Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Food: Moist and delicious chicken — no, really

How to turn the work-a-day bird into an enchanting meal

By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

Julia Child said that the test of a good cook or restaurant is the ability to roast chicken.

The ability to convert the humble chicken into a delicacy with flawlessly crisp golden skin and tender juicy meat — both the dark and white — is recognized within the industry as a sign of culinary mastery.

So why do so many chickens end up dry and unsavory? Why is it so difficult to get a great result? Unlike the white wine you may serve with it, dry is not a word you want associated with your roast chicken.

The added pressure is that roast chicken is a dish we have long memories of and the cook’s biggest challenge is to emulate those flavors we remember from our childhood kitchens.

When roasting a chicken it is important to pay attention to a few important details.  After that, consider the chicken a blank canvas. Once you select your chicken, be it commercial, organic or kosher, wash it and select the appropriate size pan. Following the standard rule of thumb, plan on cooking the chicken for 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees.

Chris Martin, chef at Michael Timothy’s, 212 Main St. in downtown Nashua, keeps it simple. He rinses the bird in cold water, pats dry, then coats the cavity with a good salt. Salt and pepper go on the outside of the chicken before he places it into a 375 degree oven. Martin removes the chicken when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees and lets the chicken rest and finish cooking.

In Tilton, Caleb Dunklee, chef at Kalliope’s Restaurant & Pub, 4 Sanborn Road, likes to slow roast poultry at 300 degrees. He believes that basting the bird in its own juices, white wine and a mixture of sage and thyme yields a tasty final dish.

“There is a trend to cook poultry at high heats and I really think all that does is dry out the meat,” said Dunklee.

Jerome Grablewski, owner of Jerome’s Delicatessen, 393 Bridge St. in Manchester, and, 44 Nashua Road in Londonderry, takes a different approach. He and his wife have a tried and true method that produces a juicy chicken. According to Grablewski, they halve lemons and rub the juices between the skin and the meat. They squeeze lemon juice all over the bird and then fill the cavity with the used lemon halves. They then smear a thin layer of butter over the bird and sprinkle fresh cracked pepper. Like Dunklee, the Grablewski’s like to roast chicken at temperatures below 300 degrees to keep it moist and juicy.

As for the seasoning, Grablewski shudders at the thought of pre-packaged lemon pepper seasoning.

“It is so much better to just use the true ingredients. It is actual cooking and it feels good,” he said.

Culinary doyen Child said during her television show, The French Chef, that when roasting a chicken, simplicity is the finest treatment as the bird will infuse itself with flavors when basted.

Two other popular roast chicken methods come from Marcella Hazan and Judy Rogers.

In Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Hazan has a lush recipe for roast chicken with lemons. This recipe is nothing short of culinary magic.

Rogers, owner and chef at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, takes a different, more involved approach. She slides sprigs of herbs under the skin of the chicken and liberally covers the bird with sea salt and pepper a day or two ahead of time. Rogers then roasts the chicken on high heat.

There are enough reasons to roast a chicken. It is economical, a whole chicken costs under a dollar a pound, all you need for tools is a simple roasting pan and there are fewer than five ingredients, two of which are likely to be salt and pepper. Also, there is little that can compare to the aroma of a chicken roasting in the oven on a winter’s afternoon.