Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine
Lesson Ten: Chicken

SuSu with help from Diana

Dear Foodie Voyeur,

In a way, perceptions of chickens have become way overcomplicated. They used to be a luxury in this country, even back in the days when Sunday dinner meant roast or fried chicken. Now you have to wear gloves to touch them raw; you need to remove the skin; eating dark meat is bad for you; breast meat is dry; buy it cut up for you; etc. Now, many of us won't remember this, but during the oil crisis back long before Star Wars: A New Hope was even in production, I was a tyke and I remember chicken parts cutting demonstrations at supermarkets. The price of meat had gone up, and beef -- which had always been so cheap that in the 1950s and 1960s, it meant a standing rib roast every Sunday in middle-class American homes -- was suddenly too expensive to have more than once in a while over the course of your lifetime. Hamburger Helper came out to stretch a pound of cheap ground meat for a full meal for 6. It was a dark time. And chicken came to the rescue!

But nearly none of my classmates had ever bought a whole chicken, much less put their hands in the euphemistically named "cavity" and popped joints and dismembered a raw bird. Thankfully, it seemed peer pressure (and looking like whimpy losers) was enough to keep everyone's "eeuw" response to themselves. But first, time to truss the bird.

Whole Roasted Chicken -- Poulet Rôti Grand-mère
What's the point? To make the bird a compact shape, kind of like a football, so that the heat can enter the roast evenly. With wings and legs sticking out, they'll cook and char before the breast and thighs are done. In addition, cooking "bone-in" allows the heat to conduct through the bones, and will keep it moister than opening it all out for exposure to the heat. Compressing the shape will help keep the breast moist, and it will be simpler to baste. That's the theory, anyway. And it looks prettier when it's presented!

First, remove the neck and "bag" of giblets -- heart, gizzards, liver. You can save the liver in the freezer for pâté, but the other parts should be saved, along with any other trimmings, for the roasting and sauce.

Cut off the wings at the "elbow" joint -- pull the wing out by the tip, then cut straight down through the cartilage, through the joint. Remember to keep the cut-offs and trimmings! Pull out or cut out the globs of fat at the vent. It's a good idea to remove the breast bone, too -- make an incision in the breast to the bone, then scrape the meat off of it, cut through the ligaments holding the bone to the skeleton, and save for roasting and sauce-making, or perhaps the stock pot. Season with salt, pepper and herbs.

Take cotton butcher twine (make sure it's cotton ... polyester smolders and melts. Imagine that nastiness on your chicken??), loop around the parson's nose (the tail), loop around the drumstick stumps, cross over in front and below the breast, run the string along the inside of the thighs, flip the chicken over, loop around the wing stumps, then tie up in the back. Be sure you have at least 30 inches of twine. After tying, trim the string down.

Use a sauté fork rather than tongs (which might tear the skin), which is inserted into the cavity rather than poking into the chicken. Heat the russe or sautoir till it's very hot, and add clarified butter and a bit of oil together. Hold the chicken in the pan to brown all the way around it. For best browning, don't move the chicken too often, and give it at least a minute or two of contact before rolling it. Moving it about too much will prevent it from browning.

Make a rack out of the bones and trimming and put the chicken on it and place in a 400°F oven. After 10 minutes, surround the bird with a rough-cut mirepoix and cook for another 30 minutes, basting with pan juices every 10 minutes. It's done when the thermometer registers 140° to 150°F, and the juices from the hole poked in the thigh run clear (not pink). Remove from the roasting pan and allow to rest while you make the sauce.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare the garniture -- anything grandmère normally means it has bacon in it, and in the case of a roast chicken, it's accompanies by pommes rissolé (turn potatoes, simmer, etc.), pearl onions cooked à l'étuvé au brun, lardons, and rough cut (or whole if they are small) mushrooms, sautéd in the rendered bacon fat.

The sauce is referred to as jus de rôti because it's really the pan drippings. If the mirepoix didn't brown and the sucs aren't caramelized, you can return the pan to the oven sans chicken till browned (not burned). Deglaze with white wine, scraping the bottom to lift up the sucs, then add veal stock. Skim to degrease, then sieve to remove the solids, and there's your sauce. It's thin, but it's supposed to be.

To serve, cut up the chicken (see below) into 8 pieces, and remove thigh bones and ribs. When serving, plate one piece of breast and one thigh (making sure there is only one bone between them), nap with sauce, then arrange the cooked vegetables around.

Jointed Chicken -- Poulet Sauté Chasseur
Quartering a chicken is basically the same, either cooked or raw. Remove the wing joints and breast bone as for the roasted chicken, then lay the bird on it's side and cut through the skin to expose the join between breast and thigh. By the way, boning basically means scraping against the bone with a very sharp knife, damaging the meat as little as possible. You will bone out the "oyster" -- that delectable pocket of meat above the thigh bone, located in a bowl-shaped bone along the spine, about halfway up the back -- without separating it from the other thigh meat. Holding onto the oyster, bend the thigh back till the ball joint pops out of the socket, then cut around it and along the pelvic bone to free the thigh. Try not to damage the meat or skin to much.

The next step is to machonner the drumsticks -- cut through the ball joint at the end of the drumstick to "neaten" it up (don't cut through the bone itself, which has a tendency to shatter and splinter), then cut around the bone just above the joint, right through ligaments, etc. Scrape the gristle and skin off the bottom of the leg to provide a fingerhold for the diner. The meat will contract upwards and plump up, and will look more like a duckleg when cooked. (Remember to save the trimmings for stock! I actually used these bones for the roast chicken "rack.") Also, make an incision and expose the thighbone to make for quicker cooking.

After removing the thighs, cut the spine out from the back, cutting through the rib bones -- you will need to press down hard, and you'll hear a series of cracks. Leave the ribs in -- it will keep the breast moister on cooking. Turn the chicken over, breast up, and flatten it, to crack the cartilage on the sides of the keelbone -- that ship-bottom shaped bone. Bone out the keel bone or pull it out, as well as the triangular shaped piece of cartilage that runs down to the bottom of the breast. As is, this is a "frenched breast." Split it in half along the middle to make two halves. Notice the ribs and wingbone stay with the meat. (And remember to save the trimmings!)

Brown the meat in a mixture of clarified butter and oil (not extra virgin olive oil -- smoking point is too low. Try peanut or canola oil), the place on a shallow pan and roast in a 375°F oven for about 20 minutes in the oven, till the internal temperature is right. You should cook the thighs first and get them in the oven while you cook the breasts, since thighs take longer to cook.

Make the sauce by browning the trimmings and then adding mirepoix to form sucs. Add chicken or veal stock and bouquet garni, then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, degrease and reduce to taste. If preferred, bind with cornstarch. Use this to make a sauce chasseur, like back in Lesson Four: Mother Sauces. Instead of sauce tomate, emmonder tomatoes, remove the innards and seeds, then concasser -- chop into even pieces. Procedure: use the fat from sautéing to brown the mushroom pieces; then add shallots, ciseler fine; flambée with cognac; add white wine then reduce to half; add the reserved enforced stock then reduce; add the tomatoes concassée and cook till the sauce is nappant -- it coats the back of a spoon and a line draw through the sauce stays there. Swirl in butter (monter au buerre), then add the chervil and tarragon. Don't boil again after adding butter, as usual.

Serve as for the roasted chicken. We took a lot of leftovers home, and this class ran overtime. We all felt like we had worked out -- meaning we were sweaty, greasy, and smelled like chicken ... Now that the weather is getting really hot, the kitchen will get more unbearable. So why the heavier food? Oog ...

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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