Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sundays + Naked Chickens


I can't help myself from acting like a psychotic turrets patient each time I see that Perdue Chicken commercial for "Roasterphobia" on TV; the instant I see Tom Perdue telling that roaster-averse Mom that the correct way to cook up a chicken for her poultry-lovin' family is in a plastic bag--well--the profanities just come spewing off my tongue.

Let me say right now that there are some things in this world that I'm perfectly fine cutting corners on. Dishwashers were made for a reason. Fresh herbs from the market? So much easier than tilling soil, getting your nails dirty, slugs. Store-bought hummus? Yes, yes, more yes.

But I ask you people--have we become either so collectively lazy or dumb as a nation that we can't roast a freaking chicken in the oven without it being sealed up in it's own little sodium phosphate-filled chicken body bag? I mean--think about it--it's a chicken, and it's an oven; how bloody hard can it be to pull off? It's not like you're being asked to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on the Healthcare bill, or find Osama Bin Laden.

When I was young (way back when), there was something called Home Economics in school. Just like there were shop classes that taught us woodworking, metalworking, printing, and the somewhat puzzling "plastics" ("Here son, cook this bright yellow piece of plastic in that oven over there until it reaches ten million degrees, then bend it into a napkin holder to take home. But don't get burned while doing it, despite the fact that everything around you is as hot as Satan's lair!"), this course taught us practical skills to help us in life. In Home Ec. we learned to sew, craft and, of course, cook. I loved Home Ec. I remember making cheese blintzes, and baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch, not a log. We made homemade butter during one class, and cinnamon bread during another. Not once did we cook anything in a plastic bag (honestly, I'm not quite certain if plastic bags were even invented then, as all I seem to recall were the paper variety, and those either came as shopping bags, grocery bags, or plain, brown lunch-bags)

My Mom makes a handful of things really, really well. She makes a great pork tenderloin cooked with sauerkraut and potatoes. A classic pot roast. And a wonderful matzoh ball soup. But I have always loved her roast chicken the most. It reminds me of our Sunday dinners growing up, where we would head home after 9:00 mass, have buttered hard rolls for breakfast, read the funnies, watch Abbott and Costello reruns, then sit down for a big midday dinner with real mashed potatoes, and homemade gravy. Afterward, we would head outside to play, because, let's face it, there was nothing fun to do inside.

We've become nation of lazy asses. Home Ec. is sadly longer taught to our children, which is why chickens are now packaged in plastic bags, mashed potatoes are found in the frozen food section rather than the produce aisle, and gravy comes in a jar. And then we wonder why kids only eat junk food.

Tonight I am roasting a big, 8 lb. chicken in the oven. I cleaned it out, rinsed it off, patted it dry, then rubbed it with real butter inside and out, and stuffed some butter under the skin, too. When all was said and done, an entire glorious stick of butter was stuffed into and around that beautiful bird (get over it; it's butter, it's natural and if you use it in moderation it will not kill you). Then I put two whole heads of garlic and an entire lemon inside of the cavity, as well as some fresh sage, thyme and rosemary. These were herbs I happened to have in the fridge, and I didn't fret about how much I had because I don't cook that way; I use what I have on hand and am happy with that. And finally, I salted and peppered that plump bird before I placed it in a roasting pan, covered it with a lid, and stuffed it into a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Maybe I will baste it every 30 minutes or so to keep it moist, or I might forget all about it because I am drinking a good bottle of red wine tonight. Whatever...there's butter all over that bird, so it's going to be fine; it's not rocket science folks.

And that's my point. Cooking should not be a challenge, it should be a joy. It's sharing, and caring, and loving, and celebrating, but more than anything, it's about making memories. Memories made slowly and happily with your own two hands--and hopefully your children or loved ones--and not ever, ever in a plastic bag.

PS. My blog on mashed potatoes is here. Make 'em.

TIPS ON ROASTING A CHICKEN
From help with cooking.com

As a general rule, calculate a cooking time of 20 minutes per pound of meat plus an additional 10 - 20 minutes at a temperature of 350ºF (176ºC). Therefore, a 5 lb chicken will need to be roasting in the oven for at least 1h 50 mins. A 5 lb bird will serve between 4 - 5 people.

Some people prefer set the oven temperature to 450ºF (230ºC) and roast the bird at this high temperature for the first 10 - 15 minutes or the last 10 - 15 minutes. The rest of the time the chicken should be roasted at 350ºF (176ºC). The surge of heat will result in a really crispy and brown skin and deliciously succulent meat.

2½ - 3 lbs - 1 - 1¾ hrs
3½ - 4 lbs - 1½ - 1¾ hrs
4½ - 5 lbs - 1½ - 2 hrs
5 - 6 lbs - 1¾ - 2½ hrs

If you find that the chicken is browning too quickly during cooking, then loosely cover the breast of the bird with a large piece of aluminum foil until it is done. Covering the breast of the chicken will also keep the meat from drying out.

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If you do not possess a meat thermometer, then you can check that the meat has been properly cooked in two ways:
  • The drumstick should move about freely when wiggled.
  • The juices of the chicken run clear upon inserting a skewer into the leg

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