Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Do You Get When You Cross…

Mister Rogers

                                                                                Howdy Doody?

Christopher Kimball!
You know him....from America’s Test Kitchen.  And really, I’m not being mean. Mister Rogers is an American icon and Howdy Doody is a legend, so actually that’s a pretty nice comparison.

I’ve seen a couple of episodes and usually find it interesting. Chris poses a problem at the beginning of the show and then, in the test kitchen, shows us specific ways to overcome the challenges of that particular dish or recipe.

In this one, Chris talks about how difficult it is to roast a chicken evenly and have the white and dark meat done at the same time - all the while roasting vegetables in the same pan. He says the vegetables get all covered with schmaltz, which frankly doesn’t sound like a problem to me at all. But he wants a crisply roasted chicken and crusty roasted vegetables.

He shows us an example of a chicken which has been undercooked on the bottom. The vegetables in that pan look stewed. 

He gets help from Julia Collin Davison in the Test Kitchen. First she tells us about the vegetables. They should all be "hearty" and cook at approximately the same time. I was beginning to think this was a little too basic, when she suggests using shallots. Well, of course! Why didn’t I ever think of that? I’ve roasted every vegetable imaginable and I’ve never roasted shallots. I save them for more delicate sauces or occasionally salad dressings, but roasting halved shallots is a great idea.

I suppose telling us to cut the carrots so they have the same “girth” (i.e. the thicker half should be cut in half lengthwise) is an important point, but the word she uses is so unattractive that I just keep picturing pudgy vegetables. Oh, and she WEIGHS the vegetables. Not on camera, but before. She has 12 ounces of each vegetable. That’s kind of annoying. We’re not making pastry, but I DO understand this is a TEST kitchen.

Julia tosses all her vegetables in vegetable oil. (I didn't know anyone used that anymore except for carrot cake and, actually, olive oil can go in that too.) She adds fresh herbs, seasoning AND sugar, which Julia says helps the caramelization. Of course it does, but isn’t that cheating? EVERYTHING tastes better with sugar, but shouldn’t we try to avoid it when we can.

Julia, with Chris watching eagerly, gets herb butter ready for the chicken. Then she grabs the chicken and breaks the bad news to us. She will be cutting the chicken in pieces, so they cook more evenly and finish at the same time as the vegetables.

Hold on a hot minute! I came aboard to learn how to roast a chicken perfectly. OF COURSE it roasts better in pieces, but that wasn’t supposed to be the exercise. Any ninny can cook chicken pieces, but I wanted America Test Kitchen’s spin (it sounds so patriotic) on A WHOLE ROAST CHICKEN.  

I’m quite disappointed. Julia gives us all the reasons why we should cook the chicken in pieces. It turns out there are a whole lot! In fact, she has me thinking that it would be insane to ever roast a whole chicken again, even though that's what I tuned it for!

According to Julia and Chris, this is why you want to cut up the chicken:
A whole chicken has more than 4 times the fat and juices coming out of it and landing on top of the roasted vegetables than the pieces do. (Again, I don’t see this as a problem.) One reason is because the back bone and wings are removed before cooking, which removes a lot of fat in the pan.

When you cut up the chicken, you also end up cutting off some of the skin and extra fat which cuts down on the fat and drippings.

There’s more air circulation around individual pieces of chicken, so they cook up much crisper. The moisture goes up into the air of the oven and not down on the vegetables.

In conclusion, chicken PARTS leave the vegetables underneath them much drier than a whole chicken does.
A few other notes: Julia uses scissors to cut through the back bone, which is much easier than a knife.

Julia doesn’t actually bother drying the chicken before she cooks it, she just lays paper towels on top, which absorbs the excess moisture. She turns the chicken over and does the same thing on the other side.

She cooks the chicken and vegetables on a sheet pan and not a roasting pan, because there’s more evaporation and it “allows for good browning”. The vegetables would stew more with the high sides of a roasting pan. (When I'm roasting vegetables alone, I always do it on a sheet pan, but I ALWAYS line it with foil.)

The Brussels sprouts go in the center of the pan for a little extra protection, because they brown more quickly. The same goes for the white and dark meat. The breast pieces go in the middle of the pan, the dark meat around the edges. (I usually place my Brussels sprouts cut side down, but Julia didn’t bother.)
The chicken comes out of a 475°F oven after only 35 minutes. Chris remarks that the pan isn’t swimming in juices. That makes me sad. How would I make a little sauce with nothing left in the pan?

