Sunday, January 13, 2019

Aiming for chicken excellence

Some time ago I picked up a recipe from Father Zuhlsdorf for baked chicken. It is on this blog somewhere, but as it is awkward to compose this post on my tablet, as I am, there will be no hyperlinks, sorry. But it involves rosemary, lemon, butter, salt and pepper.

That said, I have finessed this recipe. I routinely brine the bird first, using red pepper, rosemary, black pepper and, of course, salt. No sugar. After brining, I allow the chicken to sit naked in the fridge for several days, to dry out the skin. Brining makes the flesh moist and flavorful; yet I crave crispy, crackly skin perfection. I have not achieved it yet.

Fr. Z recommends blasting the pullet with high heat for the first 30 mins., but I have neglected that lately. Thing is, I frequently have to leave it unattended -- i.e., to hear confessions and offer Mass, as was the case last night -- so I have opted instead for a low temp at first, and blasted it at the end. So I may return to this method.

In the meantime, I have tried other expediencies, such as the lengthy drying-out of the skin. Oh, and I might add here that I usually cook el pollo upside down; that is, breast down, and then flip it for that last bit. This is primarily aimed to make the breast even more juicy, as it is both protected, and the deposits of fat on the bird's back are melted and thus cascade down over the creature. This has the subsidiary benefit of the back skin being more cooked, and not soggy.

However, this works at cross purposes to my goal of parchment like skin. So my experiments continue.

With this last chicken, I tried several things:

- For the drying, I used the beer-can chicken stand, so the bird sat more or less upright, and thus dried on all sides. I don't know why I didn't think of that before.

- Le poulet sat a-drying two days longer than planned. I wondered if that was too long (it wasn't).

- I applied a technique I have left unused forcawhile. Before baking, I loosened the skin on the front and back, and shoved some butter and rosemary between the skin and flesh, and smoothed it out a bit. This does risk tearing the skin, but it works if you are careful.

-- On advice of friends, I rubbed the whole thing with baking powder. First time I tried this.

-- As a result of the latter, I wondered if I should still rub it all over with butter or oil as per usual. I opted not to.

-- When I then sprinkled salt and pepper, the seasoning did not adhere to the powdered skin. I did not anticipate this.

So what happened?

About three hours later -- after confessions and Mass -- the chicken was almost ready, but the skin still looked too pale. I could see the baking powder still. Not good. What to do?

I took out el pollo, as it was time to flip it. I decided not applying fat to the skin was a mistake, but I remedied this by spraying it with cooking oil. I hiked the oven to over 400, and put back in while I made a Martini.

Well, the chicken was soon sizzling away. After a while, I flipped it, sprayed more oil, applied salt and pepper, and used the broiler to give the breast side -- now up -- some crisp and color.

When time came to taste it, with a side of sauteed spinach and a glass of Chardonnay, it turned out to be very tasty,one of mybest! Not overcooked at all. The skin was better, but not there yet.

So what next?

I will try the baking powder again, but follow it with butter or olive oil (better than whatever bland oil was in the spray can). And I may return to using high heat at the outset. I am not ready to give up on the upsidedown method.

Any suggestions?


rcg said...

Sounds awesome. I use sage under the skin with a little rosemary. Just different. I also have no luck with the re ‘reverse sear’ after cooking. I heat it at max for a few minutes and finish it lower temp under a sheet of aluminum foil. I also put the hen on a bed of veges that I save along with the drippings to make soup stock. I need to try the baking powder trick.

John F. Kennedy said...


I've used this. (It does smoke up the house a bit.) I skipped Step 2. I also like it with rosemary (the spice) or sage. I use peanut oil instead of butter since my wife has a lactose intolerance. The benefit is peanut oil has a high smoke point temperature of 440 F.

You can find it here;

Step 1: Pat the chicken dry using paper towels. Peak inside the chicken. It might have some stuff in it called giblets. Depending on the brand of chicken you buy they might be in a bag, just hanging loose, or they might not even be there at all. Some brands include the neck. You can easily snap that out too if you want. I usually save this stuff to make chicken stock later. Some people cook it and eat it. Others just throw it out.

Step 2: Loosen up the skin on the chicken. You’ll be able to slide your fingers under the skin at the openings (yup, the neck and the butt). Wiggle your fingers in and slide them all around to loosen that skin right up. This will allow you to put seasonings and butter right against the meat which means a flavorful meat, and a nice crispy skin (my favorite part!). The store bought chickens don’t do this. They just dump flavoring on the outside and call it good. That’s probably why I can never tell any difference in flavor between the various options they sell.

Step 3: Flavor your chicken. You can follow a recipe, or just keep it simple. Personally, I prefer putting 1/4 cup butter up under the skin, and rubbing the whole bird down with Cajun seasoning or a blend of herbs and spices. It is simple, quick, and flavorful. If I have a couple lemons on hand I squeeze the juice over the chicken and then shove the squeezed lemons into the cavity of the chicken.

Step 4: A professional chef would tie up the chicken, but you probably don’t have any cooking twine on hand. Don’t fret. Move on to Step 5! If you do happen to have twine, well then, truss up that chicken and tie those legs together!

Step 5: FOR ROASTING — If you have a roasting pan, put the chicken on the rack. If you don’t have a roasting pan, then don’t sweat it. Just put it, breast side up, in a dark metal 9×13 pan. Roast for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting for about another 40 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes or so with the juices for a moist, flavorful bird. Remove from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to check right where the leg connects to the body. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving.

Bon Appétit,

John F. Kennedy

rcg said...

JFK does it right. I use bacon or some other form of pork fat instead of butter. I also brine all birds before cooking. Really makes them more moist and flavourful. Seems to help with skin crisping.

We are nearing the end of meat season. Next up: miso cod fillets.