In an interview with The Washington Post, Anthony Bourdain had two suggestions for people cooking from this book. "Either start with the easiest dishes to pump up your confidence...or, for the more ambitious readers, start out with [veal] stock and go on to demiglace."
Um, ok. Except that until just this morning I had no idea where to get a ready supply of veal stock bones, and besides, making veal stock in August where you have to stand above a simmering pot of stock for like eight to ten hours (no COMMENT, Carol Blymore, who is apparently about to do a post on Alinea-style veal stock in, let me reiterate August), and even Tony's eight hour veal stock is the kind of half-assed veal stock that will apparently get me fired from the French Laundry (apparently they need sixteen hours?). Ok. So, no veal stock today.
Instead, since it is August, it's time for tomatoes, which means fresh tomato salad, which looks to be the easiest recipe in the book--the only hard part is waiting til you can find the perfect tomatoes (the answer is right now). And since the day dawned a little chilly and rainy, a dish that I have a feeling will be cheerful and delicious, poulet roti.
So what is poulet roti? I'm glad you asked, because Tony has the answer for you. "That's roast chicken, numbnuts!" is the first sentence under the header. Oh good, Tony, glad you cleared that up for us. He goes on to explain that roasting chickens is extremely simple and straightforward, by letting us know that "if you can't properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron." Just the thing to pump up my confidence!
Until this year, I'd never before roasted a meat. My first experience was a rack of lamb I made for my husband and my in-laws when they visited for Easter. I haven't roasted another meat since that day--not that the lamb didn't turn out well, it was delicious--but it's just not something I often do. But I've been wanting to try my hand at roasting a chicken for ages so that I may indulge in all of the things I was never permitted as a child and now love--dark meat, and crispy fatty skin that's been drenched in white wine and butter (you children of boomer parents, like me, were subjected to skinless boneless dry as a bone breast meat, I know you were!). So even though the slightly chilly, wet morning has turned into a hot-ass sunny afternoon, I'm going to roast the damn bird, Les Halles style.
One of the benefits of being a snotty-ass yuppie is living in walking distance of a huge farmer's market. Upon waking this morning, I hauled my ass through the pouring rain to the market, where I dodged umbrellas and bought a chicken. I went for a 3.5 lb grass-fed, free-range organic bird from Smith Meadows Farm which was hellishly expensive, but worth it, because I don't want the PETA people on my ass til I get to foie gras. (Just kidding! I totally care about animal welfare! But only because happy chickens are more delicious.) I also found some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and organic onions, which will go into the salad.
The first step of making a roast chicken is making the herb butter, which seems like a good idea in general. I mean, herb. Butter. How could anything with herb butter fail to be delicious???
Mise en place (Tony calls it meez which is a little precious. So it will be mise from here on out on this blog):
The herbs are parsley, lemon thyme, rosemary and basil. I chopped them up and dumped them into some softened butter with honey, white pepper and salt, and the result:
Somewhere out there my little sister is gagging.
I rolled this into a log, wrapped it in plastic, and threw it into the fridge to harden up.
When the chicken had defrosted in the sick, it was time to start! First things first, remove the giblets!
Where are the giblets?
What are giblets, anyway? Wikipedia says they are the liver, heart gizzard, anus (AHHH!), etc. of a chicken, and are often included with a chicken in a bag inside the cavity. But the innards of this chicken are devoid of bagged offal. Crud. This is going to mess up my gravy. But I soldier on.
Note my cross-contamination prevention mat! Salmonella beware!
After rubbing with salt and pepper, inside and out, time to tuck the legs into the skin. But wait--the chicken has already been "trussed" in exactly the style Tony recommends by the farmers! That makes up for the lack of giblets, for sure!
Into the cavity go the onion, lemon and herbs. Under the breast skin, two tablespoons of herb butter, and a plain butter rub all over the chicken. Then it goes in the roasting pan, on top of the onions, and into the oven.
While the chicken is in the oven, it's time to start the tomato salad. You need two strainers for this, in order to rub both tomatoes and red onion in salt, and let them drip over the sink for a half an hour. Once that's done, rub a garlic clove into your salad bowl, whisk together the dressing, and toss the tomatoes and onions and a few basil leaves into it.
In the meantime, the chicken has cooked to a fantastic looking golden brown.
Mmm. Chicken lickin' good.
The chicken rests for 15 minutes while the (giblet-less) gravy is made. Basically, deglaze the roasting pan with white wine, and stir in a ton of butter, boil and thicken, then add parsley.
And then we serve it all up!
For me, this was the best roasted chicken I've ever eaten. Which I guess isn't hard, because it's the only homemade roasted chicken I've ever eaten (all others have been the supermarket rotisserie kind). But the amazing thing is, although I expressed a preference for dark meat above, I really preferred (and went back for seconds, and thirds of) the breast meat on this chicken. It was incredibly tender and juicy. What made it for me was the lemon that got stuffed into the chicken cavity before cooking. The chicken really took on a lemony delicious flavor, as if I'd squeezed a lemon on top of it before eating, only better. The salad was equally incredible. The red onion was absolutely perfect, and I don't think I'll ever make another salad with red onion without first "marinating" the onion in salt first. The onion slices were so tender and meaty. The two dishes were also perfect together, since the acid-brinyness of the salad went wonderfully with the roasted fat-butteryness of the chicken. Served on one plate, the sauces for both dishes melded together went into one delicious sauce for chicken and tomato alike.
The Resident Food Critic (aka, the husband) first declared that the salad looked like it would be better than the chicken. He later changed his tune, and agreed that the chicken was the best ever, especially the drumstick and wing, which he (opposite of me) never liked much. But he agreed that the breast was perfectly tender and juicy, and also like me, abandoned his knife and fork pretty quickly into the meal to tear the chicken carcass apart with his hands.
Lessons learned: Ask for giblets before you buy the chicken. Always go for the best tomatoes. Always brine your onions in salt before using them in a salad. Don't discard the roasted onions from the bottom of the pan--your husband likes to eat them.
Next week on What Les Halles: chicken stock!