#8: Roast a whole chicken
The idea to roast a chicken came from a friend who tried this recently and said it made her feel very homey and grown up. How she pulled this off in a tiny NYC kitchen is a mystery to me and a testament to her ability to work miracles. But before I tell you about my chicken adventure, I have to be honest: roasting wasn’t on my list for today. Today was supposed to be my shooting guns day. Unfortunately, I chickened out (pun intended).
Instead of shooting trap myself, I watched as my husband went bravely forth without me; I think he secretly had a blast (there I go with the puns again!) He’s a pretty decent shot for someone who is a rookie himself. But the place was packed (swarming with men and boys, only one other woman in sight) and I’ve never loaded a gun let alone done it under pressure in a lineup surrounded by testosterone and impatience. So I gracefully declined. (Truth? I begged him not to make me do it today and pinky swore to come back again on a weekday evening when I have some more time to learn and get comfortable.)
After the gun-toting non-adventure, we took our pup, Henry, and my brother-in-law’s pooch, Shadow, to a dog beach we’ve never been to before in Annapolis. They had a blast and we actually tuckered them both out—a feat not easily achieved with such high-energy canines.
All in all, it was a different day than I had originally planned but a wonderful one. Despite the lovely day, when we got home in the early evening I started to panic. I hadn’t really done anything entirely new yet and I didn’t want to use my free pass day so early in the month. I ran through the “to do” list of suggestions from pals in my head and a light bulb went off—I’d make paella!
I called the my coworker-friend-neighbor and paella expert and asked him to talk me through the task. As the sun began to set, we went through the basics of what I’d need to do in order to pull off such a dish. He lent me an authentic pan and spoon, a paella cookbook, and saffron and smoked paprika to get me started. I asked him what the most important thing was to making paella and he spoke eloquently about the importance of the chicken stock.
Like the good, organic kind I get in the box from the co-op?
No. Like the kind you make yourself.
Um . . . I thought I was being fancy by skipping the canned stuff and here he was explaining how key the stock base is to a truly tasty meal. I drove home with the borrowed items on the seat next to me, taunting me. It had already grown dark and I had been informed that unless I borrowed his paella burner I would need to use my grill because the heat wouldn’t be high enough on my stove top and my oven is on the fritz.
I carried the paella implements inside and thumbed through a classic cookbook to find out what is involved in making chicken stock. I would need a chicken carcass or at least some chicken bones to get started. I hung my head low as I realized I wasn’t going to be able to pull paella with homemade chicken stock off at the last minute. And that’s when I remembered the suggestion that I roast a whole chicken. I’d kill two birds with one stone (pun intended, again)! The chicken would be my something new (and dinner for tonight) and the leftover bits would go into my chicken stock for paella-making later in the week. Ha!
I quickly read up on the chicken roasting and ran up to Whole Foods—and extremely rare event for me, by the way. That place is just filled with too many goodies and too many dollar signs on their price tags. I walked out with a chicken, some cooking twine, two onions, a bag of small potatoes, a bunch of carrots and a receipt for $70. Ouch! (Okay, okay. I admit I also purchased a box of single-source drinking chocolate, a quart of milk, a wedge of Pirano cheese, some rosemary and sea salt crackers, Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, and a chocolate cake from the bakery. But that bill still hurt.)
By the time I was ready to really start cooking it was already after seven and my stomach was growling. I tried to move quickly as I tackled tasks I have never been faced with before: lifting a whole chicken body out of the wrapper by its legs bathing said chicken in cold water, pulling out the back of neck and other funky parts from the chicken’s “cavity;” rubbing the thing down with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and then the thing that almost sent me over the edge—shoving rosemary, garlic cloves, and lemon wedges inside the poor hollow bird before I tied its legs up with twine. Then I put the whole thing in the oven and crossed my fingers.
I should tell you that I knew going into it that this might be tainted by a small bit of disaster. For the past few months (yes, months) my oven has been cooking things on a much higher heat than it is set to. I discovered this while making a pumpkin bread that baked fully and then proceeded to burn in 10 minutes flat. But we haven’t gotten around to replacing it and so my husband and I have learned to avoid cooking anything that needs to be in the oven for a long period of time or can’t withstand being broiled. So the whole chicken was a bit of a challenge to say the least. We went through a meat thermometer when my husband placed it inside the oven to test the temperature. And left it there for 60 seconds. When he opened the oven door the thing was melted beyond recognition. Oops. Good thing we have a backup.
I won’t go into much detail about the many times we checked the chicken, turned the oven off, turned the oven back on, tented the chicken with aluminum foil, prayed, crossed our fingers, and generally poked and prodded that little bird into golden roasted submission. All that matters is in the end we had on our counter a perfectly cooked whole chicken. And a pan full of black vegetables to go along with it.
I’ve never carved a whole chicken either but at that point my husband and I were both starving so I assisted while he did the dirty deed. I had already put together the ingredients for the stock in a large pot so that as he carved he threw the parts we wouldn’t be eating right into the water. I turned the heat up on the stock and we sat down to eat our chicken sans vegetables. Thank goodness for that cheese, those crackers, and that cake. We finished the meal with bellies full and a new found appreciation for a (relatively) simple chicken preparation and the sense of satisfaction that comes after a home cooked meal.
Lesson learned: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you do, don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off—make lemons out of lemonade. Er . . . how about: When you’re sleepy from eating a hearty poultry meal, use the Cliche Finder and all your prose problems will be solved.