Skip to content

Bird Eating

November 23, 2009

Sure it’s turkey season.  Everyone is gearing up towards Thursday.  They are picking up their pre-ordered fresh birds, defrosting frozen ones, getting a brine bath ready, or attempting a dry-brine possibly for the first time.

I prefer to be a guest and bring wine for the holiday.  But this year because of family illness I may be sitting this one out.

So I am contemplating what to make for a small informal thanksgiving at home.  And really the answer could not be clearer to me.  Roast chicken.  Chicken, especially a smaller 3-3 ½ pound chicken, is really the perfect balance between meat and skin.  You might be able to make a case for slightly smaller game birds, but it would be difficult.

Turkeys clearly don’t have enough skin.  It’s just a sad and regrettable fact.  Even a smaller turkey will yield piles of meat, but only a few precious strips of crisp delicious skin.  I’m no slave to convention.  Besides, anyone who tells you that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey is full of poppycock.  The turkey is beautiful eye candy.  It is a great symbol of abundance, and at one point was a strong contender for our national bird.

But turkey itself is merely the canvas for the rest of the meal: the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the gravy, the potatoes, etcetera.  Tomorrow I will tell you what single item I believe to be the centerpiece of the meal.

For now I would rather focus on my chicken.

I do not have just any roast chicken in mind.  A special meal calls for the Christopher Kimball Slow Roast Chicken (as featured on pages 220 and 221 of The Cook’s Bible).

When done correctly, the fat underneath the skin melts away, enriching the flesh, and the skin itself crisps up with a cracker-like snap.  It’s truly remarkable.  And the white meat stays juicy, even as the dark meat is thoroughly cooked through.  The downside to all this alchemy is that the process probably isn’t approved by any government organization responsible for food safety.

So, you have been warned.  And even Mr. Kimball says, “A slow roasted chicken should never be stuffed or trussed.”  Again, I would highly recommend that you buy this book.  It is a great read and a great resource.

This is not a chicken obscured by other competing flavors.  There are no herbs under the skin.  There isn’t a special marinade.  Besides the 3 – 3½ pound chicken the only other ingredients are melted butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

This is a technique for making the chicken taste its best.

And it starts with making sure the chicken is perfectly dry, inside and out.  Did I say perfectly?  That means perfectly.  Paper towels are your friend here.  You will a lot of them.  And they will be covered with lovely raw chicken juices.  So have a big empty trash can nearby.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the perfectly dry chicken with melted butter, and then the book says to “sprinkle it liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.”  If you have a high tolerance for salt, I would suggest you sprinkle it generously.

Put the chicken breast side up in the rack of a shallow baking pan.
Cook the chicken like this for half an hour.
Turn down the temperature to 200 degrees and cook for one more hour.
Then crank the oven up to 400 degrees and cook for a quarter hour.

Now it is time to take the bird’s temperature.  It’s done when the thigh is between 170 and 175 degrees and the breast is 175 to 180 degrees.

Take the chicken out of the oven, and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving it.  If you tent this beautiful bird and steam that marvelous crispy skin into a soft mushy mess, I may have to get violent.

I don’t know why I’m giving you this recipe now.  Most of you will have turkey this week.  The lucky few will have goose.  But when your leftovers are finished, remember this post, and make this chicken, and tell me I am wrong.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    November 23, 2009 10:33 am

    I eat turkey at Thanksgiving but I’m not a huge fan. I much prefer chicken.
    We were considering doing dinner at a restaurant this year because I am not in the mood to cook or attend the family dinner but as I am a huge slacker I have not made any reservations and may just end up cooking after all.

    If I do, I think I will give your chicken recipe a try. Although I will likely not be able to resist stuffing some herbs under the skin, I have such lovely, fresh herb plants at home.

  2. November 23, 2009 11:15 am

    my fave chicken trick is slicing open a small pocket on the chicken skin and sliding in fresh herbs

  3. November 23, 2009 8:59 pm

    I always did the whole salt the chicken and leave it the fridge overnight thing, I guess this is “dry brining.” That seems to be the new fashionable technique of the month. Always thought that it produced excellent skin crisposity. I am thinking of doing goose for a Christmas gathering that some friends and I are having. I am having some trouble sourcing the bird, think I might have to mail order a frozen sucker. Weirdly enough, I spied a bunch of geese at Walmarts for around 4.50 a pound. Not going to go that route, who knows where Walmart gets a hold of their poultry.

  4. November 23, 2009 9:03 pm

    Thanksgiving is an ideal time to enjoy turkey, America’s official bird (I hew to the Ben Franklin concordance). If you are into natural, free range birds like the ones I will pick up tomorrow from Ben Shaw at Garden of Spices, this is the season for which they are bred, so you’ll find a broader selection than at any time of year. If you are into value, take advantage of the seasonal sales at PC or Hannaford, stack them in the freezer like cordwood, then enjoy all year long.

    Turkey has gotten a bad reputation due to remembered insults from parents or grandmothers overcooking them. Truth is, I have not had a bad turkey in many a year. This bird has a more complex taste than chicken and the relative lack of skin surface means relatively more leftover meat to slice and serve on a sandwich with Durkee’s Dressing on Friday. Already, I am there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: