Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is one of those recipes that makes for a simple but elegant meal that can be prepared with a minimum of fuss. The trick is getting it just right. When it’s good, it’s a mouth-watering dinner that brings forth instinctive memories of Mom’s home-cooking. But when it’s wrong, it runs the range from an under-cooked, bloody mess to over-done, so dry it dehydrates you just thinking about it. To compensate for that narrow window of perfection, I’ve tried all sorts of methods. Slathering butter on the skin to crisp the skin quickly and keep the juices intact. Pan-searing the skin in advance, followed by a quick high-heat roast. Basting the chicken with a giant eyedropper. Buying a roasting rack and rotating the chicken on each side halfway through. Each method attempted to compensate for some failing of the previous, yet the end result was either completely hit-or-miss or involved far too much effort for what should be a straightforward meal.

I came across this recipe from Thomas Keller while watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations of all things. Who says you can’t learn anything watching television? The total amount of actual work involved using Keller’s recipe is roughly the sum total of five minutes. The trick I’ve found to making this very simple recipe successful is to do everything exactly as Thomas Keller says without question. Do one step differently and it doesn’t work. I have no idea why, but I’m not going to question a guy with not one, but two Michelin 3-stars under his belt.

The first step after cleaning the chicken, is to pat dry it thoroughly – it’s very important that the chicken is dry so as to minimize the production of steam while it roasts. Then let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour. According to the master, if you don’t let the “product” warm up to room temperature, then it won’t cook evenly. Based on personal experience, the master is right.

After the hour is up, set the oven to 450. While the oven preheats, its time to truss the bird. This is a very important step – trussing the chicken keeps it compact, so that all the parts will cook at the same rate in what is a relatively high-temperature cooking method. Trussing sounds scary if you haven’t done it before, but its one of those basic cooking skills that once you learn, its like riding a bicycle, with the exception that its even easier. Rather than explain how its done, just go watch this video of Keller in action. (Warning: the video and sound are not in sync. Just watch what he does more than what he says.) Keller also shows how to remove the wishbone so as to make carving the finished roast easier. This is the only step you can skip, but again, he’s right – removing the wishbone makes is possible to slide the whole breast off the bone with one easy slice.

Then season it with cracked pepper and kosher salt – don’t be shy with your seasoning. The sharp bite of the salt on the crisp skin is fantastic. Place it in an oven-proof skillet or roasting pan, and toss it in the oven. Roasting time varies by size. A smaller 3 1/2 pound chicken will take about 45 minutes, while the more standard 4 to 4 1/2 pound chickens will take about an hour. The skin will come out golden crisp and the meat will be basted in it own juices and fat. I usually let the roast rest for about 10 minutes prior to carving.

1. Clean chicken and pat dry thoroughly. Let rest for 1 hour to bring to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

3. Remove wishbone (optional). Salt & pepper inside of chicken. Stuff optional aromatics (garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc.) in chicken.

4. Truss chicken. Season outside of chicken liberally with fresh pepper & kosher salt.

5. Place chicken in oven-proof skillet or a sheet pan & roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

White Chocolate Ice Cream

Chocolate Bits

We just got an ice cream maker and already its quickly become like having a crack machine in my freezer.  I swear it sings at night, “Make ice cream…make ice cream…”    The stuff we have gotten from it is light years better than anything we can get from a pint at the corner grocery store.  The most mouth watering are the ones made using a French-style base that involves a cooked flavored custard folded into heavy cream.

Tempering Yolks

Our go-to resource has been The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, a former pastry chef with Chez Panisse who now lives in Paris giving food tours and writing cookbooks.  (Me = Officially Jealous.)  His blog is a great resource for all things sweet.  There is a variation of this recipe on his blog that also includes fresh ginger.  I can’t wait to try it.

White Chocolate Ice Cream Scoop

8 ounces white chocolate
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put the pieces in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks to temper the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.  To tell if the custard is done, you should be able to run a finger over the back of the spatula without the custard running back together.  Basically, you are looking for the steaming yolk/milk mixture to thicken to the consistency of a milkshake.  Be careful – if you stop stirring or allow the mixture to get too warm, you’ll wind up with scrambled eggs in your custard.

