Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Salad, Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Peas and Bacon, Clarified Butter

I made another winter salad before dinner tonight. I had previously mentioned that Molly of Orangette discussed her version of a winter salad in this month's Bon Appetite. I was curious, and I had some celery root left over. Therefore, it was time to give celery root another chance. As I've mentioned, I like to try things a few times before deciding that I don't like them. It's a lot like getting kids to eat like real people--you apparently sometimes have to make them try a food up to twelve times.

Anyway, this salad was again composed of celery root, fennel, and apples that had been made into matchsticks with the scary, scary mandolin. Okay, so what's the deal with the mandolin, right? Well, have you ever cut yourself on one of those things? First of all, it's pretty easy to do. And because the blade is very sharp and it slices off a good portion of the tip of your finger or knuckle, the resulting cut bleeds forever. Ask Hunter--he once bled profusely all the way through dinner. It doesn't help that alcohol is an anti-coagulant, either.

I used to think that I was too cool for the hand guard, but after the fourth or fifth time that I had to quickly grab a paper towel in order to staunch the large amounts of blood oozing from my hand before everything around me was ruined, I decided that I'm not too cool at all. (I've also finally learned that I'm not too cool for the oven timer.)

Hunter will no longer use the mandolin, and Nick finds the mandolin so scary that he can't even watch me use it. He can't even watch the Iron Chefs
use it, and they kick ass. Yesterday, I hadn't yet put the mandolin back in its box after washing it, and Nick asked in a very anxious manner what it was doing out, because he doesn't like to be in its presence, and you better believe he's not going to attempt to wrestle that thing back into its home.

Tonight the matchsticks of fruits and vegetables were tossed with a dressing that contained mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and walnut oil. It was supposed to be hazelnut oil, but Whole Foods didn't have any.

The verdict? It was pretty good, but I'm still not liking the raw celery root. I'm tempted to try it as a gratin, but is that cheating? Anything is good with lots of cream, butter and cheese, right?

The dressing was nice, but the nuttiness of my walnut oil did not shine through. Inspired by the lack of nuttiness, I threw some chopped pecans in there, and that was good. I may in fact make a salad consisting of fennel, apples, this dressing, and some pecans.

Or I might just eat the shaved fennel with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan, as I've previously mentioned. In fact, I've had this a couple times since making the celery root salad. Just so the apple doesn't feel neglected, though, it gets eaten with peanut butter as dessert.

Then it was time for the Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Peas and Prosciutto from Parisian Home Cooking. This recipe called for a 5 pound chicken, preferably with the feet still attached, to be placed in a Dutch oven with some melted butter.

I would just like to mention that I love love love my dutch oven.

A Le Cruset would be nice, but Cook's Illustrated says that the $40 version from Lodge is your next best option. Therefore, that's what I have, and it's just fine with me. This dutch oven transfers heat beautifully (almost too well sometimes), and you can make a delicious and easy meal by searing meat, adding some liquid directly to the vessel, and putting the whole thing in the oven to braise. The pot is pretty enough that the meal can be served in it, too.

Then when the meal is finished and you go to scrub the ominously cruddy bottom, it comes clean like magic, with a fraction of the expected scrubbing required. The dutch oven is also great for soups, mussels, and Jim Lahey's bread. That's another post, though.

So my 3 pound chicken Dutch oven "On one breast." What the hell does that mean, "On one breast?" Well, we kind of balanced it as well as we could, and into the oven it went.

A half hour later, we flipped it onto its other breast. Or what we thought was its other breast, as we had gotten kind if turned around while messing with it. A while after that, it was flipped over onto its back.

Once the chicken was overcooked, we took it out and allowed it to rest. At this point, the excess rendered fat was spooned out, and the shallots were sauteed. The recipe calls for four shallots, but what the heck does that mean? Do you know how much shallots vary in size? We erred on the side of abundance, as we like shallots.

Some creme fraiche and white wine went in there, as did some prosciutto. And no, that's not another one of my errors--the recipe really called for prosciutto. Why the title says bacon, I don't know. Perhaps prosciutto sounded too Italian, so they went with bacon.

I do have a confession to make. At this point, fresh sorrel was supposed to be added. Whole Foods didn't have it, and I'm not sure if I like it anyway. Not that I wouldn't have tried it, because you know how I harp on the subject of trying new or newish foods. If we make this again, I will certainly try to obtain some sorrel, mostly because Michael (the author) writes:

"What I like best about (this) improvisation is the sorrel, which tips the balance away from salty bacon and rich cream, cutting through and lightening the dish. Balance and subtlety is what French cuisine is all about."

