Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An unconventional way to roast a chicken

The very first time I tried to roast a chicken, I ended up serving my pour, unsuspecting in-laws some grossly underdone meat. This is why I always say that family make the best guinea pigs - because they still have to love you, even if you serve them something terrible. :D Part of what I didn't understand was that a "roaster" chicken (2 kg and up) is not ideal for quick cooking methods the way that "broiler/fryer"s are (~1.5 kg). I had been attempting to spatchcock the chicken (an old fashioned term that means to flatten the chicken by removing the spine and breast bone) in order to reduce the cooking time. I eventually did get it right (after moving to the smaller bird size) but the skin wasn't quite right. Depending on the oven, you'll get overdone spots, even if you finish the chicken under the broiler.

Last weekend, I serendipitously watched a rerun of Chef at Home where he cooked the chicken in a cast-iron skillet, using regular mortar bricks to press it evenly into the pan and ensure maximum contact. I had originally passed this off since, at the time, I didn't own a cast-iron skillet large enough. I now, however, am the proud owner of a beautiful 12" Lodge Cookware skillet (bought for a song while down in Las Vegas) and this cooking method was open to me. To solidify the idea that I should try this out, America's Test Kitchen showed an episode, around the same time, where they used bricks in the same method to get beautiful skin on the BBQ (so even if you don't have the 12" skillet, this technique is still an option for you).

The resulting chicken had gorgeous skin. It was perfectly done and I didn't have to fiddle with anything. To add to the "pros" of this cooking method, the whole chicken was done in about a half an hour and came with an almost-ready-made gravy/sauce. What's not to love?

Pollo al Mattoni (aka Brick Chicken)
(Download PDF)

Ingredient List
whole chicken (~ 1.5 kg)
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
onion (1 medium) (for pan sauce)
white wine (½ cup) (for pan sauce)
heavy (35%) cream (½ cup) (for pan sauce)
white vinegar (for pan sauce)

Hardware List
kitchen shears
10” cast-iron skillet
bricks (2)
aluminum foil
probe thermometer (if available)

Directions
Wrap 2 regular-sized bricks with aluminum foil and set aside.

Flatten one 1.5 kg whole chicken by removing the spine using a sharp pair of kitchen shears. Open the bird like a book and remove the keel (aka breast) bone by cutting down the sides of the cartilage and removing it with fingers.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a 10” cast-iron skillet over high heat. While the skillet and oil are heating, coat the bird on all sides with more olive oil and liberally salt and pepper.

Once the oil just begins to smoke, place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and top with the two foil-wrapped bricks. Immediately reduce the heat to low. The goal is to maintain the sizzling sound without producing any smoke.

Slowly brown the chicken for approximately 20 minutes, careful not to burn the skin.

Preheat the oven to 450F. If making a pan sauce, finely dice 1 medium onion at this time.

When the chicken is golden brown, remove the bricks and flip the chicken. Insert the probe thermometer into the center of the breast meat, if available, and transfer the skillet to the preheated oven.

Cook until the thermometer measures 160F. Remove the skillet from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil to rest for at least 5 minutes.

To make a pan sauce:

Remove any excess oil from the skillet. Brown the diced onions over medium-high heat, being sure to scrape up any fond from the bottom of the pan.

Add ½ cup white wine and any juices from the resting chicken, then increase the heat to high.

Reduce the liquid by approximately a half before adding ½ cup heavy cream. Reduce again until thickened.

Finish with ½ tsp white vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the chicken in quarters (breast & wing, leg & thigh), topped with pan sauce.

Nutrition (per ¼ chicken, breast with skin, no sauce)
Calories 300
Total fat 11 g
Saturated fat 4 g
Cholesterol 200 mg
Sodium 490 mg
Carbohydrate 3 g
Dietary fibre 3 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 47 g
Vitamin A 4 %DV
Vitamin C 0 %DV
Calcium 1 %DV
Iron 8 %DV

Nutrition (per ¼ chicken, leg with skin, no sauce)
Calories 314
Total fat 19 g
Saturated fat 6 g
Cholesterol 233 mg
Sodium 432 mg
Carbohydrate 1 g
Dietary fibre 2 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 35 g
Vitamin A 3 %DV
Vitamin C 0 %DV
Calcium 3 %DV
Iron 11 %DV

Nutrition (per 2 tbsp sauce)
Calories 51
Total fat 4 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Cholesterol 14 mg
Sodium 199 mg
Carbohydrate 1 g
Dietary fibre 0 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin A 3 %DV
Vitamin C 0 %DV
Calcium 1 %DV
Iron 0 %DV

Original Source: Chef at Home - Brick Chicken with Sherry Pan Gravy

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to boil water

I know I've said it a time or two, that someone is so bad at cooking they can't even boil water. A quick Google search for "boiling water" turns up tons of eHow-type pages on how to do it. But there really is more to it than just putting a pot of water over heat and waiting until you see bubbles (or there CAN be more to it, anyway).

Here's a post on, "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know (Plus More!) About Boiling Water" by the Serious Eats Food Lab.

