KC 108 – Skillet Chicken Dinner

KC 108 – Skillet Chicken Dinner

Why hello there, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, I’m your blogger, not a jogger, Jon O’Guin. And I seem to have burned myself in today’s title line. Great. Real promising for the rest of this. Today’s topic is something of a culinary interest point, as well as a simple meal you can make basically any night of the week. Today, we roast chicken. And, since I live for cognitive dissonance, let’s talk about our fine full-feathered friends, the O-Hens. (Name invented at this exact second, and has not been approved at Guin-moot. The real title for the chickens may be different than presented here.)

 

Bwark Bwark Bwark

Yes, as may surprise you, it turns out raising chickens has NOT quelled my family’s appetite for chicken flesh and eggs. I ascribe this to three main reasons: Firstly, chicken is delicious and healthy, regardless of your home habits. Second, trust me, if you have chickens of good stock, raising them will not REDUCE your egg consumption. My family has gone from having one, maybe 2 cartons of eggs in the house at a time to having a minimum of 3 at all times. And we eat at least a dozen every week! The third is the most simple: because, it turns out, chickens are assholes.

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This one, for instance, is either having an existential breakdown, or is plotting murder, depending on how you see the brow. She's possibly our nicest and quietest hen, and she will bite you. 

Now, because my arrogance hides under a façade of friendliness, I of course assume this is my fault. No one else could have made these chickens so spiteful but a true monster such as myself, you understand. Jesting aside, I do wonder if perhaps we didn’t properly socialize our chickens when we were younger. Whenever I watch videos of people with their chickens on the internet, the chickens seem to enjoy being held, and petted, and so forth. Our hens, like the men of our family, hate human contact. They don’t fight it, though they will go to great lengths to avoid it, but if you are holding one of our chickens, it will attempt to leave at the earliest opportunity. And, again, I can respect that. Fleeing the touch of other people is like, 15% of my day-to-day life. But they’re also dicks to each other.

I probably mentioned this before, but that term, “pecking order”? It doesn’t refer to who gets to peck food first. It’s who gets their face pecked first. Our resident leader of the flock, Ozzie, will slap the shit out of any hen who gets between her and some mealworms. Our lowest hen, Nick, is an old looking bird, for sure.

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Seen here Go-Go-Gadgeting for a drink.

But she used to look less like the unholy combination of a vulture and Pomeranian, because she used to have a little poof of feathers at the midpoint of her neck, like a little Adam’s apple. She hasn’t had those feathers for months now, because the other chickens BIT THEM OFF. Presumably because they thought they were food. Because chickens think everything is food. It is not uncommon for chickens in the right conditions to auto-cannibalize, which, if you’ve let your horrific Latin conjugations lapse since High School, means to literally eat themselves. Yeah, if a chicken gets a cut on its back, where it can reach, it might attack that cut, and end up eating a bigger hole in its back.

So, of course, if THEY’RE fine with eating chicken, why shouldn’t we be?

 

The Counter-Top Argument

Today’s recipe is slightly weird for me. In my years of studying food culture, I’ve heard a constant refrain from chefs around the nation, and even the world: if there’s one dish that you should definitely know how to cook, it is a roast whole chicken. “The perfect weeknight meal” people have said. “Done right, a show-stopping dish.” “A romantic dinner for two.” On and on they’ve praised it. French chefs, Austrian chefs, American chefs, all sing the praise of it. Big names, like Wolfgang Puck, Martha Stewart or Jacques Pepin, all reference it with a blasé sense of commonality. “We’ve all had plenty of roasted chicken, of course,” the refrain goes. “But doing it correctly, ah that’s the trick.”

Well, um…I’ve never had it.

I should clarify that. I’ve had rotisserie chicken, sure. And I’ve had like, a half a chicken at a Medieval times, or some portion of chicken at a barbecue joint or Boston Market or some such. But at home? Never to my recollection. I can’t think of a single time I’ve been handed a piece of chicken cooked by a family member that didn’t have a crust or sauce on it.