Julia serves it up and Chris loves it. She "Mmm"’s a bit too much. IT’s not chocolate cake after all.

There was a lot of information in this episode. Too bad I didn’t care about roasting a chicken in PIECES.


Ina has some great quick videos on roasting a chicken. (Sorry about the commercials.) This first one is from 1999, where a younger (and so lovely) Ina starts by WASHING the chicken, which we really don’t do anymore. SHE uses a (huge) roasting pan and her chicken and vegetables look nicely browned. This is the recipe.

Here’s another video from Ina of her famous Engagement Roast Chicken. Supposedly this recipe helps things along in the romance department. 


Here’s what I do:

My Roast Chicken with Vegetables

Cut up 4 peeled carrots, 1 peeled yam, 2 onions or 1 white onion and 1 red onion, a handful of Brussels sprouts, halved and a peeled potato or two. Toss in a ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt and splash of good olive oil. Pour into a Pam-ed roasting pan. (Mine was pretty shallow and notice I took Chris and Julia's hint and put the Brussel sprouts in the middle.)

Place the chicken on top. Slightly salt both sides of the chicken.

Roast at whatever temperature you wish. 400°F. if you have more time. You may need a good hour and a half. OR if you have less time, roast it up to 450°F. I split the difference and did this one at 425°F. for about an hour and 10 minutes. And then I put it under the broiler for a minute and a half...but only because I was taking a picture for you.

When it’s done and the breast registers 165°F, remove it to a board and cover loosely with foil. 

With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the pan and keep warm, uncovered, in a baking dish.

Pour all the juices from the pan into a small saucepan. Add about 1/2 cup of stock (vegetable or chicken) and a ¼ cup of white wine or orange juice. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 2 minutes or so. Reduce it more if you like. Taste for seasoning and serve as is. OR you can add 2 teaspoons of any vinegar you like to give it a little zing. Allow it to boil for one minute with the vinegar.

Sometimes I add in a few fresh cherries with the stock at the beginning. They go nicely with the chicken.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Wow. That is a very very good description of him. I like the way he tends to dismiss today's easy-shortcut celebrity "chefs".

I usually halve my chickens before roasting them. The flat chicken means there is isn't more air circulating under it. I don't cut it further though. I start with 450 degrees for 15 minutes and then roast it the rest of the way at 400. Sometimes I roast it vertically on a can full of wine too.

Emily said...

Geez, your chicken looks perfect. I think yours looks better than the test kitchen chicken. They totally cheated, too.

I've been eating roasted chicken lately, but I've been BUYING it from the grocery store. . Eek. It tastes better when someone else makes it.

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
Yup, Chris does seems as if he wouldn’t have a lot of time for those flibbertigibbets from the Food Network and other places.

I forgot about roasting a chicken vertically. That’s such a good idea and it allows the heat to circulate evenly around the whole chicken.

Thank ye!

Grocery store chickens can be good as long as you don’t get one LATE in the day that’s been there since EARLY in the day.

Anonymous said...

Kimball doesn't have time for Ina either, according to an interview in the New York Times from last October:

"And nothing makes Kimball angrier than the aspirational pipe dreams marketed by the likes of Ina Garten and Bon Appétit. 'I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party,' Kimball told me over a bowl of chicken-and-vegetable soup at his regular lunch haunt, a Brookline, Mass., pub called Matt Murphy’s. 'Cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn’t anything glamorous about it.' "

Sue said...

That is SO interesting. I totally missed that article. Frankly, Chris sounds kind of cranky! I think that anything that makes getting food on the table night after night MORE fun is a good idea! He needs one of Ina's cocktails to loosen up.

Sheila said...

Miss Anne Burrell has a mighty fine whole roasted chicken recipe too. In fact I go back and forth between hers and Ina's… I like that Ina stuff lemon and garlic and salt in hers…

For a weeknight dinner I do roasted chicken pieces. They always turn out good. I had no idea about all the reasons why pieces roast better. But if you're going to present dinner - better do a whole bird.

Sue said...

Hi Sheila,
I agree. Anne's recipe is good, just like Ina's.

I never thought to break it down that way before, but that is absolutely true about weeknight dinners. Roast chicken is for Sunday's, pieces are for the other nights of the week. I'm trying to think if I've EVER roasted a chicken during the week. I don't think so. Hmmm. Interesting.