Pour the custard through the strainer over the white chocolate.  Stir until the white chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth, then stir in the cream.  Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator overnight, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz’ The Perfect Scoop.

Lemon Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Ms. ChinaNob was generous recently and brought home a bounty from the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.  One of her finds was this weird but cute vegetable/fruit looking thing called a Lemon Cucumber.  (I suspect the cuteness aspect is why she bought them – she’ll kill me for saying that.)  Apparently, its a variety of heirloom cucumber that dates to 1894.  Its a bright yellow in color and round – hence the “lemon”.  However, cut it open and the insides look like a cucumber.   The skin was thinner than a regular cucumber and can apparently be eaten early in the season if the skin is pale yellow.   I am not a huge fan of cucumbers and generally only eat them muddled at the bottom of a Pimm’s cup.  However, the lemon cucumber was really sweet and mild – if you don’t like regular cukes, I highly recommend it.  I gobbled mine down.

Lemon Cucumber Salad

1 lemon cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
handful of fresh basil, chiffonade
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1-2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
cracked pepper to taste

Arrange lemon cucumber and tomato slices on plate.  Sprinkle basil on top.  Drizzle oil and vinegar.  Crumble feta cheese.

Beet, Chard and Barley Salad

We sure  like to get our farmer’s market on.   Summer has the best of everything, especially out here in California: stone fruits galore (peaches, cherries, plums, nectarines, pluots, apricots), berries of all kinds, fresh figs, sweet beets, chard, fennel, corn.  One of the (many) nice things about  Californy is that the growing seasons are so long – which means summer produce sticks around long enough to really go hog wild.   It makes it extremely easy to get spoiled – which is good because we like being spoiled.   Ms. ChinaNob agrees.

Chopping chard

This salad is a perfect summer salad for fresh finds from the farmer’s market – light, sweet, tangy and with enough salty savoriness to make you feel full on a salad alone.   Which is what you want for summer – a meal that won’t weigh you down.  For the feta cheese, we used a Bulgarian sheep feta that was on sale for a really affordable price – it was quite tangy and briny – a perfect match to the sweetness of the roasted golden beets and the tang of the lemon dressing.

Beet and Barley Salad

1 cup dry pearl barley
4 medium beets, tops removed
1 bunch white or rainbow chard, washed
3 Tbs. lemon juice, divided
1/2 large red onion (about 1 cup), minced & soaked in cold water 30 min.
4 oz. feta, crumbled
4-5 scallions, sliced into fine rounds
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
extra sliced scallions for garnish

Heat the oven to 450F.

Boil 3 cups water.  Add the barley and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until barley is al dente, about 30 minutes.  Drain, return to pan, & cover with dish towel.

Wrap beets in tin foil and roast in the oven until fork tender–30 – 45 minutes. Peel and dice the beets into 1-inch cubes.

While beets roast, strip leaves from chard and chiffonade into long ribbons. Cut the stems into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tsp. of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté  chard stems until translucent around the edges. Add chard leaves, half of the lemon juice (1 1/2 Tbs), and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover and cook the chard until bright green and wilted, stirring occasionally (about 8 minutes).  If pan gets dry, add some water to keep it steaming.

Drain the red onion. Combine barley, beets, chard, red onion, feta, and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining lemon juice and 2 Tbs olive oil.  Drizzle over the salad and stir to coat.    Salt & pepper to taste.  Garnish with scallions.

Courtesy of Apartment Therapy.