It’s probably at least partly my fault, my apologetic egotism whispers in my ear. I had a long phase where I didn’t want to eat anything that was…identifiable. Like, I didn’t like chicken wings because I could tell they were the limbs of chickens. No food with facial features, or obvious limbs. We’re still not sure why. Eventually, I just avoided certain foods out of vague instincts, until eventually I realized what was going on, and overcame it. But this likely limited the time period where my parents felt they could serve the dish. My parents are notably attuned to what their children will and will not eat. Just yesterday we learned that my family has been avoiding a specific restaurant because of a few jokes my brother made 5-6 years ago: He over-indulged at a Chinese buffet, and commented the next few times it was brought up that “if we go there, I might end up throwing up”, referencing that he’d eat too much. My parents instead thought he meant that the place now disgusted him, so they stopped going there. None of which has any bearing on chicken.

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Or on chickens, for that matter. They barely understand the concept of Chinese food to begin with.

Roast Chicken is…well, from the initial glance, something of an easy sell. The chicken itself costs about $10 at my local grocery store, and it only asks for some spices, and a vegetable side.  This is a dinner for 3-4 people for about $3-4 a person. It takes about two and a half hours to make, but they’re most dead time: you do a thing, you wait an hour. You do another thing, you wait another hour. It’s a dead simple recipe where you do basically nothing, and get a cheap delicious meal. That’s a win-win in my book. It might even be the coveted triple-win.

My recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine, which I recently started actually paying a subscription for, so I can continue to read their stuff and post their recipes without feeling too bad, despite the subscription cost being cheaper than 3 months of buying their magazine off the rack. It starts with a 3.5 pound chicken, and relies on that most ancient of cooking cheats, the cast-iron skillet!

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Skillet! Skillet with fire!

Yes, as I have no doubt mentioned a time or two, my family are devoted members of the cult of cast-iron. If you don’t know the benefits of a cast iron pan, don’t worry. I’ve just now realized it would make a great topic for this Thursday’s post. So we’ll cover it then. For now, just understand that cast iron is a great retainer of heat, and that’s what makes it useful for our purposes today. Why? We’ll get to that. First we have to handle the chicken. And I do mean ‘handle’.

 

What are ya, Chicken?

See, you gotta get intimate with the chicken right off the bat, because you need to salt it. Salting the chicken and letting it sit, salted, before cooking is a vital step in getting moist meat. This is the first of the ‘dead air’ steps of the recipe, and it actually provides an interesting option: see, once you salt the bird (which I was unable to take pictures of, because I had one hand holding a chicken, and the other holding salt), you have to let it sit for AT LEAST an hour, and UP TO an entire day. Why is this so interesting? Because it means you can start the chicken the night before, and cut an hour out of the prep time for tomorrow.  Just drop it in a glass casserole dish, and let it sit in the fridge for din-din tomorrow.

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You should also bind the chicken's feet, like an ancient Chinese beautician. 

Personally, I did mine at like, noon, for a 6 PM dinner. Again, as long as the gap is longer than an hour, you’re fine. Though those numbers are tighter than they first appear, much like most jeans I try on, as we’ll soon see.  The time thing, not the jeans thing. I’m not going to be modeling jeans in this post. Or probably any post.

After salted and sitted (sat? Sat-ted?), the chicken is ready for step 2. By which I mean fuck the chicken, the next step is all about the skillet. (Don’t actually fuck the chicken. That would be insanely unhealthy. And unhealthily insane.) See, a flaw with some older roast chicken recipes is that, in order to cook the meat on the back of the chicken, and keep the skin there from being a flappy, moist, unappealing mess, (Insert joke about random fat celebrity or myself here.) they have you flip the bird partway through the process. This is something of a problem, as opening an oven causes it to lose heat, and therefore extends the cooking time. It’s not QUITE as bad as a slow cooker (where every time you open the lid, you essentially add 20 minutes of cooking time), but it’s still a problem. This is where Cast Iron’s heat retention comes into play: by heating the skillet in the oven BEFORE placing the chicken on it, you give a direct heat source for the bottom, allowing it to get its fair share of cooking without opening the doors.

Once the oven’s hot, you have like, 3-5 minutes of work with the chicken. You just gotta pat dry any obvious water on the outside of the chicken (water will prevent the skin from crisping correctly), and rub it in olive oil. You can add a dry rub now, mixing up basically anything except sugar (it would burn over the long cooking time) or salt (you’ve already salted the chicken). I personally have no idea what I used: I believe this is actually the longest gap between me cooking a recipe for the site and writing the post for it: I made this chicken in mid-October, 2017. Yeah, basically six months ago. I kept meaning to write it up, but then I had some new idea, or a themed post for a holiday, and eventually I forgot about it. But yeah, it’s been so long, I don’t remember it anymore. From looking at this picture

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Our chicken has become a big fat rabbit face? 

