Roasting a chicken is a skill that seems so simplistic, and cooking the perfect chicken is a skill many home cooks aspire to. When cooked properly there is nothing juicier or more delicious. And a classic roast chicken is something everyone should have in their repertoire, but when it’s botched, it can turn out disastrous – dry and tough.
Now at home, I can produce a reasonably good chicken, if I must say so myself, but after week three of my six-week cooking class with Chef Charles Missick at Simply Better Gourmet Institute, I’ve come to the realization that what I thought was good was simply not good enough. I honestly hope to be able to replicate what I learnt in class, because the roasted chickens, done two ways – trussed and roasted whole; and deboned and stuffed – were simply amazing. Beautiful crisp caramel skin with tender, moist, juicy and flavorful meat was the result on the chickens that were not only beautiful to the eye, but one taste and all conversation ceased around the stainless-steel workspace between my classmates and I. We “tipped our hats” to the chef for showing us how delicious perfectly done roast chicken can be.
Ratcheting up the heat – poultry was the focus of week three which meant cleaning, deboning, trussing (tying the chicken snugly with kitchen twine so that the wings and legs stay close to the body, making the chicken more compact which ensures even cooking and a lovely presentation), stuffing and roasting.
Par the course, we started out with Chef Missick demonstrating step-by-step what we would later have to replicate. A new tip: you don’t need acids like vinegar and lime juice to clean chicken; a simple dip in salted water, he said, is all that’s needed to do away with any organisms that may be lurking in the chicken.
We also learnt to check for tenderness by poking the breast meat, which if it springs back when touched indicates freshness, as well as a flexible backbone. Of course, the methods for checking for freshness can only be done on a defrosted chicken.
A quick marinade for our chicken comprised of Spanish thyme leaves, lots of garlic, olive oil and goat peppers pureed in a food processor – sans salt, much to our shock – was spread inside the whole bird to which the peeled leaves of an onion with a whole Spanish thyme leaf were added; the chicken was then trussed and placed onto a pan with barrel cut potatoes, and a little of the marinade massaged onto the outside of the bird and atop the potatoes; and the chicken was off to the 400-degree oven for half-an-hour before the temperature was reduced to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time of approximately an hour-and-a-half.
While the whole chicken roasted, the focus shifted to deboned, stuffed chicken which cooks so quickly that it’s shocking. Once you get your deboned, stuffed chicken in the oven, it’s ready in less than half the time of a whole chicken.
We got to work separating the two breasts and legs, removing the backbone and then deboning the legs (saving the bones for the chicken stock we would all make later) all the while under the “eagle eye” of Missick. It was a task that was daunting and scary to say the least, and in the moment, I said I would never do it again, but I’m already looking forward to doing this on my own at home. I’ve already started thinking about deboning and stuffing a chicken at home for a Sunday meal.
The stuffing that was prepared, the chef described as “simple” but it was so flavorful I would hate to know what the flavor would be on what he considers to be a complex one. To make the stuffing, butter-sweated herbs (onion and celery, processed in the food processor) along with some of the marinade to taste, with spinach and two types of bread (wheat and brioche were used during class, and processed in the food processor) were mixed together. He encourages the use of a mix of bread rather than just one type to boost flavor. The heat was turned off before the addition of the bread. We stuffed our chicken breasts and legs which cooked in approximately 25 minutes.
We also learnt that our deboned chicken breast in a restaurant setting would be known as an entrée as it was cut before cooking, while our whole roasted chicken would be known as a releve and not an entrée, as it was cut after it was cooked. A whole roast chicken is cut into eight pieces, and every plate should have a piece of white and a piece of dark meat each.
Missick’s poultry class taught me what a perfect roasted chicken should look and taste like, and this is what I’m going to strive for going forward.
Next week, our focus shifts to whole fish – learning to filet and remove the small, aggravating bones before cooking the fish both ways – shallow fry (meuniere) and poaching, which we will do in both a white wine and a red wine to allow us to taste both and decide which we prefer. We will also learn to identify when fish is fresh as well.