Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Roast Chicken

There are hundreds (thousands?) of food blogs. We've been asked to put up some of our own takes on recipes and provide some information along the way. We hope you find it informative. We're about the tips, preparation and ideas, and we probably won't be the most artistic. This is our first recipe. We've picked something we think we know a lot about, and want to impart some knowledge along the way.  It is quite possible that future recipes won't be as wordy. We hope you enjoy it. We aren't standing around posing the food. What you see is what happens while we cook.


We guess there are those who make Sunday night roast chicken night.  For us we switch up meals through the week and Friday is the 'fanciest' night. Somehow roast chicken fits the bill so we do it every 2 to 3 weeks..... on Friday night.

Roast chicken shouldn't be hard, yet, there are so many ways of doing it out there that it seems daunting.  There are so many variables (oven temperature, size of chicken, temperature of the chicken before cooking, quality of the chicken) that you have to find the recipe that works for you.  After many, many roast chickens, the techniques and recipe we're showing here work wonderfully for us.  The one in the pictures was 'one of the best ones we've made'.

Besides the main recipe, we've included wine pairing suggestions, how to make our style gravy along with mashed potatoes and how you should never throw out the bones. You can use it to make stock for the next bird.

But first, what chicken?

Before we get to that, let's talk turkey. Years ago there was a turkey producer in Southern California called VIA TURKEY RANCH. As far as we can tell the turkeys were all corn fed and you could really tell the difference.  Around the holidays they would turn up in special cardboard boxes. We heard tell maybe they invented that concept. They weren't frozen and they tasted great. None of the specialty producers these days (we've never tried the ridiculously priced heirloom turkeys) comes close. So, was it the corn?

Around here, on sale, Foster Farms chickens can cost as little as 69-79 cents/pound. They are chickens. What we've probably come to expect chickens to taste like... ie, not much. There are several other producers and we have found one that maybe tastes a little better: Mary's Chicken. Depending on which you get they are 65-70% corn fed. Also, they are 'air chilled'. Mary's talks about it here. They say, in part, "The air chilled method produces a better tasting chicken. With no water added, the air chilled method keeps the "real" chicken flavor and juices. No water is absorbed, so you get the natural flavor of chicken." The Foster Farms chicken in my freezer says "may contained up to six percent retained water." Thing is, on sale last week, a Mary's chicken cost $2.30/lb (regular price something like $3/lb). Let's say our 79 cent/lb Foster Farms chicken is effectively 6% more given you are paying for water.  That's still only 84 cents a pound. A five pound chicken is going to cost $4.20. The Mary's is going to be $11.50. That is a huge difference. Is it worth it? As you'll see, our roast chicken is 'dry brined' and can use a lot of herbs (usually rosemary) which is going to 'flavor' the chicken. With that, and the sides and the gravy it makes a very good chicken even with the cheap one.  Also, for crisp skin lovers, could be that having a chicken that hasn't been water chilled will crisp up better (but also see our notes on pH, below). That being said, the Mary's does seem to taste better. If you have the wherewithal, get the hang of a good roast chicken and then try them both. Let us know what you find out!

Bad Bugs

No matter what you pay for your chicken, you can pay a lot less for cardboard, though the nutritional content won't be terribly good. But a lot of chicken tastes like cardboard. Why? Because it is way overcooked. Why? Because the FDA told you to. There are various problems, but the one you hear the most about is Salmonella.  It IS dangerous. Cooking your chicken to 165 degrees in the white meat kills 99+% of the salmonella. And pretty much turns your chicken into cardboard. Generally your chicken producer is going to tell you to follow the FDA's instructions.  That may get them off the hook legally. Of course many chicken producers could do a much better job in preventing salmonella contamination in the first place. It seems that relying on the FDA temperature guidelines is the cheap way out. Consider telling your chicken producer to do a better job and buying chicken from producers that listen.

Can you ignore the FDA guidelines? Sure the chicken police aren't in your kitchen.. But if you do you are on your own. LEGAL DISCLAIMER:  For safety, follow FDA guidelines. We are going to explain how they work, but if you decide to ignore what the government says, you take full responsibility for your actions.

One way to reduce the risk of salmonella is to purchase chickens from producers that have a better track record in keeping it out of the production cycle. We have not made an exhaustive attempt to find out who does the best job. We do know that Foster Farms has had problems.

