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A Hankering for Roast Chicken That Gets Under the Skin


Give me some skin!

You can separate some people by their politics, their sports team allegiances, their taste in music or even their drink of choice.

I’m a chicken person. I ask people what their favorite type of chicken is.

Fried chicken? If you’ve had the best, such as a crackling bird from Tommy Moore’s or Mr. and Mrs. G’s, that’s practically greaseless yet loaded with flavor from first bite, then I know I can respect your opinion when it comes to most food. I’ll also start to drift off on memories of some crunchy thigh or drumstick that had just the right blend of salt and pepper in the flour mix and seasoned each mouthful. If fast food is all you have time for, and Popeye’s is near the top of the list, I’ll nod in agreement.

Although I grew up in Kentucky, I hate to admit it, but I can’t find much to agree with when people start singing the praises of KFC. Soggy, supermarket fried chicken is even more of a let-down, even when served cold, picnic style.

Things get a little rockier when rotissere chicken comes up. Are these people talking about those all-too-often mealy creatures you grab  at the supermarket when you just don’t have time to cook that night? Those are more an act of desperation than a real delicacy, and my opinion has slid just a touch.

If someone mentions boneless, skinless chicken breast by itself, I generally stop listening. It’s like listening to someone praise store-bought white bread, although I think the bread often has more flavor. Chicken breast is what I gladly give to others or what I save for chicken salad, when mayonnaise, sour cream and a few more seasonings are there to add flavor.

Herb-Roasted Chicken

Mention roast chicken, however, and I definitely see friend material. It means you know the joys of tearing off a piece of glistening skin and having it crackle in your mouth. Suddenly, your senses take over as you take in the texture and the sound as well as the aroma and the flavor. There is a reason this succulent taste of heaven is an international classic.

But getting that perfect bird isn’t always easy. I’ve tried numerous recipes in the past. I even bought a wonderful cookbook called “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” though I have to admit that the chicken recipe may be my least favorite of all that I’ve tried. I even bought a special chicken roaster. And I’ve loved experimenting with the various cooking  techniques people swear by, from cooking the bird at a low temperature for a long time or starting the temperature really hot to get the skin crispy and then lowering it while the rest of the bird cooks.

What is driving me is a taste memory of the best roast chicken I’ve ever had, which was about 13 years ago at the Old Chatham Shepherding Farm in upstate New York. Chef Melissa Kelly stuffed slivers of truffle under the skin and used just enough butter to get practically lacquer the skin. The meat underneath was moist, as if the butter basted the meat while the truffle perfumed it. Never again, however. I haven’t seen the likes of it on her menu at her subsequent restaurant, Primo in upstate Maine.

My desire to find the best roast chicken recipe led me to two area chefs, Chris Cook from Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel and Zach Lutton from Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go. Both started from the same point: Use a really good chicken, preferably one raised responsibly in the area from a ranch such as Peeler Farms or Vital Farms. Then they went off in opposite directions, yet both produced the crispy skin  and juicy meat I crave. (If you’re wondering about my obsession with the skin, then you don’t get roast chicken at all. Let me just say that I’ll roast an entire chicken for dinner. Then I’ll sit down and eat the skin. If I’m still hungry after that, I’ll have a thigh.)

Young Chicken Confit

Cook prepares his confit style in duck fat the day before serving. Then he roasts it the last step of the way in an oven that allows the skin to reach that perfect crackling stage. The end result is dizzying with the achiote carrots and the rest of the vegetables you can serve with it. It does take a good deal of preparation, so you might want to leave the cooking up to Cook and enjoy this dish at Oro in the Emily Morgan, 705 E. Houston St., where locals can enjoy 20 percent off their meal.

Lutton’s recipe starts out on a high temperature and stays there, which made me slightly nervous. He uses olive oil under the skin instead of butter, though a combination of the two might also work. My fears were groundless. The skin came out a rich brown that bypassed the usual golden color and yet carried a load of flavor. It was also so easy that I’ve made it twice, just to be sure — and to get a little more of that skin.

I realize my roast chicken fixation is arbitrary, but I can’t help. I can only feed the addiction. Now, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite way to prepare chicken? Or what’s the best chicken you’ve ever had?

In the meantime, try Cook’s and Lutton’s recipes. Both are excellent methods of preparing this classic dish.

 

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Herb-Roasted Chicken from Zach Lutton of Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go


Zedric’s Herb-Roasted Chicken

Do you love roast chicken with crispy skin? This recipe from Zach Lutton of Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go is an easy way to get just that.

You can vary the herbs to suit your tastes. I tossed in a tiny bit of tarragon, dill and sorrel to taste.

The real secret is to use the best chicken you can find. Lutton uses Vital Farms, which is from the southeastern side of Austin. Any naturally raised chicken should have the flavor you’re looking for.

Zedric’s Herb-Roasted Vital Farm’s Chicken

1 whole Vital Farms chicken
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more, divided use
1/2 cup of a blend of Italian parsley, chives and thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 carrots, peeled
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 pint of chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup flour

Stuff the herbs under the skin before roasting.

Preheat oven to 400.

Take the chicken and run your hand in between the skin and breast to make space for seasonings. Take the olive oil and blend with the herbs and garlic to form a paste, then season the chicken’s cavity and breast with salt and pepper. Once seasoned add the paste inside the cavity and outside in between the skin and breast and also on the skin.

Take the celery, carrots and onion and toss them in a mixing bowl with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Take a small sheet pan and spread all the mirepoix across the pan. Lay the chicken on its back. Place it in the oven for 1 hour. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure it is cooked to 165 in the deepest part of the breast.

Let the chicken rest on a cutting board, and take a strainer over a small sauce pot and strain the cooking juices into the sauce pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and slowly sprinkle the flour across the liquid (this is called the singer method) and stir to incorporate until it becomes the consistency of sand. Take the stock or broth and slowly add while stirring the roux. The final product will be a sauce that will be really nice with the chicken. Make sure that the sauce simmers for 15 minutes to allow the flour to cook out.

Makes 1 chicken.

From Zach Lutton/Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go

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