As I discussed on this week’s podcast episode, Sunday on the blog will now be dedicated to cooking for bachelors. This was prompted by Aaron Clarey asking me if I had any easy and quick recipes as he wants to start cooking more at home.
Cooking has been an interest of mine since I was a boy. I love to eat good food, and the best way to guarantee a supply of excellent food is to become a good cook yourself. Cooking is work, but like everything worth doing it becomes easier and more satisfying the more that you do it. I remember back in early 2001 I was spending a period in Australia between rafting seasons in Italy. I invited my father and brother around for lunch. I can’t remember exactly what I cooked but I know that there was a soup and some sort of pork dish. The soup came off well, but the pork was overcooked. Back then I still hadn’t grasped the intricacies and subtleties of cooking meat and fish, nor had I completely escaped from my mother’s habit of always cooking meat for an hour so as to “kill the germs”. Some things stay with you a long time when they are part of your formative years.
My father and brother were enthusiastic about the soup that I prepared that day; much less joy, however was shown for the main. Back then I still had a long way to go with my cooking skills and experience. Now the situation is somewhat different. I am well known amongst my family and my wife’s family as being a cook of some considerable skill. All the hard work to learn how to cook has paid off in other unexpected ways. I not only get pleasure from enjoying the dishes that I prepare; I also see the pleasure on the faces of my friends and family and that itself is another kind of reward entirely.
With meat being such a challenging task for any novice cook, the first recipe in my bachelor cooking series will be on that theme. Not to start you off with great difficulty, but rather to give you some confidence with a meat dish that is rather straightforward, versatile, and tasty – roast chicken.
Over the years I’ve tried many different versions of this classic dish, but my favorite has to be the one from Jean-Pierre Moulle’s marvelous cookbook, French Roots. I like its simplicity and the richness the butter gives to the bird, as well as the abundance of flavor from the tightly packed herbs. For beginner cooks, always follow the recipe exactly. You can only break or bend the rules when you know and understand the rules. The strictest adherence to the recipe will save you much pain and ruined meals when you are just starting out.
With Italian cooking and to a lesser extent French cooking, there is nowhere to hide. Simple meals mean no margin for error. Thus you should always try to source the freshest ingredients possible. However, when you are just starting out it would be unwise to purchase a very expensive chicken in case you miscalculate or your attention wanders. A good entry level organic bird will do the trick. However, the best butter, vegetables, and herbs should be your focus as these do not cost much more than cheap rubbish. Of course, the best option for herbs would be to grow your own.
1 large bunch mixed herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay and savory.
salt and black pepper.
10 to 15 cloves garlic, unpeeled.
White wine for cooking.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Remove the chicken from the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking to allow it to temper. Also remove the butter at this time so as to allow it to become soft. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the herbs, then rub the skin all over with the softened butter. You really want to coat the butter on the bird. Don’t be shy – butter is good for you and it is what really makes this dish. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Place the bird in a roasting pan that is just large enough to hold it. Roast the bird for 15 minutes breast side up, then 15 minutes on one side, then 15 on the other, and finally 15 minutes breast side down. Add the garlic after the first 30 minutes, tucking the cloves around the bird in the pan juices. Finish cooking with the breast side up for 10 minutes if needed, (the chicken is done when the internal temperature is 165 F. Buy a digital thermometer as it will be one of your greatest cooking assets.)
Let the bird rest for 10 minutes breast side down and covered with foil. This will moisten the breast meat while keeping the chicken hot. For a quick sauce, place the pan with its pan juices on the stove and pour in a splash of white wine when it is hot and bubbling. This is known as deglazing. Scrape the pan as it reduces for about 10 minutes. taste for seasoning and serve on the side or pour over the bird once it has been carved.
To accompany the chicken a plate of simple green beans is my preferred option. Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil. Snap the ends off the green beans and once the pot has been boiling for a couple of minutes throw in the beans. Cook at high heat for 4 minutes. Drain into a colander and season to taste. Pour over a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and toss with some tongs.
Carving the chicken.
Most people don’t know that the tastiest part of a chicken is on its underside, away from the breasts. They are called the oysters and are the chef’s reward or a gift for someone special at the table.
What to do with the chicken carcass? I use it to make chicken stock, an ingredient that I always have on hand either in the fridge or the freezer. Next Sunday I’ll explain how to make a good stock as well as one of my favorite soups with which it can be utilized.