Time vs. Temperature

After that you want to make sure that you have effectively eliminated the salmonella.  The thing is, it is more complicated than just what temperature you cook the chicken.  You will get a far more detailed explanation at the wonderful Serious Eats website, here.  For the truly scientifically inclined, you'll find extremely detailed USDA time/temperature charts here. FDA ChartIn short, cooking white meat to 165 pretty much kills salmonella instantly.  Cooking to 160 degrees and holding at least that temperature, kills it in 15 seconds. The FDA guideline seemingly assumes that nobody understands how it really works, so tells you the temperature where you don't have to think about it. Here's the deal, cooking the white meat to 140 degrees is going to get you really moist chicken and to many people's tastes, just right. BUT, you have to hold it at that temperature for almost one-half hour. Something else is going on, though. When you take a roast chicken out of the oven and leave it alone (don't cover it  with tin foil unless you don't mind softening that crispy skin you are working towards), the internal temperature is going to keep rising. This is called 'resting' and you almost always want to do that with chicken and meat. Cutting into the product before it is rested releases all  those juices you want to stay in the bird. As the temperature rises during resting the amount of time it has to be held at temperature to eliminate salmonella goes down.

The picture below shows a chicken that was taken out of the oven when it was exactly 140 degrees at the thickest part of the breast. Fifteen minutes later it had risen to 156 degrees. The chart above shows the time/temp safety figures for dark meat (12% fat), 43 seconds at 156 degees supposedly gets rid of 99% of the salmonella. Actually for white meat it is 37 seconds.  

Heat Rise

Interesting note:  This is something we are still working with.  The chicken we made just before this one was 5 1/2 pounds and was removed from the oven at 140 degrees in the thickest part of the breast.  We didn't track the heat rise, but we thought it was one of the best cooked chickens we've done. The chicken above was made 3 weeks later and was taken out of the oven, as we said, at 140 degrees. Twenty minutes later when we ate it we thought it was slightly more cooked than we prefer (warning: most people would probably find it to be just fine since it was by no means overcooked). What was the difference? The chicken above is a Mary's. The one before it was Foster Farms. At this point all we can think of is that the Mary's is more dense as it has no added water. We'll have to experiment and conceivably take a Mary's of that size (which is pretty big, actually) out at some temperature below 140, track it to make sure the heat rise is enough to kill the salmonella and see if it is more to our liking. We're very picky about our chicken.  We've only had this particular probe thermometer for about 1 1/2 years and still playing with it. Bottom line: Following these instructions will likely get you a moist tender chicken and not one that tastes like cardboard. But you'll have to see how you like your chicken (and make sure it is safe to eat).

What Temp?

The basis of our roast chicken recipe comes from Glorious French Food by James Peterson Originally published at $45, as we write this, Amazon's got it for $16.95. We really like the book and that's a good price). Mr. Peterson gives you the legal disclaimers about the FDA guidelines and then says he cooks his chicken to 140 degrees (see further below about how you figure that out).  Serious Eats has all kinds of other ways of dealing with getting chicken to the right temperature.  Check it out, but we're telling you how we do it.

Mr. Peterson's recipe takes a high heat approach. He cooks the chicken in a 450 degree oven. Michael Ruhlman in Ruhlman's Twenty agrees, saying that this gets the dark meat cooked quickly before the white meat dries out. And gets you a crispy skin. What ALSO gets you crispy skin is to rub it with Baking Powder! This raises the pH which helps the proteins to break down facilitating crispiness. See more about it here. Depending on the size of the chicken, it is going to be cooked in about an hour or less.

Thermometers

All this talk about temperature! You can cook a chicken 'until the juices run clear', but that means you have to make a lot of guesses about when to start figuring that out and even then it is iffy and really doesn't tell you when and if you are headed to cardboard chicken.. There is a better way and we truly encourage you to do it. Like with just about anything, using the right tools is the way to go and in this case you need an instant read thermometer. Better yet, you need an instant read 'probe thermometer' where you can constantly monitor the chicken's temperature while it is cooking. We've thrown a lot of money at thermometers over the years, but recently found out about the devices from Thermoworks in Utah. Working with their units for about a year now, we love them.

