Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roast chicken a la Julia Child

This picture isn't of today's recipe. I had very little time to assemble this after spending most of the afternoon at a doctor appointment with Peter and then at the gym. However, except for the legs being tied together, this is pretty much what it looked like after cooking.

Using a couple of different gift cards we had been given, we got both volumes of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I've been reading it like a novel, though without going straight from beginning to end.

It may be heresy to say so, but I find the books more useful as idea generators than literal recipe guides. Yes, the recipes are terrifically detailed. When you read enough of them you realize there is more room for flexibility within them than you might think at first blush.

A great deal of butter is used. Vegetables are cooked much longer than I would cook them. Hers are more along the lines of the mushy ones my mother (and so many others of her generation) prepared.

I studied at length a method of "half-boning" a chicken. It looked intriguing. I also wanted to use some leftover squash risotto as a stuffing, adding to it some duxxelle of mushroom. I'd suggest concocting a stuffing of cooked (white or wild) rice, mushrooms, celery, etc. Stuffing isn't essential, but with the half-boned chicken the stuffing lent great flavor and moistness to the breast meat which it came in direct contact with. A traditional bread stuffing (even with a bit of sausage) also sounds fine.

I went with a 3 pound bird from Sunflower Market. I should have examined it more carefully because I discovered at home that the breast skin was torn in a couple of places. Julia's technique was to peel back the breast skin, bone out the breast meat, cut our the entire rib cage, slice the breast into strips, insert stuffing, lay breast strips on it, and pull the skin back over everything, securing with skewers.

I found an alternative method which worked just fine. Also in question was the amount of cooking time. Fortunately we have an electronic thermometer with a remote receiver which we take into the tv room where we have cocktails and watch "Jeopardy" before getting dinner on the table. The cooking time came out to just about 1 hr. 20 minutes. Obviously a larger bird (typical 4 lb. supermarket hen) would take longer.

Roast chicken (or Cornish hen)
1 3 lb (or so) free range chicken or a 2 1/2 lb. Cornish hen
2-3 cups stuffing
2 tbsp butter at room temperature
black pepper

Brine the bird for 2-3 hours: immerse it in water with 1 tbsp kosher salt per cup; additions can be 1 tbsp sugar per cup of water and a tsp roughly cracked black pepper per cup. Refrigerate with something on it to hold it under. Or use a freezer bag in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the chicken thoroughly under cold water and dry it with paper towels. Slice through the skin at the breastbone from one end to the other. Slice along the bones underneath to free the entire breast portion on each side. Remove the rib cage by cutting it out with poultry shears.

Insert stuffing into the cavity you've created. You won't need all 3 cups, maybe as little as 1, depends on the size of the bird. Save the rest to cook separately in the oven while the bird roasts. Fold the breast meat back over the stuffing and secure with skewers, using at least two, one from each end. It may take a third skewer to tuck up the tail portion over the opening between the legs. Cross the legs over one another and tie them there with kitchen string.

Smear the butter all over the skin of the bird (you can ignore the back) and liberally apply black pepper to taste. Place on a rack over a baking sheet with 1" sides and roast in the oven until the thickest part of the thigh is at 170 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Remove skewers and slice off the entire breast portions on each side. Serve the stuffing with 1 drumstick or thigh and 1/2 of a breast.

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