Tag Archives: roast chicken

Chicken Pot Pie Without the Pie

I hate waste. Hate, hate, hate it. I trust that’s clear? It has made me crazy since I was a small child at how much STUFF we throw away, unused…not just ‘stuff’, not even just usable ‘stuff’, but stuff that actually can make your life better if you treat it with respect. If I treat it with respect.

Case in point: the bones of a chicken. From any chicken dish: roasted, braised, sautéed, anything where the main event is the chicken meat, not the sauce around it. If the sauce is the main point, then presumably it has been greatly enlivened by the presence of the bones…which means dem bones didn’t go to waste. But…

Take your roast chicken. I personally love roast chicken. In all modesty, I must say I make a great roast chicken—brined with lots of garlic, then roasted to a juicy turn with a crispy skin. When I make a roast chicken, married as I am to a vegetarian, I get quite a few meals for myself out of it. A leg and a thigh for the first dinner, usually with lots of carrots roasted on the side. A cold leg and thigh for lunch the next day. A wing (or two) for a snack. The breast meat stripped off the bones, and either shredded and made into a chicken salad with cilantro and scallions (my favorite chicken salad, worth two meals wrapped in tortillas), or, my current favorite, chicken in a béchamel sauce. With peas.

“What do you use that for?” the very nice grocery clerk asked me yesterday, after she directed me to where the Wondra flour was found. Wondra flour being an especially finely milled kind of flour that immediately thickens a sauce without making it taste floury…and it never lumps. “For sauces,” I said. She looked puzzled. “What kind of sauces?” “Gravy,” I suggested, realizing what we had here was a difference in terminology.

Her brow cleared. “Ohhhhh. Gravy. I see.” Because really, a béchamel sauce is just Protestant gravy, under another name. White sauce. Veloute. It’s all just gravy.

And what gravy!

So what I do is, as I eat that roast chicken, I keep the bones. If I’m going to make chicken a la béchamel, I strip off the breast meat in large chunks and add it to a buttered casserole dish. Refrigerate while I make the broth. When I’ve got the bones all stripped of meat, I add them, what giblets and neck had been with the chicken originally, a scrubbed carrot, a scrubbed piece of celery, some sprigs of parsley, a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves, a slice of onion, some peppercorns, and a bay leaf, putting them all in a big pot, and cover them with water. I bring that to a boil and let it simmer until I can taste CHICKEN BROTH. And yes, there you have it. Chicken broth. Chicken broth that costs you a small fortune to buy, there it is, in the bones of your roast chicken. (Warning—and I will repeat this—torture chickens, of the kind made into supermarket rotisserie birds, born and bred in unspeakably awful and confining circumstances, will not provide bones that will make anything but pallid tasting water. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Try to make chicken broth from a torture chicken’s carcass. Then try with one from an organic bird. Hah. There. You see? Evidence of your own taste buds.)

Once you have that broth, you can make your béchamel, or veloute, or gravy, or sauce, or whatever you want to call it—I’m not fussy about names, what I’m fussy about is taste. Essentially the same as how you make a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, except a.) you don’t use cheese, and b.) you can use half milk, half chicken broth…or whatever mix appeals to you that day. In other words, for a whole chicken breast: sauté four tablespoons of butter and four tablespoons of flour (I like to use Wondra, but it’s not necessary, just cook a little longer if you use regular flour). Add 2 cups of milk and or/chicken broth in whatever proportions you feel like that day. Half and half is nice. Simmer until it tastes good, about fifteen minutes for Wondra, and forty for regular flour. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a slug of sherry if you have it, and a glug of cream.

Now…mix with the chicken breast pieces in that buttered casserole. Add a handful of frozen peas, if you like. You can add some diced cooked carrot, though I usually don’t. Top with something crunchy. I use a mix of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, but you can use toasted sliced almonds, toasted pecan pieces—you get the idea.

Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling and browned along the edges.

There you have it. The most wonderful chicken breast dish in the world (and I am usually not a fan of chicken breast). It’s great reheated the next day, and even the day after that.

Here’s another secret: it’s actually chicken pot pie without the pie.

 So much of life is making these connections, isn’t it? And then murmuring, “Eureka!” as you dig in to yet another reason that life is very worth living.

\(At the risk of being boring, let me repeat: save all the bones from your various meat meals in a bag in the freezer, and when you have enough, make a broth. Freeze that and use, oh, for all sorts of yummy things. But don’t bother using non-organic bones. Not for health reasons, though doubtless there’s something in that. Simply for taste. An animal that was raised in a factory will not taste the same as an animal that was raised on a farm. Guaranteed.)

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The Blessing of Roast Chicken.

It’s the time of year for counting one’s blessings, and I have been having a great time with that. Unsurprisingly, an awful lot of my blessings have to do with food. Creamed spinach. Persimmons. Green peas and butter. Salad with walnuts and blue cheese. Oysters…I could go on.