The prosciutto cream sauce simmered for a while, the peas were added, and the chicken was carved and plated. Once the sauce was spooned over our legs and breasts, respectively, we pulled the baked potatoes out of the oven and dug in.

Wow, it was good. The cream sauce was tangy and satisfying without being too heavy, the prosciutto was wonderfully salty and flavorful, and the peas popped in the mouth while adding a pleasing freshness. Again--with cream and expensive cured pig product, how can you go wrong?

I mentioned that I overcooked the chicken, but it wasn't by much. And besides, since Nick prefers the white meat, only his was really overcooked, so whatever. I'm just kidding, Nick. 

This meal will definitely go on the repeat list, but if I'm feeling like a fatty, we'll stick with plain old roasted chicken. I used to think that I didn't really care for roasted chicken until I tried Thomas Keller's version. It's so simple, and so beautiful. All you do is dry it very thoroughly, truss it, and cook it at high heat "until it's done." I love that part--"until it's done." Thomas Keller doesn't need to be specific, because he's a mad genius. I also love his story of getting a knife thrown at him early in his career because he didn't know how to truss a chicken.

As Thomas Keller and numerous other people point out, one's ability to roast a chicken can serve as a true litmus test of their abilities as a cook. The same goes for cooking eggs, because the dishes that seem the easiest are often the ones that actually require the most practice, technique, and good judgement.

The butter that went into the dutch oven with the chicken was actually clarified butter. This was something that I had been meaning to make for a while, and I felt that this night would be a good night to do it. Not that it takes much effort or deserves any amount of procrastination. I had almost bought a jar of ghee (the clarified butter used in Indian cooking) at Whole Foods while buying the undersized chicken, but I convinced myself that I couldn't be that lazy.

The benefit of using clarified butter is its clean taste and its higher smoke point. With clarified butter, the milk solids have been removed. As these are what burn when you overheat butter, this allows the butter to be brought to a higher temperature. It is therefore better for pan-searing, and it lasts almost forever.

I followed Alice Waters' directions in order to make this culinary gold. The fact that they left me a bit confused from the beginning was probably a good indication that I should look elsewhere. Did I? No. I just overcooked my clarified butter.

This is what Alice Waters writes:

Melt butter in a small heavy pan over medium heat. Cook the butter until it has separated and the milk solids are just turning a light golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour it through a strainer to remove the solids, leaving clear golden clarified butter.

A couple days later, I read this from Thomas Keller:

Put the butter in a small sauce pan and melt it over low heat, without stirring (I stirred it because I hadn't read this, and it was making some freaky noises). Skim off the foamy layer that has risen to the top and discard (I didn't do that). Carefuly pour off the clear yellow liquid (as you know, mine was not clear yellow), the clarified butter, into a container, leaving the white milky layer behind.

Although they pretty much said the exact same thing, Thomas Keller's directions somehow made more sense to me. Next time, I'm definitely going with the Mad Genius, even though I probably shouldn't even need a recipe for something so simple.

As I mentioned, the butter is supposed to remain golden in color, and mine is more like browned butter. But that's okay, as brown butter is delicious, and I'm sure that it will get used. The little crunchy milk solids will also get used somehow, as they are like crunchy little kernels of brown butter goodness. Once I get through this overcooked batch of clarified butter, I will definitely make another attempt. Wish me luck.

Casserole Roasted Chicken with Peas and Bacon
(From Parisian Home Cooking)

  • One 4 pound whole chicken
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto or bacon, thinly diced

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Rinse the chicken and pat dry, Season the chicken inside and out with the salt and freshly ground pepper. Turn the wings under the bird and tie the legs together. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in the oil in a Dutch oven. Lay the bird on one breast, cover, and transfer to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes.

Carefully turn the chicken onto its other breast, cover, and roast another 20 minutes. Turn the bird on its back, cover, and roast another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a platter, cover, and keep warm.

Skim the fat from the juices in the Dutch oven and return it to low heat. If using fresh peas, add them now. Add the shallots and cook until soft but not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the vermouth or wine, creme fraiche or cream, and prosciutto or bacon, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.

Pour any juices that have collected around the bird into the pot. Add the frozen defrosted peas, which only need to warm through.

Remove from the heat, swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter (we actually left this out), and pour the sauce into a sauce boat. Serve immediately with the chicken.

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