Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two Chefs, Two Chickens And A Fight Between A Robust Spice Blend And A Rockin' Vinaigrette

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello
The Best Roast Chicken in the World Contest
Michael's Brined and Spiced Chicken Cooked in Butter with Sherry Vinegar Sauce
Jan Birnbaum's Roasted Chicken on Summer Greens with Corn
Olive Oil Braised Potatoes

To get the recipes:
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"I'm taking you down." says Jan Birnbaum. We see the boys playing with ceramic chickens. Today's cook-off between the two chefs is Roasted Chicken definitely taken up a few notches. Michael defines the battle as being between the "Italian Stallion and Ragin' Cajun...dukin' it out."

Michael starts by brining his chicken to get a head start on the flavor. He's going to make a brine and then add ice to it, to bring the temperature down quickly. To a 1/2 gallon of water, he adds 7 cups (!) of kosher salt, peppercorns, 2 tbls. juniper berries (available in any supermarket), brown sugar, and bay leaves. He brings the mixture up to the boil, adds the ice to chill the mixture quickly and sets aside to cool.

Now MC is mixing up a potent spice mix - fennel, coriander seed and white peppercorns. He roasts the spices because he wants a "cooked spice flavor." Remember what I'm always saying about stirring the spices over heat before you add the other ingredients of your dish? Well, he's getting the cooking done beforehand to deepen the flavor and get rid of the raw taste. He turns the heat off and adds cinnamon, chili flakes, sugar, chili powder and salt.

"The brine must be cold" before you add the chicken. He puts the chicken in the brine and tells us to refrigerate it for 4 to 8 hours.

After spices have cooled, he grinds them in a food processor.

After the break, we come back to a beautiful farm setting. Jan joins Michael in the kitchen. Michael cuts up his chicken and dries it off really well. He rubs in the spice mixture very thoroughly to both sides. He's treating his chicken " Peking style", which is to leave it in the refrigerator overnight uncovered to dry it out.

We're on to Jan's bird. Michael remarks how yellow it is. Jan makes a potion of salt, paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander and dry mustard. He rubs it all over the chicken. To add even more flavor, he makes a vinaigrette of champagne and balsamic vinegars, garlic, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, tarragon (he lost me with that) AND BACON FAT. Whooeee!!! He puts the marinade in a bag and adds the chicken. Michael points out that by marinading in a bag, you can use a lot less than if you were doing it in a bowl. They finish up for the day and Michael utters his standard refrain, "That's all she wrote."

The next day dawns. Michael melts butter in a sauté pan and places the chicken in skin side down. He makes sure to add more spice to any bare places. He bastes with butter and chicken juices and puts the pan in a 400 deg. F oven for 20 minutes.

Jan is up now and he adds more flavor

by stuffing his chicken with cut up lemons, small pieces of onion (WITH the skin on), plus garlic, nutmeg, peppercorns and...why not?...a bit of olive oil. He ties up the chicken, spices it up real good and sits it on a bed of mirepoix (instead of a rack) and roasts it at 400 deg F for 40 minutes. Then he lets it sit in the turned off oven.

Michael prepares grilled and braised potatoes. He slices the potatoes rather thickly. He oils them and sprinkles them with grey salt and pepper. He puts them on a hot grill outside to get good grill marks on them, but he doesn't want them cooked all the way through.

He puts them on a pan and adds more olive oil, thyme, grey salt and pepper. and puts them in a 325 deg F oven for 20 minutes. "The potatoes will drink up the olive oil."

For his garniture, Jan adds canola oil to a pot. (Remind me, someday, to tell you why I hate canola oil, but I appreciate the fact that it has a high smoking temperature, which is why he's using it here.) He dredges oysters in rice flour and deep fries them in the canola oil. In a new pan, he cooks butter and corn and roasted peppers. He adds some reserved marinade to the pan and turns off the heat. He adds scallions and parsley and finishes cooking the oysters.

We move on to the sun-glassed guests who seem to be getting ready for the judging by drinking plenty of wine. I'm not sure who that favors.

Michael finishes up the chicken by deglazing the pan juices with sherry vinegar, chicken broth and bit of water.

He arranges the potatoes in between tomatoes. (There's a confusing bit in the recipe, which tells us to use "some of the vinaigrette" to spoon over these tomatoes. But we haven't MADE a vinaigrette for Michael's dish, so I guess just rustle up one real quick or just sprinkle some balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes with a bit of salt.)

Jan plates his chicken with the fried oysters and tops with vinaigrette and the cooked corn. They show off their dishes to the kitchen gods.

The judges get down to work. It's close, really close, but Jan is the victor to whom go the spoils, which seem to be this kiss from Michael.

Lucky guy. Of course in a taste test between these two, there are no losers. It's only a friendly competition between these two chefs and their intensely flavorful styles of cooking.

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