Don't laugh, there's some interesting stuff there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to get crispy skin on chicken/turkey

Step away from the bird, put the turkey baster down, and no one has to get hurt.

Ever since I started applying my critical thinking skills to my kitchen forays, I have been perplexed beyond words why anyone would think that, to achieve crisp chicken/turkey skin, you should baste the bird by pouring over all those juices from the bottom of the pan. I'm pretty certain that every single one of my relatives is guilty of doing this (excepting my vegetarian uncle, of course). When asked why they think that this achieves crispier skin, I've received answers ranging from the elusive ("It just does.") to the stupid ("That's fat at the bottom of the pan and coating the turkey in grease will crisp it up." FYI, anyone who bothers to separate that liquid afterward for gravy knows that it's approximately 80% water, 20% fat.).

Bottom line: You're pouring water all over your delicious turkey, thereby preventing the very thing you're trying to achieve.

In order to reach the browning stage, the temperature of the skin must climb well above that of boiling water. To do that, you need to remove as much of the water as possible from the skin, otherwise all of the heat (read: energy) will go toward converting water from its liquid to its gaseous state, and none of it will do into raising the temperature of the proteins, etc. in the skin.

So what's the solution? Well, people have known for a while that air-drying any meat in the refrigerator for atleast 12 hours will help remove surface liquid. They also have known that rubbing the skin liberally with salt will encourage the release of liquid in the skin, allowing for it to evaporate earlier in the cooking process. What's been recently brought to light is the addition of a "magical" baking ingredient that, when used with the salt on the skin, leads to an even crispier end-product. What's that ingredient?

Baking powder!

How does it work, you ask? Here's the science,

Baking powder consists of both an acid (monocalcium phosphate) and an alkali (aka base) (sodium bicarbonate). As the salt encourages the release of moisture, it is absorbed by the solid baking powder, allowing the acid and alkali to react. The released calcium ions are now free to enter the skin cells, activating enzymes responsible for the break-down of proteins. Combined with the remaining alkali, these broken-down proteins now have a lower "activation energy" required to undergo the Maillard reaction and start browning (i.e. it now takes less heat to brown the skin).

So, in conclusion, when baking powder is combined with salt and rubbed onto the skin of the turkey/chicken, it will produce a crispier, browner skin. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Recipes that use this technique:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crispy Rice Goodness!

I think, that with all this try-to-improve-my-kitchen-skills thing, I've forgotten that, sometimes, the simplest things are the best. Case in point: Last Monday I participated in my work's golf tournament (no, I don't golf, but I'm still surprisingly good at it) and brought along Rice Krispies Treats. They were the only quick-and-easy thing I could think of that would stand up to the heat. The result: my team said I was awesome, the team behind us begged to have some, and I received one profession of undying love and devotion (seriously). All because I spent 15 (maybe 25, max) minutes in the kitchen the night before.

Now it's not as simple as making Rice Krispies Treats from the recipe on the box, because the recipe on the box IS NOT the recipe my generation grew up with. Enter my mother. She doesn't throw away anything and, consequently, has a typewriter-typed recipe with the original recipe as well as some pretty clever variations on it. On a related note, my mom makes these things for every family get-together and they're always the first thing to go.

Crispy Rice Treats
(download PDF)

Ingredient List
salted butter (¼ cup)
marshmallows (300 g, ~ 40 large or 4 cups small)
puffed rice cereal (5 cups)
vanilla extract

Directions
Coat the inside of a 9”x9” baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, then line it with parchment paper and coat the parchment paper with non-stick cooking spray.

Melt ¼ cup salted butter over medium-low heat. Add 300 g marshmallows. Stir the marshmallows as they melt, making sure that the bottom doesn’t burn.

Once the marshmallows are completed melted, stir in ½ tsp vanilla extract thoroughly.

Add 5 cups puffed rice cereal, one cup at a time, until evenly mixed with the melted marshmallow.

Pour the mixture firmly into the prepared pan using slightly wetted finger tips.

Let the pan cool to room temperature before cutting into squares using a pizza cutter.

Makes 12 squares.

Notes
Doubling the recipe makes enough to fit into a 9”x13” baking pan.

Variations:
  • Press a thin layer of mixture into lubricated muffin cups to form shells. Fill with ice cream and top with chocolate syrup.
  • Before cutting, pour over melted chocolate (and/or butterscotch).
  • Dip ends of squares in melted semi-sweet chocolate, then in chopped nuts. Place on waxed paper to harden.
  • Substitute up to half of the puffed rice cereal for another fruity or chocolaty cereal.
  • Mix in some M&M’s, Reece’s Pieces, crushed candy canes, etc., fruit, or nuts.
  • Stir in ½ cup peanut butter to the melted marshmallow to make peanut butter treats.
Nutrition (per square)
Calories 160
Total fat 4 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Cholesterol 10 mg
Sodium 153 mg
Carbohydrate 30 g
Dietary fibre 0 g
Sugars 13 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 7 %DV
Vitamin C 5 %DV
Calcium 0 %DV
Iron 23 %DV