For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE
When you hear the words “boiled dinner,” chances are good that the image that springs to mind is one of a heavy cut of beef, surrounded by a bevy of mealy, overcooked root vegetables. It’s something best eaten in the deep winter, when the nights are long and bone-chilling.
However, I’m about to suggest a springtime take on the boiled dinner for this month’s entry in the Whole Chicken Project. A gently poached and cooled bird, served with blanched asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a garlic and basil mayonnaise. It’s a meal – one that doesn’t require multiple hours of cooking and, because every component is just as good served chilled as it is warm, all the work can easily be done in early in the day.
For this month’s Whole Chicken Project, we’re going to talk about spatchcocking. Go ahead, giggle. It does sound like an impossibly dirty thing to do to a poor bird. The first time I heard the word, I conjured
up mental images of a raw chicken being trussed up and given a
In reality, you spatchcock a bird by taking a pair of sturdy kitchen shears and using them to cut out the chicken’s backbone. It can take a little persistence to convince your scissors through the bones, but once you remove that one-inch strip, a world of quick-cooking options opens up.
There are so many foods that do well when steamed. This gentle cooking technique produces crisp, tender broccoli, makes for impossibly delicate salmon, and has long helped British cooks with their dessert courses when no ovens were available.
Still, when it was first suggested that I consider steaming a whole chicken, I was a little unsure. I was afraid that I’d produce something rubbery and bland. It seemed like a process destined for disappointment.
As I looked into it, I quickly discovered that there’s a long tradition of steamed chicken and that, if done right, the process produces a moist and mild-flavored bird. And so, I set to collecting the necessary ingredients to properly steam a chicken. I picked up a bamboo steamer at an Asian market, got my hands on an organic chicken, and gathered ginger, green onions, garlic, and white wine.
When I was in high school, I realized an essential fact about myself. I am not a perfectionist. I am entirely satisfied with a job done to the point of being good enough. I like to work hard and derive a great deal of pleasure at a task done well, I just don’t like making myself crazy over the minutia.
A good example of my tendency to accept “perfectly good” over “aggressively perfect” is in my attitude towards the classic French dish, Coq au Vin. Truly, it is a marvel of a dish, requiring you to brown and then remove onto a plate a parade of ingredients. The Julia Child recipe even instructs you to blanch your bacon slivers before introducing them to the party, lest it bring too much smokiness to the table.
My version is far less work and still manages to taste quite spectacular (and it’s just perfect for this Whole Chicken Project of mine). It might not be a perfectly divine as the classic dish, but it is one-tenth of the work and that satisfies me down to the bone.
I roasted my first whole chicken when I was 21. A senior in college, I lived in a little house off-campus with two friends. We took turns cooking and ate together most nights. That first chicken was a sad, scrawny little thing that I managed to first under-cook and then, in an attempt to correct it, overcooked it mightily. My kind housemates suffered through that meal with me, but we all knew it was not my best work.
In the 10-plus years that have followed, things have improved. I cook whole chickens on a regular basis and have a reliable method for making a tender, juicy bird. (Low, slow cooking is the key.) It’s my go-to for dinner parties and busy weeks, but lately, I’ve found myself longing for something more. MORE