Photo via The Smiths on Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons license.
Part I: Chicken
Everyone has "the best" recipe for roast chicken—in a scientific survey of Google, the phrase "best roast chicken" turned up more than 10,000 results—but I'm here to tell you that not only is my method for roasting chicken actually the best, it's also jaw-droppingly simple—no marinades, dry rubs, fats, or bird-flipping required. There is a brining step, but you can skip that, too*—although, Harold McGee's misgivings aside, I do think it results in a juicier, crisper bird.
Here's what you do: Put your whole chicken (the best you can afford; for me, that’s Ranger brand free-range chicken), giblets and neck removed, into the biggest bowl you've got. Add about a cup of salt and enough water to cover the chicken. (Put a plate on top if it doesn't want to stay down). Swirl the salt around a little to dissolve, set the bowl in the fridge, and forget about it for about an hour. Ten minutes before you're ready to cook, put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (An in-oven thermometer comes in handy here, but just remember to check frequently during the first stage of cooking so it doesn't burn.)
Meanwhile, take an onion and a few root vegetables—carrots, parsnips, potatoes, whatever you have lying around—and cut them into chunks, about an inch across. (Peel them first if you like). Place enough of them on the bottom of a Dutch oven, oven-safe pot, or deep roasting pan (listed in my order of preference) to create a "rack" for the chicken. Don't overcrowd (if you do, the vegetables will steam instead of roasting) or layer too sparsely (if you do, they'll turn into gunk long before your chicken is done roasting). You can also use a roasting rack or nothing; if you use nothing, it will result in crisper skin.
Photo via timothysschenck on Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons license.
When you're ready to cook, take your chicken out of its bath, rinse it off, and dry it gently. (Or forcefully – at this point, I don't think the chicken really cares). Season inside and out with salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Take a lemon, cut into pieces (quarters, chunks, or slices—it doesn't really matter), a few herb sprigs (more if it's a mild herb like parsley, less if it's a strong herb like rosemary; just use your judgment), a few peeled whole garlic cloves, and a roughly chopped shallot or onion. Jam it all into the bird's cavity, then truss if you like (I've never found that it makes any difference, but it is pretty) and place the chicken, breast side up, on the "rack" you've made in your Dutch oven. Place the whole thing, uncovered on the rack (make sure there are a few inches between the top of the chicken and the oven burner) and set your oven timer to 20 minutes; check frequently during cooking so it doesn't burn. (You laugh at all these warnings now, but a 500-degree oven is HOT!)
Once the 20 minutes are up (or once the bird is nicely crisp and browned, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cover the pot (or tent the chicken with foil on the roasting pan). Roast until done to your liking—if you don't have an instant-read thermometer, cook until the leg wiggles easily in its socket and the juices from the thigh run almost clear. The FDA recommends an internal temperature of 180 degrees, but I find that cooking it that long results in breast meat that is dry and chalky; I prefer to cook chicken until a thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the thigh (but not touching the bone) reads between 155 and 160 degrees. Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes; it will finish cooking out of the oven. Carve and serve with plain white rice, the vegetables, and mustard-glazed turnips (recipe below); you can make a quick pan sauce** while the chicken rests if you like.
*If you aren't going to brine your bird, you want to use a lot of salt—salt dries out the skin and gives it a nice, crispy texture. Use about a tablespoon and don't tell your cardiologis
** To make a simple pan sauce, remove as much fat as you'd like from the pan juices and discard. If there isn't enough juice in the pot (unlikely), add stock or white wine about a half-cup at a time until you have about a cup and a half of juices. Cook at a fast simmer on the stove until the sauce is reduced by about half. Add a pat of butter off the heat and swirl until melted; taste, add salt and pepper if needed, and serve.
Part II: Turnips
Last week, I was dismayed to see that my CSA box included a frightening number of small, purple-topped turnips. When I think of turnips, two words come to mind: Mushy, and bitter. Some people have a thing about beets or rutabagas; my won't-eat list is short, but turnips are right up there at the top.
But when I came across a recipe for mustard-glazed turnips in Mark Bittman's book, I decided maybe the turnips weren't destined for the compost pile after all. And, sure enough, they were incredible: Sweet, spicy, and complex, without a trace of mush or bitterness. If Bittman can do the same thing for kimchee, he'll really be my hero.
Turnips in Mustard Sauce (adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, 2008)
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds turnips, cut into one-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
About 1 cup chicken stock, more if necessary
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, or more to taste
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Put the butter or oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the turnips and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the turnips start to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the sugar and enough stock to cover; bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook, uncovered, until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the turnips are tender and brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat a bit and add the mustard, stirring until it’s dissolved.
Taste and add more salt, pepper, or mustard if you like, then garnish with parsley and serve.
For more Nerdom, check out yesterday's post from TechNerd.Tomorrow? MusicNerd.