Siobhan: Last night, I roasted a 9 lb. chicken in an hour. The skin was crispy and delicious.
Tata: Liar! At 20 minutes per chicken pound, you should still be roasting.
Siobhan: I butterflied it so it roasted flat and I swear it was an hour.
Tata: You get home from work at quarter to bedtime and still you get a roasted chicken for dinner? I am so buying a chicken and trying your method.
Siobhan: Look at these amazing pictures!
Tata: Jesus Christ! Your one-hour roast walks like an Egyptian!
I am a middle-aged Italian woman. If I cannot roast a decent chicken, half my family would end up down at St. Peter’s making a novena, but first, you gotta buy a chicken because in New Jersey people have stopped paying each other in chickens. I know. That might be a reason to move to Delaware. Anyway, Pete and I love the Sunday ritual of grocery shopping for everything we need and new stuff we’ve never seen before. Today’s find was lingonberries next to canned mandarin oranges, and the only other place I’ve seen those in New Jersey was IKEA. In other news, we bought a chicken and I began cackling and leaving hairpins floating in mid-air from wherever I scrammed. Yes, we had a snow storm and I spent a lot of time with a broom. What?
While we were at the grocery store, we disposed of a heel of stale bread in an ecologically sensitive manner by starting a seagull riot.
If there is anything you can count on in this life it is that seagulls in coastal parking lots are interested in whatever flies out of car windows. Suffice it to say we will be shredding stale bread at home before the next time we stage a similar antic.
Dad told me that when he lived in Europe, he went to an audition or an entrance exam for a cooking school, probably in Belgium, but I’m not 100% sure. What I am sure of is the test was boning a chicken without breaking the skin. Dad put his knife down. The school took him anyway, saying, “What the hell. It’ll improve American cuisine.” I’m not saying I can do that; I can barely operate the can opener. So what me think I could sculpt this chicken? Simple: I am not very bright and have a proclivity for violence.
Note: that’s why you love me.
I did that Martin Yan trick where you hold the chicken by its legs and swing it like a contented toddler, then swing it again by its wings. The muscles relax, making it much easier to cut the flesh around the thigh and pop the joint. If you’ve done this procedure on both sides of a chicken, you know it takes a matter of seconds. If you haven’t, take my word for it: a matter of seconds. I put down my knife and picked up the kitchen shears. I cut up the side, through the ribs and behind the wings. It’s kind of hard to tell from this picture, which looks like I am giving Uncle Fester a piercing no one will mention at the family reunions.
As I cut up the second side, there was a very satisfying SNAP! behind the wings that told me not only that I was done, but that I had done it right. Years ago, I had a boyfriend who nearly fainted as I quartered a chicken.
In my heart, I know he slept with one eye open after dinner that night. At least the chicken was tasty. Pete took these pictures and when I turned the top and bottom over and pressed down, there was another satisfying SNAP! along the breastbone. Yes, dinner will be tasty.
This is the picture of sound effects made by uncooked chicken. Like POW! and BLAM! Batman-style, this is what SNAP! looks like.
Ta da! In related news, I’d rehydrated parsnips, sugar plums and a mixture of leeks, carrots, celery and fennel and tossed them into a roasting pan to form a bed. I like fruit and unusual veggies in my roasting mix; they make for unique, complex gravies. This is one of those views of an uncooked chicken that reminds people that chickens were once alive, and good. Appreciate that this was recently a living thing and waste nothing. Toss the giblets into that pan, huh?
So Ta, you ask, did you have any trouble with this technique? You bet your ass, I did. Knives are usually honed to have a straight edge and a diagonal side. They intersect, forming a sharp point. This is an advantage for right handed people, but I am left handed. Knives mostly work if they’re truly sharp, but when your pressure is on the wrong side, you’re working against your tools. Similarly, I have three sets of kitchen shears and here you can see what a struggle it was to use them with my right hand. If I get the correct tools, I might be a real menace to Poultrykind.
Into a bowl, I spooned, poured or pinched a whole mess o’ my favorite herbs and spices, then added enough olive oil to make a paste. Chicken skin separates easily from the flesh if you pull gently, and if you smear some of that mixture on the flesh, you will be rewarded with fragrant, moist chicken. I also smeared a bit on the outside and around the edges that tend to burn, then sprinkled some achiote powder. Siobhan said she’d set her oven at 350 degrees and set her chicken on a silicone mat. Pete panicked when I brought out the ancestral Silpat, so we resorted to the contemporary roasting pan.
Within ten minutes of putting the pan into a heated oven, we could smell the chicken. An hour later, we let it rest. Siobhan was completely right: this method works. I don’t know why, but it does. And you should try it.