Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Roast Chicken and New Goals

We’ve been through this before. About 6 months ago I apologized for letting this blog fall by the wayside and made grand schemes to keep up with it every week. That obviously hasn’t happened. The good news for me is that I don’t have throngs of devoted readers who depend on me for information, inspiration and insert-third-rhyming-thing-here-piration, so my lack of posting has largely gone unnoticed. This is no excuse, however, and something must be done to create greater consistency, focus, and most of all, more home-cooked food.

So here, at the beginning of 2012, is my effort to refocus Garden Fresh Chefs. Let’s start with a slightly new direction and some things to look forward to:

The goal of this blog will be to encourage people to cook for themselves, family and friends at home. We lose something as a culture when we keep others away from our homes, become too far removed from our sources of food, and stop preparing the food we eat. There’s a good reason why most major holidays and events revolve at least in part around food: sharing a meal can bring people together.

For example, I used to work at a church about an hour away from our home and had to stay in that town the whole day, and there was one particular couple who would invite Jackie and me over almost every Sunday for dinner. (FYI, in country towns such as this, we learned the mid-day meal on Sundays is “dinner.” You had “lunch” during the week.) They never hesitated to have us over without an agenda, without obligation, but to simply share a meal and each other’s company. Sharing a meal someone took the time to prepare with their own two hands can be mysteriously amazing. Some of my favorite memories are around the dinner table, and I bet the same could be said for you.

I’ve heard more and more people tell me they prefer the Thanksgiving holiday to Christmas as they get older, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Peel away the layers of frantic shopping, decorations, commercialism, and crummy TV specials and what do you have? Time spent with loved ones and a big, home-made meal.

As Michael Ruhlman has said many times before, industrial food companies want you to think that cooking is hard; it’s a chore; it’s something you’re not smart or capable enough to do for yourself. Look at how many recipes, TV shows, cookbooks, frozen meals, and food personalities tout meals that are easy, fast, or uncomplicated all in 5 minutes or less. And that’s true of a lot home cooking, but what if does take time? What if you have to use more than 5 or 6 ingredients? What if the process might seem a little complicated at first? Does that mean we shouldn’t cook at all? Should we relegate our meals to those pre-made in boxes, tubes, bags, and trays? Or might it mean that cooking at home is something valuable enough to work at? I think it’s true that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and if cooking at home is worth doing then we should put forth effort to do it well.

The ultimate goal of Garden Fresh Chefs is to re-imagine the modern view of cooking, though sometimes a process, as a craft to cherish instead of a chore to dread. To me, the best expression of this is a simple roast chicken. I’m not exactly breaking new ground with this, as everyone from Sandra Lee to Thomas Keller has a roast chicken recipe. But a no-nonsense, simple and delicious meal such as this is the perfect place to start. Roast chicken is infinitely variable and adaptable to about anything you have already in your kitchen. You can add pretty much any herb you want on the inside and/or outside of the bird, or not. You can put aromatics in the cavity such as citrus, onion or garlic, or not. You can truss the bird, or not. You can lube the bird with oil or butter, or not. The only required elements of a good roast chicken are salt and pepper inside and out, and that means you are able to cook it at home for yourself and your family. No excuses now, get cooking.

Roast Chicken

1 4-5 lb. “roaster/fryer” chicken

Preheat the oven to 425°

Again, all you really need for a proper roast chicken is salt and pepper, and a chicken of course. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels inside and out, season generously with salt all over the bird and inside the cavity and add freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

Feel free to experiment with the flavors below, or whatever crazy combinations you want, then place the chicken on a roasting tray then into the oven. Leave it alone for 45-60 until the internal temperature of the thigh reads around 165 and the juices of the bird run clear. No basting, please. It’s not necessary. Let it rest for about 10 minutes, then devour.

If you’d like to employ herbs either on the skin or inside the cavity (or both!) you could use:

Thyme, which we did on the skin
Rosemary (sparingly)
Pretty much anything green

If you’d like to put other aromatics (things that smell good) into the cavity, you could use:

Lemon, or really any other citrus
Get the idea? Just make sure you don’t stuff the cavity full or else you’ll have to increase the cooking time to make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through and will most likely dry out. Also, once done the aromatics in the cavity have given their all. Dispose appropriately.

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