“Indian-Style” Chicken Fricassee

Pardon the somewhat non-P.C. recipe title.  This is a Pierre Franey “60 Minute Gourmet” recipe courtesy of the New York Times – from 1988.  My how the times have a-changed – calling something “Indian-style” better be meant ironically, Rachel Ray does it in 30 minutes or less (or your next EVOO is free), and the Grey Lady still doesn’t understand why that paid-firewall idea didn’t work.  However, this recipe is STILL both easy and super tasty, especially the sauce.  A fricassee is a type of meat preparation, traditionally chicken, which involves browning the meat, then stewing it in a broth and finishing it with a cream sauce made from the broth.  This method of preparing chicken is particularly popular in Cajun cooking.  The Colonel has nothing on this finger-lickin’ good preparation.  First, the browning of the meat develops those rich flavors you can only get from the high heat searing of the meat combined with carmelization of the onion and garlic.  Then, you get the slow development of flavors and breakdown of muscle fibers from the braising in broth.  Finally, to that rich stew you add a shotgun blash of creamy goodness – or in this case, yogurty-goodness.  Francophone cultures always seem to figure out a way to take rustic or peasant-style food and elevate it to “cuisine”.  Bouillabaisse, moules et frites, ratatouille, coq au vin, bouef bourguignon…  Now I’m hungry again, and have a strange urge to play petanc.

Chicken Fricassee

1 chicken, 3 1/2 pounds, cut into serving pieces
salt and ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger root
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. turmeric
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1/4 tsp red-pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups skinless, seedless ripe tomatoes chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (or canned diced tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
1 cup fresh or canned chicken broth
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  You can also substitute chicken thighs for taking a whole chicken and chopping it into pieces.

Heat oil in a skillet large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer without crowding. Add chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Drain off all the fat. Add onions and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 minutes.

Add ginger, cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, pepper flakes, tomatoes and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and stir to blend. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes longer or until chicken is tender. Remove bay leaf. Stir in yogurt and sour cream. Bring to a simmer, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

We usually leave out the sour cream and just use more yogurt – it works just as well.  In addition, we remove the chicken pieces at the end and blend the sauce with a stick blender, for a creamier, smoother sauce.

Seared Scallops with Wine-Braised Leeks

The photo doesn’t do these justice.   If those jumbo scallops were cheaper, I’d eat these all the time.  Like  popcorn.  Or Cool Ranch Doritos.  Seriously, you’ll be tempted to eat them with your hands if only to lick your fingers afterward. 

Now I’m hungry.

Seared Scallops with Braised Leeks

1 lb large scallops
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only
1 cup dry white wine
1 chicken bullion cube
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs  fresh tarragon, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
flour for dredging
salt, hot sauce, lemon juice, to taste

Trim bottom of the leek and cut crosswise into segments about 2-1/2″ long. Cut each segment in half lengthwise. Wash any grit from the leeks, keeping the half-cylinder segements intact.  Cut the leeks into sticks.  There should be 3 to 4 loosely packed cups.

Melt butter in a saucepan and add wine, boullion cube and leeks. (I use a teaspoon of concentrated chicken base, like Better Than Boullion).  Toss the leeks to coat with the butter and then cover tightly. Braise over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very tender.

Drain leeks and return the braising liquid to saucepan.  Add the cream, stir, raise the heat to medium high and reduce the liquid by about half.  While the liquid is reducing, wash the scallops and dry them well. Place them in a ziploc bag with the 1/2 tsp salt and some flour. Shake well to coat.  Rest scallops on a plate for 10 minutes.

When the cream mixture has reduced, add tarragon, garlic and braised leeks.   Season with salt, hot sauce and lemon juice.    Keep warm while cooking scallops.

In a heavy frying pan, heat 1 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil until very hot but not smoking.  Sear the scallops for 1 minute, then turn and cook another 30 seconds.  Serve atop braised leeks.

Recipe courtesy of Stephen Cooks.

White Chocolate-Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie

This one is all Ms. ChinaNob – all I contributed was my sweet tooth.  I could eat these until I stuffed myself so round I looked like a weeble-wobble.   The addition of the whole wheat pastry flour gave it a nice crumb, almost like a scone.  On top of vanilla ice cream, these might be induce hallucinations.

White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dried cranberries
4 oz. white chocolate chips or chopped bar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375F.  In a large bowl, using electric mixer, cream together sugar, brown sugar and butter.  Stir in egg and vanilla until combined.  Add cinnamon, baking soda, salt & flour and mix well.  Finally, fold in the oatmeal, cranberries, walnuts and chocolate chips.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool 2-3 minutes on sheet, then transfer to cooling rack until cookies have firmed up.  Then attempt to eat only one.  Cry as you fail.  Eat another cookie to compensate for unworthy feelings.  Repeat as necessary.