Friday, March 30, 2007

Fresh Start (Again)!

This is the seventh blog I've started.

I used to be a really diligent blogger when I had THINGS TO SAY and NEEDS and DESIRES and DREAMS and I started in, oh, my sophomore year of high school. Yes, I was one of those. Please stop laughing.

Pubescent durm und strang aside, I really enjoy blogging as a medium. I think almost half of my reading diet - that's books, newspapers and magazines - is composed of blogs. Being part of that community has always felt exciting! Great! Terrific! But that didn't stop the last six blogs I wrote from trickling off into nothing. Was it because I outgrew it? Or maybe because I tried to keep up the "candor" and "vivacity" (read: TMI) of my first blog, which could legitimately be used as blackmail against me if I ever become famous? Perhaps the subjects I tackled were too heady, too vast for my wimpy gray cells: art, beauty, the quiet desperation of a life of community college and data entry. Why bother? If I'm going to kvetch I have a captive audience at home; my cat's not going anywhere.

But FOOD! TEA! BOOZE! These are things I can always talk about. So it might be a while before I go back to baring my purple-prosed soul, but this is a venture I can anticipate knowing I won't falter. My appetite will never waver!

The inaugural recipe: How To Roast A Chicken.

My boyfriend and I started our relationship long-distance. I live in the Bay Area, he lived in the cesspool known in the vernacular as "Los Angeles." We were eighteen and stupid. It was probably the best decision of my dating life. Also, thanks to all those airplane tickets, the most expensive one.

Every ticket purchased a few precious days with C, but these retreats came with the requisite tedium of waiting in the airport for the plane to arrive. Since I don't drive, getting to and from the airport involved a lot of planning. I often arrived hours early, wandering around and practically drooling for something to do.

One afternoon, after an obscenely overpriced cup of coffee, I wandered into the SFO bookstore. I glanced without interest at the fiction and essay sections, usually my favorites but not a good choice in an airport setting. I needed something I could pay half my attention to, to keep me occupied for the 2.135 hours before my flight started boarding. A finely crafted narrative couldn't stand up to the frazzled attention span that comes with checking one's watch every four minutes. I get kind of anxious at airports.

Anyway, Thomas Keller's Bouchon was displayed prominently in the belly of the store and I fell for him immediately. I had no idea who he was or that the French Laundry existed beyond dirty clothing. In France. But you've seen the cover - that rich glass of wine, the crusty little loaves lying carelessly around its base, the arresting typeset of the title. The sheer weight of it impressed me. Flipping through, I looked eagerly for something I could make for C in his anemic apartment kitchen and found myself feeling like I was lost in the mall. Emulsions? Reductions? Why was everything being pushed through a sieve? Why was this supposedly casual fare plated so pristinely? Why did he expect you to do the same? It looked like my trip would be based on takeout until I saw the recipe I jotted madly in my notebook forty-six minutes 'til boarding and that has defined how I roast a chicken to this day:

1 small chicken, around 3 pounds
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
lots of paper towels
a baking dish and roasting rack
20 inches or so of kitchen twine
kitchen shears

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees farenheight.* Pat the chicken REALLY REALLY DRY. I'm not kidding. One time when I was out of paper towels I used my hairdryer. Make sure to get as much moisture out of the cavity as you can - if there are giblets, reserve for gravy.
2. Generously salt and pepper the cavity and truss the chicken according to your preferred method. Salt and pepper the outside - I believe the verb Keller uses is "rain" - more generously than you think you'll need.
3. Roast for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes. I like to roast it breast down, since the juices will then run over them and keep them moist and C and I prefer to eat the dark meat first. Once the juices run clear, remove from oven and place chicken and roasting rack over something that will catch the pan juices. Using a large spoon, or by simply tilting the pan, baste the chicken in the pan juices and let rest for 15 minutes. If you like, before basting chop some fresh herbs into a fine mince and sprinkle over the chicken. Remove the oysters immediately and gobble them down - you cooked them, they're yours. Serve the rest to your lucky companions.

Do you see how lovely that is? You baste the thing ONCE. You open the oven door twice - once to put the raw chicken in and once to unveil it in its golden, crisp splendor. I do a couple things differently in the recipe I posted than the book, obviously, since a) I've made it so many times my own cooking idiosyncracies have taken over and b) I don't like getting sued, but for the most part it's all here. It goes without saying that the quality of the chicken you use is crucial to the result - that Safeway Butterball won't do here. While I kind of hate the Whole Foods in our area for drawing the well-heeled bougie-booj through its doors like moths to an overpriced flame, I do like that their staff knows where the meat comes from, that the chicken is cage free or free range, and that almost every month they have a phenomenal sale on said chicken.

The other great thing about this recipe is how open to variation it is. Those giblets you reserved earlier? Make a gravy. The fresh herbs you chop up and sprinkle on the bird before drowning them in those glorious pan-drippings? Try replacing them with minced tea leaves.

Two teas that work particularly well with roast chicken:
1. Earl Grey: if you like fruity notes and that tannic edge with your meat, this is surprisingly good. Try serving the chicken with a small bowl of some bright red jam - aesthetically appealing and delicious and not nearly as crazy as it sounds.
2. Lapsang Souchang: yielding a rich red cup, redolent of bonfires and smoke, this is a natural match for a roast chicken, or practically any roast meat.

And the requisite picture:

This is the first chicken C and I shared, and though it was far from the last we still made an occasion of it. I'd just landed, after all. We feasted on pomegranate seeds and wine and that lovely chicken slathered, as Keller recommends it, with fresh butter and a good mustard - the perfect accompaniment to the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVD, or a homecoming.


Rick Dobbs said...

Yeah, but I want your *fried* chicken recipe.

steeped said...

rick: You know, it's been months since I made my fried chicken - MONTHS TOO LONG, if you ask me. I'll be sure to set aside an evening for it sometime soon!

Claudia said...

Damn, that looks tasty.

steeped said...

Claudia: It was a meal any hobbit would be proud of.