Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Recipe #1 Baking Chicken

Recipe #1

Baking Chicken

Cost: About $15
Equipment: Oven, chicken, baking dish, spice, olive oil (optional), apron (not optional if you wipe your hands on your pants like me)
Time: About an hour

We have established the fact that, if you’re reading this blog, you want to learn how to feed yourself in a healthy way. You might know some basics, or how to cook one or two things well. This blog will help those of you that haven't learned the real use of the kitchen to make some tempting meals. 

You can follow these directions and build on each recipe if you like. Those of you that know each other, get together and make these meals together. Share what you've learned, and expand your use of your skills. I’m hoping to write once a week, but before I promise, let’s see how we do. No worries, we’ll start with the basics, and you can learn in a progressive way. Once you master one recipe, you can either experiment, or if you’re a little unmotivated by the results, wait for the next! I’m going to only give gluten-free or grain-free foods, and healthy alternatives to things we love. I can’t say I don’t cheat once in awhile, so I expect you will too. I can devour a pint of Coconut Bliss in the blink of an eye. But we’re going to focus on building something.

Most of these recipes will build on one another. For instance, today we’ll talk about roasting a chicken. How to pick one out (a healthy one!), how to prepare it, and how to bake it. You’ll have to do the eating part, can’t help you there. And I’m never the one to cut the meat off the bone - I’m not good with knives. The next recipe will help you figure out what to do with the leftovers and the bones. This is the really good part! You will learn how to make things from the recipe before, and even if you don’t like one recipe, you will soon become adept at substitutions. So let’s get started!

Pots, pans, and glassware for your chicken
Before we head off the the store to corral ourselves a bird, we have to have something to bake it in. No, not the oven, I’m figuring you do have one of those. If you don’t, a large toaster oven might work if the chicken is small enough. But what we’re really after is to make sure we have something to put the chicken it while it bakes. There are a number of things you can use; a square Pyrex baking dish (8” or 9”), a round glass cake or pie pan, a large cast iron skillet (seasoned, of course), or a roasting pan that’s not to tall. You don’t want the chicken to steam while it cooks, which is what happens if the sides are too high. But it should be deep enough so that it catches the gravy without slopping over the side. A few things to avoid: no aluminum pans or Teflon coated bakeware. Aluminum is a toxin, and Teflon can kill your pet parrot. If it can kill your bird, it is not a good idea to be using it to cook your food. All set? OK, let’s get started.

In this blog, I wanted to keep it simple, so I started at Trader Joe’s. I will start by saying that I’ve done some research, and although they don’t publish it in mainstream media, Trader Joe’s does not use GMOs in any of it’s own brands. So we can go into the store knowing that the maltodextrin comes from Ecuador, and not GMO corn from the US. Now that we have that out of the way…just a bit about what you want your chicken to say on the label: PASTURE RAISED. Organic is good, but it’s not the best choice here. Chickens like to eat bugs (I'm sure they'd prefer organic bugs, but you can't get them to stay still to question them!). When do you think the last time a hen in a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) got a bug? She lived her life never knowing one, organic or not! 

Brined or not? Your choice
Food raised on it’s natural diet is the healthiest choice. Take a look at the pictures - and see? They don’t cost that much more, and the chickens are happier (I believe this, I really do). We should realize our food is our fuel; these animals give their lives for our benefit. We should raise them the way they were meant to live, and give thanks when we sit down at the table.

Find the meat section, it’s usually along the wall. You want to find a chicken that looks good, you know, long legs, big chest...no, just kidding. Make sure it’s not bruised and red in areas, and it’s the right size, maybe 4 or 5 pounds, and not past it’s sticker date. Very simple. Then stroll by the sample coffees, have yourself an ounce, and then find the spices. These spices are perfect for what you want to do. All you really need is something to give it a little pizzazz! Take a look at these choices, I’m sure you’ll find something that wets your whistle. Don’t go for the heavy stuff like gravy or sauces, they often have stuff in them that’s not very healthy. We just want a nice crispy juicy chicken!

