Saturday, July 19, 2014

Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken

For several years now I have been teaching a summer class that features the kinds of foods one might find in a French picnic basket.  The French are famous for their delicious pâté's, wide variety of interesting cheeses and crusty loaves of bread...and you would indeed find these things in a typical French basket.  But at its core, the things you would find are not that much different from what you would find at a well-crafted American picnic spread...vegetable and grain salads, fruit, a simple dessert that can be eaten out of hand...and cold chicken.  For Americans, this chicken would most likely be fried...for the French it will probably be roasted.  

The roast chicken that I teach in my class is perfect summer picnic fare—fragrant with roasted garlic and basil from a purée tucked under the is every bit as tasty hot as it is cold...great for enjoying from a basket in the a roadside stop...or around the patio table in your own back yard.

The original recipe for this chicken (from Monique Jamet Hooker's Cooking with the Seasons) is for roasting an entire bird.  And you could of course do it that way if you like.  But I think it is much easier to cut the bird into quarters prior to roasting.  This allows you to take the individual pieces out of the oven as they are done (so you don't end up with over cooked white meat or undercooked dark meat) and makes the 'carving' process a non-event. 

To portion the bird, simply cut the legs in half at the joint, cut the wings away from the breasts and cut the breasts in half cross-wise.  With six quick motions you will have cut the bird into ten individual portion-sized pieces.  

Half of a chicken--leg-thigh joint separated, wing cut away
from the breast and the breast ready to halve or debone....

Or, cut the leg-thigh joints and wings as described and then pull the bone away from each of the breasts and slice the meat thinly cross-wise—perfect for serving to people who prefer their chicken served off of the bone. 

The other great thing about roasting parts is you can choose to roast just the parts that you (and your guests) prefer—all white...or all dark...or a half chicken, if that better suits your need...    

Whenever I make this chicken, I always make a double batch of the roasted garlic and basil purée.  Added to mayonnaise—preferably homemade, but a good quality commercial will do too—it makes a delicious sauce to accompany the cold chicken. 

It is also the perfect smear for a roast chicken sandwich (with thin slices of dead ripe summer tomatoes).  Even after the chicken is all gone, you will find lots of ways to use this delicious really is worth adding a few minutes to your prep time to make some extra roasted garlic and basil purée. 

If you do decide to make extra basil-garlic for a sauce, make sure to take out what you want for sauce before you salt the purée destined for stuffing under the chicken skin.  Do this for a couple of reasons.  First, the purée destined for the chicken is highly seasoned and would be way too salty in a mayonnaise.  If you add it unsalted  to the mayonnaise it is an easy thing to correct the seasoning of the mayonnaise by adding salt if necessary.  You can't take the salt away if the sauce is too salty. 

The second reason is that by removing the extra purée to a clean container you will be insuring that the purée that goes into the mayonnaise will never touch the raw chicken.  Salmonella is typically not contracted from eating undercooked chicken.  More often than not it comes from cross-contamination...that is, from raw chicken coming into contact with something that will be served as is (without further cooking).  Since the mayonnaise won't be cooked, you don't want it to come into contact with the raw chicken via the basil-garlic purée.

In her book, Hooker shares that whenever she prepares this recipe she almost always roasts two birds.  She takes one on a picnic and uses the other in a favorite summer pasta salad.  And I think this is a great idea.  Even in my household of two, I like to roast a whole bird so I can enjoy some hot for dinner right away....  

With braised greens and couscous...

some cold (on a picnic—or for lunch—the next day)....   But mostly I want leftovers so I can make chicken salad. 

A couple of years ago I discovered that this roast chicken makes an amazingly delicious chicken salad.  In fact, chicken salad is probably my favorite way to enjoy this roast chicken.  Simply remove the bones and skin (making sure that the delicious basil-garlic stays with the meat and doesn't go away with the skin) and dice the chicken.  Add some finely minced scallion (or spring onion), a few toasted, chopped walnuts and a generous spoonful of mayonnaise (preferably enhanced with extra roasted garlic and basil purée).  With some crusty bread...and maybe a fluff of makes an exceptional lunch...or a nice light dinner.  This year, I discovered that it is even better with the addition of a handful of blanched peas.  I can't imagine liking it any better than I do now, but who knows?  It's hard to predict what kinds of delicious things I will find in my pantry the next time I make this chicken.    

Summer on a plate:  Basil-Garlic Roast Chicken Salad (with peas),
Cherry Tomatoes & Corn on the Cob....

Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken

1 head garlic
1 c. packed basil leaves (about 1 ounce), washed and dried
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 3- to 3 ½-lb. Chicken, cut into quarters (2 leg-thigh joints plus 2 bone-in breasts with wing attached)
Salt & Pepper

Prepare the chicken for roasting the day before you plan to roast it.