Thermoworks Smoke

Don't have long enough experience on how long they last, but so far we're really happy. We bought the MK4 instant read thermometer (they have one a little cheaper, but this is easier to read). They have a Chef's Alarm probe thermometer, but what is really the thing to do is also get the SMOKE. You won't regret it (and no we haven't gotten anything from these guys). We like to be in the living room while the chicken is cooking and we could never hear our old probe alarm go off, hence overcooked chicken. The smoke is for outdoor BBQ people who don't want to stay near the grill.  It has a remote receiver that tells you the temperature (with alarm), up to 300 feet line of sight.  Works great from our kitchen to our living room. But there's is something even better about it.  The thing handles TWO probes (included). This way you can monitor the temperature of your oven AND the temperature of your chicken. We didn't know how far off our oven was! And it tells you both when you're not even close to the kitchen. NOTE: If you are interested, buy them from their website, not Amazon. The one's on Amazon are from third party sellers, won't be warrantied and actually cost more! Check out the warning at the top of their home page.

Seasoning, and yes we mean salt

Dry Brining. Wait! Isn't brining where you put salt in water and drop the food in and let it sit?  Yes. The term we probably should be using is 'salting'. On the cooking shows you get dinged for not 'seasoning the dish' enough. They mean salting.  Guess they are just avoiding the health issues of too much sodium. Salt is an important ingredient. It may be a health issue for you, in which case follow your doctor's advice. Meanwhile, salting helps the flavor of food and in the case of  'dry brining' can also make your chicken juicier. We used to brine things like turkeys but found that our gravy was too salty. Now we dry brine.  (We might still brine chicken parts, but that's another set of recipes.) We first ran across it in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. The day before cooking, you salt the chicken, instructions below. We 'salt aggressively'. Most of the time we use Morton's Kosher Salt. Using different sorts of salt can make a difference.  Kosher salt, besides not having any iodine, comes as crystals. The volume of these crystals changes depending on the producer, so, for example, a tsp of Morton's Kosher Salt has a different amount of salt in a tsp of Diamond Crystal. And basically a teaspoon of ordinary table salt is going to have more salt than kosher salt.  It makes a difference.

Room Temperature?

A lot of recipes tell you to bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking. Bon Appetit says taking it out 30 to 45 minutes before cooking will 'do the trick'. Not sure what they mean, but we know that the chicken in our fridge is usually around 35 degrees. It would take a lot longer than 45 minutes to come to 'room temperature' (whatever that means). And then we do start to worry about food safety when leaving out a chicken for too long. There still is that food safety danger zone to think about. Generally they say don't leave food out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or more). Does cooking solve the problem?  Haven't found an authoritative answer (help us out if  you know). Thomas Keller, chef/owner of renowned wine country restaurant, The French Laundry says in Ad Hoc at Home to leave the chicken out for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Here's our feeling. We think it makes a difference. The chicken that you see in the pictures with this article was really big (5 1/2 pounds) and was taken out 45 minutes before cooking. We keep experimenting with that one. The latest one (last night as we write this) was probably about 5 pounds. We took it out 70 minutes before it went into the oven. Also spread the legs apart with a knife on the theory more air would get in the cavity.  As it turns out this chicken was perfectly cooked.  Of course the kitchen was hot, did it warm up faster?  Experiment!

Big Bird

How big a chicken?  A lot of recipes tell you to look for small chickens. They don't seem to exist outside of farmer's market at very high prices. Around here, some of the Foster Farm chicken sales are usually on the larger side, sometimes up to 5 1/4 pounds. We like the larger birds because we get a lot of leftovers and we have several great recipes for them.  But that's for another day.

At last.........

OUR 'PERFECT' ROAST CHICKEN


The day before you want to make your bird, take the bird and pat it all over with paper towels until it is as dry as you can make it. What we do it put some paper towels in our large 14" non stick frying pan and put the chicken in there (it is the right size and easy to clean). The extra paper towels help to absorb more water as  you  are drying it off.

Pat chicken

In a spice grinder, coffee grinder reserved only for spices or a mortar and pestle, grind up the rosemary and pepper. The amount of rosemary is really to taste, we probably use about 2 TB for our 5 lb bird, but that might be too much for your tastes. Also remember that if you only have dried spices, use 1/3 as much. Add salt (and poultry seasoning if using)  to the rosemary mixture and place in a small open container that you can reach into (the idea is to have it all there ready to use since your hand will be touching the raw chicken).

