So, by now it’s beginning to look like this challenge was actually “cook our way through ‘How to Cook Everything, Revised’“, I know. But it isn’t, I promise. I’m actually getting a little irked, in all honesty, that this cookbook is the one I keep pulling out. They’re not all up on this site yet, but I have 42 other cookbooks to cook from! Still, it’s amazing the recipes that are lacking. My Complete Italian cookbook? I totally expected it to have a Pasta Carbonara recipe, and it didn’t. So, Bittman it was.
With all of that said, I didn’t even hesitate to pull out How to Cook Everything when I wanted to roast a chicken. The yellow, original version is how I learned to make a “knock your socks off” roast chicken. However, in looking up the recipe online for my friend Jen (long ago, before I gave her my yellow version), I discovered Mr. Bittman had improved on his recipe in the red, revised edition. So, last night we tried it.
I actually think that this recipe is safer than the last recipe, but that I find the last recipe easier to deal with. The previous book’s recipe involved flipping the bird (heh), but this one involves preheating cast-iron. I’m going to try this recipe once or twice more, because I do think it’s safer, but if it continues to be difficult for me to get an accurate read on the bird’s temperature and be very difficult for me to look at the juices at the end, I’m switching back.
1 whole chicken, 3 – 4 lbs, trimmed of excess fat
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 few sprigs of fresh tarragon, rosemary or thyme (Optional.)
5 – 6 cloves of garlic, peeled (Also optional)
Chopped fresh herbs for garnish (Mr. Bittman doesn’t say these are optional, but I do.)
Heat the oven to 450F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, place a cast-iron or other heavy, oven proof skillet on a rack placed low in the oven. While they’re heating, prep the bird.
Rub the chicken with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you’re using the sprigs of herbs, place them on top of the bird. Once everything’s hot, place the bird breast side up in the skillet. Be very careful, as the skillet will be incredibly hot (story below). If you’re using the garlic, spread the whole cloves around the chicken. Roast the whole thing undisturbed for 40 – 50 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer stuck in the meaty part of the thigh (but not touching bone) reads 155 – 160F.
Tip the pan to let the juices from the birds cavity flow into the pan. If they are red, cook for another 5 minutes. If they are not red, transfer the chicken to a platter and let it rest. If you’d like, pour the pan juices into a clear measuring cup, spoon or pour off some of the fat, and serve with the bird (reheating if necessary). Once the bird is fully rested (his last book said 10 minutes, this book doesn’t say), quarter, garnish, and serve.
Cooking and Consumption Notes
In a lot of ways, this was much easier than the last recipe. No basting, no flipping poultry over a blazingly hot pan, no changing temperature halfway through. All in all, I appreciated that. However, I’m likely to revert to his old ways if last night was any indication of how it would go.
First, the story mentioned above. Remember how I said he cast-iron was incredibly hot? Well, the good news is that no one burned themselves. The further good news is that there was no real risk of doing so. The bad news? Well, Bill pulled the skillet out of the oven so I could put the chicken in it, and he placed it on a pot holder. WHICH THEN ADHERED TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SKILLET. I’m glad he noticed that, otherwise a fire would have been inevitable. So, be very careful with how you get the chicken into the skillet.
The near-fatal flaw (to me) of the previous Bittman roast chicken recipe is a tendency for copious amounts of hot, arm-burning fat splatter. This was no different, and it makes me crazy. I’m convinced there has to be some way to have a juicy chicken without risking boiling oil burns. I’m not storming a castle, after all. However, I don’t know the undefended castle/chicken method, so for now I keep using Bittman’s.
Oh, and all that splattering oil creates a TON of smoke. Smoke alarms go off fairly regularly while making this recipe. That didn’t used to be the case, but it’s becoming more and more a truism. Worse? Both here and at the last place our smoke-alarms are (were) hard-wired, so we can’t give up and disconnect the damn thing. Yes, I know this is a good thing for safety, but it’s exhausting to deal with. No pun intended.
I used, as he called for, a cast-iron skillet. This actually made it a lot harder to cook in three ways. First, it condensed the fat into a smaller area, increasing my chances for splatters. Second, it was quite a challenge to see if the juices of the bird were running clear when the thermometer poked in, because of the blackness of the skillet (vs the clear glass of my other roasting pans). Third, tipping the pan to run the juices out of the cavity became nearly impossible for me. The weight was greater and more concentrated in one leverage point. I had to get Bill to do it.
Frustratingly, this resulted in my getting a thermometer reading that was at about 160F from the thigh, but having very red juices once I pulled the bird onto the platter. And not just red cavity juices, but red juices flowing from the “puncture wound” of the thermometer insertion. So I had to toss the whole thing back in and estimate how long to go.
This was partially my fault. I put the chicken in the oven and forgot to set a timer. So I’m not sure how much time had passed before I checked the temperature for the first time. I assure you, this would have been smoother if I’d just set a timer.
For the record, the reason I worry so much about “juice color” versus temperature is simple. I recall reading somewhere (no, I don’t remember where, sadly) that a lot of people freak out when their chicken (typically dark meat, but could be either) is sort of “pink”, and that this is actually just fine. It usually happens near the bone, and really isn’t a sign that things are undercooked. The true tell is the juice. All juices from a punctured bird should run clear (and cavity juices brown, I’ve concluded from reading Bittman). If it’s pink, it’s not done. The one time I really felt the dark meat chicken juices weren’t quite clear, but allowed myself to be talked into them being “brown”, I got sick about 24 h later. My white meat-eating friends (whom I cut for first, and who convinced me it was fine)? They did not get sick. Since it takes longer for dark meat to cook (or, effectively, more heat), I’m sure I was right about that chicken not being done.
For last night’s chicken, I did luck out and pick just the right amount of time to throw it back in for, so we still had delicious and juicy chicken. As dessert for our meal of steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes (recipe to come). My timing on this dish was spectacularly bad. Know why? Because I remembered typing on this here very blog about how I always start boiling water for things way too late. So I, apparently, started the potato water WAY TOO EARLY.
All of that said, Bittman never fails me on a chicken. Once again, I had deliciously crisp skin and wonderful and juicy meat. I don’t much care for white meat, and Bill & Jessie don’t much care for dark. They say my white meat was wonderfully moist as well, so I must have timed it just right.
Also, we nearly demolished the thing. I saved the bones for stock. Yum!