Julia Child reportedly once said, “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” While the quote may be apocryphal, it does bear a slight resemblance to the experiences surrounding my pastured chicken share at Restoration Farm.
Part of the fun of anticipating a new bird every four weeks or so is that you can really experiment with many different types of chicken techniques. I’ve always wondered about the results of those recipes where you push softened butter under the skin of the bird. How very Martha Stewart. Yet, if I’m to become truly poultry proficient, it seems like a technique I should master.
Now, there is a vast difference between whacking a chicken and gently caressing doctored dairy products into the “plump part.” One needs the skill of a chef and the sensibilities of a masseuse. Truth be told, the technique is just a little quirky.
I’ll take any excuse to buy a new cookbook, so my bible for the summer is “A Bird in the Oven and Then Some” by Mindy Fox. She promises 20 ways to roast the perfect chicken. That’s 15 more recipes than the five chickens included in my share, so I’ve got a nice margin for error. This time around, I’m working with Chicken #27, a plucky beauty that weighs in at 4.71 pounds.
The arrival of a new chicken is reason enough to plan a party. The recipe I’ve selected is a festive dish called Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter and Potatoes. You can find the recipe here. My discerning dinner guests are San Diego “Food Blogga” Susan Russo, her husband Jeff, and my decluttering guru, Rosemary. (We take a day trip to Teddy Roosevelt's summer White House, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. Jeff is a Teddy fan, and we spend the day soaking up the history. There's a "chicken house" at Sagamore Hill and we learn from one of the informational plaques that chicken was served frequently at Teddy's table. Without even trying, I've managed to come up with an historically accurate menu to match our afternoon outing.)
It’s a little complicated to give a bird the spa treatment. It’s even more difficult to let your fingers do the walking and take photos for the food blog at the same time. Who needs a greasy F-stop? Fortunately, Susan agrees to take on photography duties and chronicle the process.
Here’s the basic technique. Five tablespoons of softened butter are combined with a generous amount of sliced basil leaves, scallions, garlic and lemon zest. You work your fingers under the skin at the cavity and keep working your way in until the skin of each breast is loosened. At this point, it feels a bit like you’ve put on latex gloves, but there is room to wiggle. Now, you start pushing the butter mixture in a little at a time, and continue to smooth the breasts until the butter is evenly distributed.
Next, the legs are tied with twine, and the bird is placed on a bed of small potatoes, before landing in the oven.
An hour later, the house is flavored with the meltingly-delicious aroma of herbs, garlic and citrus. The skin is copper-crisp and flecked with hints of green basil, and the entire bird is bathed in glistening, rich, lemony butter.
My dinner guests all heartily approve of their taste of Long Island farm-raised bird (and I'm sure Teddy Roosevelt would approve, as well), and I’ll likely be exercising my slick chicken fingers again soon.
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