I came down with a nasty, nasty cold recently. Or, more accurately, S. gave me a nasty, nasty cold. On the plus side, when I was lying in bed, moaning pathetically about how my eyes hurt and every muscle in my body ached and how much I missed breathing, she offered to make me chicken and dumplings in recompense for infecting me.
No fool I, I promptly wrote up the recipe and gave it to her, and a few hours later, there was chicken and dumplings for me to eat, and I hadn’t had to touch a single ingredient. (Which was doubly good, because it meant that everyone could eat it, rather than having to quarantine the pot.)
Chicken soup is a classic cold remedy, and it seems that SCIENCE! backs up the claims of Jewish grandmothers everywhere. My mother never made chicken and dumplings, but I’ve grown to love it, now that I’ve figured out how to make light, fluffy dumplings, and decided that I prefer turkey to chicken in this case. It’s more flavorful, and when you’re stuffed up, tasting anything is hard enough.
photograph by KellyK
Boneless chicken or turkey thighs, diced
Garlic cloves, sliced
Carrots, cut into discs (or baby carrots)
Celery stalk, sliced into thin half-moons
Russet potato, diced
Salt, pepper, parsley, etc., to taste
1/2 package frozen baby peas, thawed
Dumpling dough (below)
Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sliced onion. Sauté until soft. Add sliced garlic, sauté one minute. Salt and pepper lightly. Add carrots, celery slices, and potato, stir, sauté two minutes. Add diced chicken or turkey, stir, sauté until the outside of the chicken does not look raw. Barely cover with cold water, chicken stock, and white wine, in whatever combination pleases you. Cover pot. Bring to boil, lower heat, simmer 45 minutes. Taste broth, adjust salt-and-pepperness. You may need to smush up the potato bits with a fork on the back of a wooden spoon; they’re in there to make the broth thicker. Drop dumpling dough into simmering stew by heaping teaspoons, covering the surface. Cover. DO NOT UNCOVER FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES. Dumplings should be dry on top, or you can check with a toothpick. Serve hot.
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons softened butter
¾ cup milk
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. (if you’ve got stray parsley, this is a good place to use it, rinsed & chopped.) Add butter and milk. Mix until just combined (overmixing will make the dumplings tough).
Dinner tonight — in the new place! you may all get excited for me now — was omelette; I have no credentials whatsoever for talking about omelettes (this does not always stop me, but people get kinda wound up about omelettes); therefore I will talk about roast chicken, which was how I broke in the new oven yesterday afternoon, instead.
Which, of course, is a recipe I learned from my mother.
There’s something about roast chicken — it’s about as easy as cooking meat gets, it smells wonderful, and is just utterly comforting. It’s hard to think of a culture that doesn’t have some variation on roast chicken, in some form; off the top of my head, the only place that springs to mind is Japan, and I suspect I’m speaking from ignorance here, given that various other Asian cultures have wonderful roast poultry recipes and techniques. This is, no doubt, due to the universality of roasting as a technique —it’s the descendant of spit-roasting in Europe, after all. And chickens seem to have been brought along on most of humanity’s various migrations, although perhaps not across the Bering Strait to the Americas.
None of my cookbooks are kind enough to provide a succinct definition of roasting; even a dictionary is remarkably unhelpful, providing “to cook by subjecting to the action of heat, as in an oven.” (Afterwards, driven by some strange, morbid curiosity, I went and looked up “bake” — “to cook by dry and continuous heat, as in an oven” — and “broil” — “to cook by subjecting to direct heat” — and then banged my head on the table for a few minutes, and then had a cup of tea. I can only recommend the tea portion of this experiment.) The fact that I set my oven to bake when I make this roast chicken doesn’t really seem worth fretting over but, as I just demonstrated, I have a love affair with words that goes beyond love affair and into stalking, and if there is any way for someone to get confused, they will. This is roast chicken because I say it is (I feel like John Cleese’s character in that Monty Python sketch, explaining the Trinity — “Three in one, one in three; any questions about that, see your maths master” — which is not something I ever expected to think), so there.
Oven: 450 F, 230 C.
Roasting pan (I strongly recommend one with a rack, as it keeps the skin much crisper)
Cutting board and a decent amount of counter space
A good, sharp knife
Put the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.
Line the inside of the roasting pan with foil — believe me, you will thank me later, it makes cleanup infinitely easier. If the chicken contains giblets, remove them, and put them away to be dealt with later. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold running water (stick your hand inside to check that there’s no organic matter clinging on — this is only scary the first time or two) and pat it dry.
Set the bird on a cutting board (this is raw meat, so if you have a meat board, use that) and trim off any loose fat or skin; right now, it doesn’t matter which side is facing up. Grind a healthy amount of black pepper, and sprinkle a few teaspoons of kosher salt, and a few shakes of paprika, over the chicken, making sure to get it in the not-so-obvious areas, like between the wings and the body, and on the fleshy parts of the drumsticks. These are the basic seasonings; if you want, you can stop here and no one will blame you for it.
If, however, you want a little more than the basics: I love a few cloves of roasted garlic, or crushed unroasted garlic, added at this point. Sprinkle the chicken with dried oregano and parsley, or squirt it with lemon juice (even bottled lemon juice) or lime juice. If you loosen the skin over the breast carefully with your fingers — don’t tear it — you can tuck in a few bay leaves. Some people put a halved lemon into the cavity; I’ve never found it to be that effective, but don’t let me stop you from proving me wrong (to be fair, I’ve never done with a Meyer lemon, which could make a difference for all I know). Five-spice powder (usually made up of star anise, fennel, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon) can give an interesting Asian flavor to the whole thing. A little grated ginger could also be really good, although I emphasize the little. Some lunatics add mustard powder, and I bet you can guess my opinion of that. Don’t do all of this to the same bird, of course; but don’t be afraid to add spice; I know this sounds contradictory, but as a rule of thumb, add no more than three additional flavors, but do it generously.
Start rubbing the seasoning into the skin of the chicken. Make sure to coat as much of the surface as you can.
Flip it over, and repeat the seasoning process.
Put the chicken on the roasting pan — no, you don’t need to oil it — breast side down (or elbows up, which is how I think of it). Put in oven for 15 minutes.
In 15 minutes, take it out — use heatproof gloves! — and, using two serving forks or the like, flip the bird over (supposedly you can balance it on its side, but I have never ever been able to do it) and put it back in the oven. (The side of the chicken that was against the roasting pan, the breast side, should be up now.) In another fifteen minutes, do it again. And then again in another 15 minutes.
Keep an eye on the chicken from now on — it’s done when the leg joint wiggles freely and the juice is clear; when exactly that happens varies by oven and by bird. Between forty-five minutes and an hour and fifteen minutes is the norm.
When it’s done, take it out of the oven, and move the chicken to a clean cutting board, preferably a largeish one with a well around the edge to catch the juice. Let it rest for ten minutes — this, for some reason, makes it much moister, and, more prosiacally, easier to handle — before carving.
Carving is beyond my ability to explain, not least because I am really bad at it. Here is a PBS video demonstrating it, and here is instructions with illustration.
Now invite me over for lunch, please.
(Coming soon: a series of posts on what you can do with the chicken you don’t devour immediately!)