  Add the seasonings and stir.  Now add the turkey and using your clean hands spend a minute or two mixing the forcemeat until everything is well combined.  It will be sticky.

4. Making sure you pat out any air bubbles pack the turkey forcemeat into a 4 x 4 x 8 loaf pan.  Top evenly with a layer of ketchup and bake the loaf in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165˚ F when inserted to the middle.  Slice and serve with gravy.

Biscuits with Ramp and Giblet Gravy

Biscuits and Gravy

There are foods in each state that should be considered regional treasures.  In Indiana the two that readily come to mind are breaded pork tenderloins as big as your head and biscuits and gravy.  Here in my home state I have had lots of variations on both dishes.  When it comes to biscuits and gravy though the variations only vary in what goes under the creamy sausage and peppery gravy.  You can count on the gravy staying the same.

Now I have traveled.  On my travels I have eaten in many mom and pop diners, hole in the walls, and everywhere in between and I have had subtle variations on the gravy.  In New Mexico for example they use chilis.  Still the base is a cream gravy.

There is a place on the outskirts of Nashville, TN called the Loveless Cafe and Hotel.  I am sure it started as a mom and pop place but as it caught on, they make their own sausage, jams and biscuits by hand, with the Nashville stars it became busy.  By the time I enjoyed a breakfast  there the only star you might see was in one of the multitude of photographs on the wall.

Nevertheless the breakfast were good,  a nice mix of rural Tennessee, and it didn’t take two seconds for me to know what I was ordering.  They offered four different kinds of gravy for your biscuits and the one that caught my desire was the giblet gravy.  It must run in my veins because I can’t not order a dish when it incorporates giblets.

So here is my Ode to Loveless.  It is a spring dish, it  is what we call Sunday brunch and it will channel your inner granny.  You will be all the better for it.

Biscuits with Ramp and Giblet Gravy ( serves 4 )

For the biscuits click here.

For the gravy:

1 quart homemade chicken stock or unsalted store bought

2 tablespoons flour, rice or wheat

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 bunch of ramps, white parts only, cleaned and chopped

1 each poultry heart, liver and gizzard, chopped finely

salt

fresh ground black pepper

chives

1. In a 2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat.  Once it is melted stir in the flour with a wooden spoon.  Use a wooden spoon sometime metal will react with the pot and you will get a gray gravy.  Constantly stir the flour until it begins to color.  Once it is tan, keep stirring to avoid clumps, add the giblets and ramps.  Stir some more.

2. Add the stock, be careful it will bubble and spit.  Stir the gravy until it comes back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until reduced by half.

3. Make the biscuits.

4. Taste the gravy and add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.

5. When the biscuits are done and the gravy hot, serve topped with chives.

Pancetta Lardons, Sorrel and Mushroom Quiche

I grow sorrel every year.  That’s not true, it’s a perennial so it comes back every year all on its own.  So I am not so sure I grow it as much as just let it be.  Either way I have access to it each spring.  The thing is I rarely use it.  It is one of those vegetables where you always say to yourself you will get around to it but never do.  I guess for me sorrel is like when I lived in New York City and I always said to myself I need to go to the top of the Empire Stare Building or get out to the Statue of Liberty and then moved away before I ever did any of those things.

Last year though I started to make pesto from sorrel and I found it exciting and delicious but after that I found other vegetables and pretty much left sorrel at the side of the dance floor.

This year so far has been different.  I have made a sorrel gratin, creamed sorrel and now this quiche.   Maybe sorrel is a vegetable that takes time to get to know before you can become close kitchen friends. Continue reading →

Red Onion and Rhubarb Fondue

I know, I know you are thinking cheese and you are right to do so. It is, after all, one of the many things  fondue can mean but simply put it means “melted” but fondue is also used in other culinary applications beyond the Swiss national dish.

To fondue something is to sweat it over low heat until it becomes very tender.   Vegetables are often used in fondue where they are left on the stove over low heat eventually  breaking down into an unctuous mess of jam.  It is looser then jam and while I am sure you Red Onion and Rhubarb Fonduecould preserve or can fondue I don’t.  I usually don’t make a fondue in those quantities.  I more or less consider it a quick jam or pickle,  and much like a quick pickle it is something I will store in the fridge and use within week or so.

This particular fondue goes well with grilled pork chops, is better then great on beef quesadillas and is wildly good on hotdogs and brats.  In other words you will want to have this little gem around for summer grill outs.

Continue reading →