And of all the blessings that make it worthwhile being a human born into this body of limitations and inevitable suffering mixed with joy, one of the greatest is Roast Chicken.

My roast chicken.

My roast chicken is simply the best, having been honed to perfection over years of tinkering. Tinkering and then eating. So you can trust me on this one.

I used to think Nigel Slater’s was the best. Simple. You just slathered a load of butter on a good organic bird, salt and pepper, maybe shove a garlic clove or two into the cavity, then roast it at 400 degrees until done, still a tiny bit rose colored at the joints, and gilded brown all over.

That’s a pretty good recipe, to tell the truth.

But then I discovered BRINE.

The brined roast chicken. If you are into roast chicken (and I think we know by now I’m into them, yes?), this is the recipe for you.

Here’s how:

First…and most important…the bird. It should be organic, and the best quality you can get. No, really, I’m not kidding. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is not just so you don’t have to push out of your imagination the torture some poor Arkansas bred creature went through to get broasted at Costco with so much paprika and cayenne that you can’t taste the fact that the bird itself is, well, tasteless. This is not just for hippie idealistic reasons (although, momentary commercial interlude, THE HIPPIES WERE RIGHT, okay? live with it). This is because most nonorganic birds have by now been so badly treated by techniques of mass production that they have just about no flavor. If we are going to eat meat, we need to understand that the higher morality is the higher practicality. In this as in so many other things.

Okay, now you have your bird. Take a brief moment to mourn the days when it would come stuffed with its own neck, giblets and liver, all of which come in very handy in the Good Eating Stakes. But never mind. We’ll get a good chicken broth out of the bones at the end, which is one of the advantages of roasting your own good chicken. (This is impossible with a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Take my word for it.)

Now you brine the bird. This may seem like a lot of hoopla, but there are times when hoopla adds so much to your quality of life that it cannot be avoided. This is one of those times.

Say you have a bird that’s about three to five pounds, the usual size you find in the market. For a good brine, it should soak about three hours. You can do more if you like a brine-ier bird (which I do). Not more than six hours, though—too salty at that point. (And if I say it’s too salty, believe me…)

Here’s how you make the divine brine:

Mix

1 ½ cups of salt (just table is fine) with

1 ½ cups of sugar (here, if anywhere, is the proper use for white) in

A gallon of water (or as much as it will take to cover the bird)

Crush into the liquid a handful of BAY LEAVES (as many or as few as you can spare)

Squash a head or two (two is better) of garlic and add the cloves, even with the skin still clinging to them as all we want is the flavor, you’re not going to eat them (this is a very important step, it adds a dimension to the chicken that is way out)

Now submerge your bird. Refrigerate. From time to time, turn the bird over in the brine. Don’t fuss about this—just when you think of it is fine. And if you don’t think of it, that’s fine, too.

An hour and a half or so before you want to eat the bird, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you want, do what I do: plan to cook the bird in a ridged cast iron pan, in which case, put the pan in the preheating oven to preheat itself.

While all this is going on, drain the bird (garlic cloves and bay leaves can go happily on the compost), dry it off with paper towels, inside and out. If you’re not going to use the cast iron option, put the bird breast down on a rack in a roasting pan.

When the oven is hot (and so is your ridged cast iron pan, if you’re with me on this one), add the bird breast side down. It’s going to take about an hour to cook, but I like to leave it upside down for the first twenty minutes.

After twenty minutes, turn it right side up. NO NEED TO BASTE! Really! I’m not kidding! The brine does something magic to the chicken so you don’t have to bother.

Roast for about forty more minutes, though I would check it at thirty. If you have an instant read thermometer (and really, you should, really you SHOULD), the dark meat joint, where the thigh attaches to the bird, should read a little under 180 degrees when it’s done to my idea of perfection. You’ll have your own ideas, of course.

Take the bird out, let it sit (under a tent of foil if you must, but I usually just leave it out so the crispy skin stays that way) for five or ten or fifteen minutes. Then carve.

Then eat. Then oooh. Then aaahhh.

And if you’ve roasted a few carrots, perhaps even a few potatoes, in the same oven, have them on the side. By the way, I generally serve my portion on top of shredded lettuce, with a little wedge of lemon for possible squeezing.

This is truly the Greatest Roast Chicken in the world. And here’s the other advantage it has over those Costco rotisserie chickens: as you eat, throw the bones into a pot with a scrubbed carrot, a bit of celery and parsley if you have them, a couple of garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and a peppercorn or two. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer. As you eat the chicken, add the bones to the soup. Or save all the bones in a bag in the freezer and make the soup later. Either way, simmer everything together until it smells beautifully like chicken broth (at least an hour, but more won’t hurt), and then cool, drain, use or freeze. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that brined birds can’t make good broth. I don’t know where they got that idea. From some unsalted galaxy far far away, no doubt.

Happy eating. And a happy, happy, happy new year to all. Safety, warmth, creativity, and good food for all.

 

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