Cut 1/4-inch off of the top of the head of garlic to expose the cloves.  Place the garlic in the center of a square of aluminum foil; drizzle the cut surface with olive oil (about a teaspoon) and season with salt & pepper.  Drizzle a little water around the garlic (a tablespoon or so).  Then, wrap the foil up and around the garlic and twist the edges together to seal (it will look like a Hershey’s Kiss).  Place in a 350° oven and roast until soft—about 45 minutes to an hour.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic out of its papery skins and mash to a purée.

Place the basil leaves in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped (or chop finely by hand).  Add the garlic and 2 T. of olive oil and process until well-combined.  Season with 1/2 t. kosher salt.  It will taste very salty—this is as it should be.

Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels.  Cut away any excess fat.  Gently slide your index finger under the skin of each breast and leg-thigh joint to loosen (but not detach) the skin and form a pocket between the skin & the flesh.  Spread the garlic basil mixture under the skin, coating as much of the meat as possible. Season the chicken all over with kosher salt (for 3 lbs. of chicken you will need about 1 1/2 t., for 3 1/2 lbs. of chicken you will need about 2 t.).  Season all over with freshly cracked pepper.  Tuck the wing tips back on the breast quarters.  Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight. 

About an hour before you are ready to roast the chicken, pull it out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°.  Rub the chicken all over with a tablespoon of olive oil and place the chicken in a shallow baking dish (Pyrex, stoneware, and enameled cast iron are all good choices). Choose a pan that will just hold the chicken—a 13- by 9-inch is about perfect. 

Half a chicken...stuffed and ready to roast...

Place the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 15 to 20 minutes.  If it doesn’t, raise the temperature in 25° increments until it does.  The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature in 25° increments until the fat stops smoking.  Continue to roast until the breast quarters register 155° and the thigh meat registers 165° to 170° on an instant thermometer.  Begin checking the doneness of the parts after about 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove individual pieces to a plate when they are done.  All of the parts will probably be done at the same time, but if you do have to remove some before all are done, add a splash of water to the pan when you do so that the caramelized juices on the bottom of the pan don't char and burn while the remaining parts finish cooking.  When the chicken is done, let it sit until cool enough to handle.  (If you like, deglaze the roasting pan with some water and reserve these drippings for another use.)

 Cut the chicken into serving portions:  Cut the leg-thigh quarters at the joint to yield 2 legs and 2 thighs.  Cut the wings away from the breasts.  The breast meat may be left on the bone if you like—cut the breasts in half cross-wise to yield 4 breast pieces.  Or, pull the breast meat off of the bone in one piece and slice across the grain.  Serve hot, cold or room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from  Cooking with the Seasons by Monique Jamet Hooker)

Notes & Ideas:
  • To make a delicious sauce to serve with the cold or room temperature chicken, make a double quantity of the roasted garlic-basil purée. Remove half of the purée (1 recipe) before adding the salt and add this unsalted portion to 1 to 2 cups of mayonnaise (or, to taste). Salt as necessary. Add lemon juice if necessary. You may use your favorite commercial mayonnaise, or make your own using the recipe below. 
  • Use this chicken as part of another preparation—pasta salad, grain or bean salad, chicken salad, etc. Simply remove the skin (leaving as much of the basil purée with the meat as possible) and discard. Shred or dice the meat. 
  • The breast meat is particularly nice on a sandwich. Slice thinly and add lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise (the basil-garlic mayo above would be excellent). 
  • The recipe may be prepared with all white meat or all dark meat. Just purchase 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. of your favorite part. 

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil or 3/4 cup vegetable oil combined with 3/4 c. olive oil

Place egg, yolk, salt, lemon juice & mustard in the bowl of the food processor and process until smooth.  Add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. If the mayonnaise is too thick, let it out with a few tablespoons of warm water.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

 My New Favorite Chicken Salad

3/4 lb. diced Basil & Garlic Roast Chicken (skin and bones removed before weighing)—to make 2 1/2 cups diced chicken
1/3 to 1/2 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely broken
2 scallions or spring onions (white and some of the green), trimmed and finely minced (if the onion seems particularly hot, rinse the white portion under cold running water and drain well before using)
3/4 c. peas, blanched, rinsed under cold running water and spread on kitchen towels to dry (optional)
1/2 to 2/3 c. mayonnaise flavored with basil-garlic purée
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Lemon juice and Dijon mustard, to taste (may or may not be necessary, depending on the mayonnaise used)

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and fold together.

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