Saturday, March 15, 2014

fair is fowl, a chicken of Shakespearean proportions

fair is fowl and fowl is fair, a chicken of Shakespearean proportions

Mad Hungry's Pressed Chicken
My stars.  In coldish days (here anyway) and colder days up and beyond, is there anything better than a roast chicken?  It’s a classic.  It never goes out of style.  And it gives you a tingle of great spaced evenings and warm sweaters.  It’s comfort in poultry.  I have, over the years, perfected a classic roast chicken for my family, because sometimes you just need it.  But it’s a time consuming process.  A few hours, average three, in the oven.  Basting.  But I do it because it’s worth it, and much more, I have stopped friends cold from ordering it out.  “You can do it better!” I say heart-vexed, “do not pay for roast chicken!”  To their credit, no one ever listens to me.  And there is also something to be said for buying one of those spit roasted ones from the grocer.  But when you MAKE it, you get pan gravy.  And that’s pretty awesome.

I’m going to give you my roast chicken recipe sometime, but today I want to give you the faster, quicker version, courtesy of one of my favorite recipe ladies, Lucinda Scala Quinn, author of Mad Hungry.  She had a show of the same name that has been taken off the air, blast you Hallmark channel!  But her pressed roast chicken is a divine thing.  And it cooks in 40 minutes.  You read right.  40 minutes.  And the pan sauce of garlic and lemon is just puckerish and filling and comforting and good.  I feel fine sharing this with you because it’s been published on the Martha’s site.  So go on the orange if you want Lucinda’s version, as she is the master (she has three boys like me, so I feel kin), otherwise stay tuned folks and follow along with me. 

First step the players: a fresh chicken, about 4 lbs or a little less is fine—I bought this during Whole Foods chicken sale. (Yes, they do have them, usually one day sales—buy a couple and in another post, I’ll show you how to break it down yourself.  Saves a lot of money rather than buying it in pieces.)  Included are kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.*  Unsalted butter (always use this, that way you can better regulate the salt in all of your cooking).  A seasoned cast iron skillet.  (You can buy them pre-seasoned but they are more expensive.  Seasoning it takes a little bit, but it is so worth it.)  A couple of lemons and a few garlic cloves.

Preheat your oven to 400°.  Rinse your chicken thoroughly.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Now here comes the kinda gross, but fascinating part.  You need to cut the backbone out of the chicken with kitchen shears.  I know.  I do know.  It is gross.  But here’s the thing, when you don’t have the backbone, you can press the whole thing down and it cooks faster.  So take out the shears that you have in the block of knives you registered for and break them in.  Or, if you’re like me, and didn’t have them, buy some good kitchen shears.  Don’t use regular scissors, if you have no inclination of either, use a sharp knife carefully instead. 

Step 1: Insert and carefully cut from the top to the bottom of the chicken.  And repeat on the other side.

You can save and seal the back for chicken stock making if you’d like, or you can simply bag it and put it in the freezer for the next trash day.

Step 2: Press down on the breast side of the chicken.  Make sure you are pressing directly on the breast.  Get the chicken as flat as possible.

Step 3: Generously salt and pepper both sides of the chicken. 

Step 4: Heat 1 TB olive oil and   

1 TB butter in a large (10" shown here) cast iron or oven safe skillet over high heat.  Place breast side down.  Allow to cook for 3 minutes without moving.
Step 5: Using tongs—I used two pairs, one in each hand, carefully turn the chicken over in the pan, now it is breast side up. (Please be careful, the oil/butter is HOT and will splatter.)

Step 6: Place in oven and leave for 40 minutes.  

Now squeeze two lemons for the 3 TB of lemon juice you will need for the sauce.  Then lightly crack/ smash 3 cloves of peeled garlic.  Give them a rough chop if you want.  Set aside.  Now you can have an afternoon cup of Vanilla Bean tea, read Nate the Great so you can talk about it with your 6 year old.  (You won't be thinking about pancakes because the aroma from the oven will make you dizzy, thus the tea.)

Step 7: Remove chicken from oven and check with a thermometer into the breast, make sure it reads 165°.  Allow to rest on cutting board for 10 minutes. 

Step 8: Add 1 TB of lemon juice and 1 TB butter to the pan and stir to combine.  Set aside.

Step 9: Combine 3 TB of olive oil, 2 TB of lemon juice, garlic, pinch of salt and red pepper flakes (if using—I omitted them, the kids would find them too hot).
Carefully pour skillet sauce into the olive/lemon mixture.  Whisk to combine. 

Step 10: Cut around and separate the wings, legs and cut the breast in half.  Then separate each breast half into two pieces so you have 4 breast pieces total.  Plate the chicken and pour sauce over it.  Serve while hot.

Rejoice as you watch your kids eat it!  And be glad, you did it!

*Bonus tip: I buy bulk Tellicherry black peppercorns from the Indian store and grind them myself.  My grandparents had so many pepper trees on their property.  It’s grown right on the Malabar coast.  You can get them super cheaply at the Indian store.  Buy it there. It’s a whole new pepper experience and gives new strength to that taken-for-granted spice.  Then leave it in a colorful dish with a measuring spoon. 

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