Now if you don’t have olive oil at home, I’m wondering if maybe we should start with the alphabet. If you have it, you’re done for now. Go home and put on the apron. If you don’t have olive oil, there’s a wonderful TJ’s brand that I love, in the round bottle.

This one looks good
Hurry on home while 
the bird’s still cold, 
and throw it in the 
sink. Turn the oven 
on to about 400 or 
425ᐤF. Cut off the 
wrapper and wash 
it out. Now, when I 
first started baking 
chicken, I never
looked for the giblets. 
I often cooked the 
giblets inside the 
neck cavity (the 
opening with the 
long skin) without 
even realizing they 
were there. It’s OK, 
it makes the juices 
flavorful. If you’re 
squeamish, cook 
them for the animals, if you have them, or toss them in the city-compost (only hot compost should have meat - not your backyard compost if it’s small). Pat the girl dry, and give her a little massage with some olive oil if you want. Not necessary, but it will help her pass over to the other side. Pull out your spice you’ve selected, and have at it. It’s OK to just use salt and pepper, but it can get old after a bit.

Here we get to put her in that baking dish, bending the little wings back so they hold the chicken level in the pan, it looks so professional. Now we’re ready to cook. Of course, you did remember to adjust the racks in the oven, right? Me neither! You’d think after all these years, I’d remember that before I turn on the oven, but no, only when I cook a turkey do I remember that. Put your bird in the oven and turn the oven down to 375. Cook for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Pull her out (you do have pot holders, don’t you?) and let her set for about 20 minutes to ½ hour. The juices coming out of the chicken should be clear. If they’re not, put the chicken back in again for another 15 minutes or so. Don’t forget to turn off the oven!

Some options at Trader Joe's
Although I’m not religious, giving thanks for our food is an important part of gratitude; you have something to nourish you, and this animal gave you its life. Say thanks. Yup, just ‘thanks!’

If you want to get fancy, there are some things you can do once you have mastered the above:
1. If you separate the skin from the meat beforehand, the skin gets nice and crispy without oil.
2. You can put things inside the cavity (make sure you do a cavity search before you add anything!). For instance, preserved lemon, sliced lemon or orange, onion, seasonings.
3. On top, you can put a few pats of butter (thin, of course).
4. If you’re feeling really creative, slice some onions for underneath the old girl, or maybe you have some ideas!
5. You can put some veggies around the bottom (not too many if it’s a tight fit), like carrot, onion, celery, potatoes. Just a few, ‘cause they will be swimming in juice and oil!

Although we didn’t talk about what else you ate with the chicken, we will build on this later. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with the serious hard work this takes (yes, satire). When you have eaten all the meat you want (dark meat, white meat), toss the skin and put the entire carcass, juices and fat and all, into a big stockpot. OK, you may have to go back to the store! You have a few days to figure this out, while you’re eating the chicken. Cover the carcass almost to the top of the pot (any size, really, but you don’t want gallons if you’re doing this solo). Simmer the bones for a few hours at the lowest setting on your stove top. Let it cool, and then strain it (no, not a colander, a strainer - back to the store!) into containers that are either a cup or 2 cups. You can use yogurt containers or really, anything with a good lid. You’ll probably need 5 or 6 containers. 

Optional: I usually make the stock after dinner, then turn off the stove before bed. In the morning, the fat is congealed across the top, limiting any bacteria. You can leave it there for extra flavor when you cook with it.  I like to write the contents on the lid with a grease pencil: TS is turkey stock, CS is chicken, etc. Add the date, so you use the oldest stock first. The stock can be used straight from the freezer. Just turn the container upside down and run water over it. It will slide right into a pot. Two cups of broth to one cup of white rice, cook with a tight lid, and voile! in 10 minutes you have delicious rice. Brown takes a little longer, 30 to 40 minutes, you can look at the package. You can also use it for soup or pasta, which is another recipe! Hope you had fun. Give me any feedback or share an experience you had doing this so we can all learn.

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