Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Perfect Roast Chicken

The perfume lingers, even after all the dishes have been washed and put away. That emotionally loaded scent of rosemary, lemon, garlic and blistering chicken skin is enough to tear children away from video games and husbands away from the Golf Channel. There is truly no more comforting aroma on a cold, wet Sunday. Perfect roast chicken is as revered today as it was for our ancestors, where roasting was accomplished with a spit and open fire. Although the preparation is incredibly simple, the results are truly rewarding. And, with a little advance planning and shopping, you can cook one day and have enough leftovers to make additional dishes later in the week, saving you time and money!

The ingredient list can be modified to whatever you have on hand. Start with a young roasting or frying chicken. About 3 lbs. is a great size for a family of four for one meal with some leftovers. Look for weekly specials in your newspaper or online to determine which store has the best buy. Look for non-processed birds whenever possible (those that aren’t processed with a saline solution). Always check the sell by date to determine which is freshest. Also, think about picking up two birds and roasting them together. That way, you’ll have more leftovers to make chicken salad, burritos, pasta dishes, soups, stocks and more. You can freeze the extra meat and carcass if you can’t use it within about three days.

The remaining ingredients are more of a guideline, use what herbs, spices and aromatic stuffing items you have on hand. Plan on about 2 Tbs. of salt, pepper, dried herbs and spices per bird. Use a combination of Kosher, coarse sea salt (a good smoked salt is also a nice twist), black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, green pepper, smoky paprika, dried herbs (rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, sage), granulated garlic or garlic powder, and other spices such as coriander, cumin, fennel or Chinese 5, 10 or 12 spice. You’ll need 4 Tbs. of melted unsalted butter, olive oil, or combination (not necessary, but always makes the skin nice and golden brown and crispy!!). You can also add aromatics for stuffing inside the cavity if you wish, including onions, garlic, lemons, oranges, fresh herbs (same as the dried herbs), and ingredients such as cinnamon sticks, peppers, tea, kaffir lime leaves, ginger and star anise.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, place rack on lower third of oven. Rinse the chicken inside and out, pat dry with paper towels. Place a rack into a roasting pan. Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt mixture top and bottom, inside and out, pat lightly to make sure it sticks. Place chicken on rack, stuff with aromatics, drizzle with butter and place pan in the oven. After 20 minutes, add water, beer, white wine, or combination to the bottom of the pan (keeps drippings from burning). Don’t add liquid if the bird is not on a rack or elevated. Roast for total of 75 minutes for one 3 lb. bird, and up to 1 hour and 35 minutes for two. Check using a thermometer, placed in the thickest part of the thigh (temperature should be approximately 180 degrees, allowing for carry over cooking to ensure that it reaches 185 degrees). Remove pan from oven, and let rest for at least ten minutes before carving.

Simply delicious and incredibly satisfying for all. The best part is that the aroma lasts long after dinner, inspiring happy dreams of family, food and friends.

Sun-dried Tomato and Black Olive Tapenade

Perfect for impromptu parties, this tangy tapenade is beautifully simple and yummy. Even better the next day, after flavors have had a chance to marry.

Sun Dried Tomato and Black Olive Tapenade

½ Cup Sun-dried Tomatoes (not oil packed), roughly chopped,
½ Cup Black Olives (preferably Kalamata), pitted, roughly chopped
¼ Cup Good Balsamic Vinegar
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Garlic, minced
1 ½ Tbs. Fresh Oregano Leaves, chopped

½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Baguette, sliced at a slight angle to create oval shaped piece, about ½” thick
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Feta and Additional Fresh Oregano for garnish

Combine all ingredients except fresh oregano in bowl of food processor. Pulse quickly, two or three times to mix ingredients. It’s best to leave mixture rough and chunky. Remove from food processor, add in oregano and season with salt and pepper. Let sit and marinate for at least an hour at room temperature.

Place baguette slices on cookie sheet, and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake baguette slices in 400 degree oven until lightly golden and crisped. Remove pan from oven and place baguette slices on serving platter. Place a heaping teaspoon of the tapenade in center of baguette slices. Sprinkle with feta and additional oregano sprigs and serve.