I THINK it was Garlic powder and Black Pepper, which are both very In-character toppings for me, while also being gentle enough that I wouldn’t worry my dad wouldn’t eat them. (Compared to the example rubs of fennel seed and black pepper, or curry and garlic powder, both of which I’m less sure he’d eat.) But it could have also been just Lemon Pepper or something. 

In any case, pan hot and chicken rubbed, you drizzle some oil in the skillet to kind-of fry the bottom of the bird a little, and set here in there. Then, I surrounded the chicken with butternut squash.

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Butternut Squash always looks kind of fake in my pics. It's too smooth, too solid in color. 

Adding a hearty veggie to the pan, to let it roast in the chicken fat that will pour off the bird in the oven, is an easy way to get some sweet bonus food flavors out of the meal. Full disclosure, and slight spoilers: I may have preferred the squash to the chicken when it was all said and done. The squash was soft and caramelized, but bathed in salty chicken fat, in a super addictive bite of veggies. And so we’re clear, this chicken was no slouch. I mean, by the end of an hour of roasting, it came out like this:

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And this chicken was juicy as all get-out. Literally, after the 20 minutes rest, I cut through some skin to start carving the bird, and a literal flood of juice tried to get out. 

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It was a bit of a moist mess. 

And you’ve got to let it rest those 20 minutes. Resting a meat ALWAYS improves it, allowing the fibers of the meat, compressed and stretched by the heat, to relax and re-absorb the juices they’ve squeezed out of themselves. While you wait to carve your bird, you can scoop the squash to a bowl to wait for serving, and make a gravy out of the residual chicken fat and juices.  It’s really quite simple. You can deglaze the pan with wine, vinegar, or even water, and then thicken it with milk or cream. Me, I bumbled the entire enterprise, making a roux from the fat FIRST, adding chicken stock for liquid, and then adding sherry. None of which were BAD ideas, but I performed them in the complete wrong order. I should have deglazed with the sherry, then added the roux, and finally the chicken stock. As it was, the gravy ended up looking perfectly fine, but tasting, well, like sherry. 

The chicken was moist, but honestly it could have used a stronger dry rub. It came out as, well, chicken. Not show-stopping, but respectable. And the finished plate was a sight to see.

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Not my most colorful meal, but a satisfactory one. 

At the time, flubbing the gravy and the lack of real punch to the chicken bothered me, and I felt like the recipe took too long for too little. But with the advantage of time, I see that really, for the cost and ease of prep, even screwing up as I did, things went pretty well. I may do it again soon. But that’s a talk for another time. We’ve still got recipes galore to show off. And maybe another themed month coming up. Stay tuned for more on that front.

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THURSDAY: JON HASN’T DEVOLVED INTO BLANK VERSE JUST YET,  SO LET’S DISCUSS THE BEAUTY AND POWER OF CAST IRON.

MONDAY: JON MAKES MEATLOAF, WITH A MEDITERRANEAN TWIST. IF YOU’RE HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO, WOULD YOU CONSIDER GOING FOR A GYRO?

 

Recipe

Skillet Roast Chicken with Butternut Squash

 

Ingredients.

1 whole chicken (3.25-4 lb), giblets removed

Kosher Salt (up to 1 tsp per lb, depending on size)

Olive oil

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1” cubes.

 

Preparation

1.       Wash the chicken, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Tie the legs together with twine. Salt the chicken, sprinkling the salt inside and out, and patting it onto the meat. The finer the salt, the less you should use: Morton’s is particularly fine, and therefore only ½ teaspoon per pound is needed. Diamond Crystal on the other hand is quite large, and would need a full teaspoon per pound. Let sit for one hour, or chill for up to 1 day.

2.       Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, with a 12” cast iron skillet on the top rack, set on the top third of the oven. Meanwhile, take out your chicken, and pat dry. Rub with olive oil (2 tbsp or so), and dust with dry rub, if using. (Dry rub should be between 1.5 and 2.5 tablespoons). Remove the hot skillet from the oven, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, and place chicken, breast side up, into center of skillet.

3.       Toss squash around chicken, lightly seasoning if desired, and place skillet back in the over. Roast for 50-60 minutes, checking for a temp of around 155 in the breast (it will cook the rest of the way while resting.

4.       Remove from the oven when done, and rest on a cutting board for 20-40 minutes. Carve and serve with squash.