Take a wooden spoon and carefully ease it under the skin of the breast. The non spoon side is good to start with since it can also help you break the 'seam' holding the skin down across the top middle. Once you have done that, use the spoon side to carefully put the skin up all over the breast. Watch out, it can tear. That isn't going to destroy your chicken, but try to avoid it. Reach down with your fingers to the legs and gently lift the skin away from them as well as  you can.


First take enough baking powder to rub all over the outside of the chicken (top, bottom, sides, wings, legs, etc.). You don't need a lot. Next, using the rosemary, salt and pepper mixture, carefully rub some of  it under the skin of the breast and as far down onto the legs and around them as well as you can. Then rub the spice mixture all over the outside of the chicken.  Do you have enough?  Always make more than you need, but it is also a question of how much you like the herb(s). Sometimes we are in the mood for lots of rosemary, sometimes not as much.  Or just use salt and pepper. Or try thyme!  The herb flavors will also change how you pair the dish with wine. Place the bird in a container and put in the fridge. Check out the picture. Notice that there is a lot of space around the chicken. You don't want to cover it and try and keep as much of the bird away from the sides of the container.  This will help dry out the chicken which makes for crispier skin. If you have giblets, just toss them in the container.

In the Fridge

The next day take the chicken out of the fridge early (if you are doing that, see the introductory notes above).This bird came out an hour before cooking time.  If you have it use a cast iron frying pan that is a little larger than the bird. Spray the pan with cooking oil or just use a little oil and spread it around. Line the bottom with the onion slices. Toss the carrots and celery on top of the onions. Put the bird on top of that. Truss the chicken so that the legs are tied together. (There are plenty of websites that talk about trussing chickens and the fact is we just often ignore them and just tie the legs together. We missed taking a picture, but you can see the string in the finished chicken in one of the pictures below.)

By the way, we often cut up the onions, carrots and celery earlier in the day and stash them in the fridge. That way when the time to cook comes along, all you are going to do is stick the bird in the pan (trussing it) on top of the pre cut veggies. Takes no time.

Raw Veggies

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. It is good to have your oven calibrated (and/or use the SMOKE we talked about).

If you've got one, put your probe thermometer in the deepest part of the the breast not touching the bone. If you don't have a probe thermometer, get one! You won't regret it. Take some aluminum foil the size of the breast (we usually fold it over so it is a double thickness), lightly butter it and stick it over the breast (the butter is the glue). Put the chicken in the cast iron pan in the oven. If there are giblets, by all means put them in the pan as well. Not required, but at this point we also set a kitchen timer for 50 minutes. So far we've never had a chicken cook in less time, but you never know, so use your judgment on the amount  of time.  On average our 4 1/2 lb chickens have cooked in a properly heated oven in about 50 minutes, the 5 1/2 pounder took about an hour.

After 20 minutes take the aluminum foil off of the breast. We do that with tongs as fast as we can since opening the oven really does release a lot of heat.

This is where you really do want both the MK4 and the probe alarm.  At about the 50 minute point you could quickly take out the chicken (carefully, the frying pan handle is hot and sometimes we forget and grab it. Don't!). Tilt it and see if the 'juices run clear'. If they are still red, put the chicken back. Wait a few minutes and repeat until they do run clear. Better, using your probe alarm wait till it hits 140 degrees and take out the chicken (but do read the stuff about food safety above). Then, using your hand held instant read thermometer (the MK4 is what we use), test  several places around the deepest part of the breast. Make sure you don't have any cold spots. They should all be at least 140. If they aren't put it back in for a few minutes and repeat till it is done. Take the pan out of the oven.

We didn't mention that while the chicken is cooking we aren't in the kitchen. In years gone by we did have a variety of probe alarms, but often we wouldn't hear them go off.  Overcooked chicken! Sure we could hang around the kitchen... Our current alarm lets us monitor the temperature of the bird and the oven itself (which we jump up to adjust from time to time). When the bird hits the right temp, we definitely know it.

Take the chicken out of the frying pan and place it elsewhere.  We like to use our trusty non stick frying pan we mentioned above.

Transfer to Non Stick

Using a spatula take the vegetables out of the cast iron frying pan and put them on a plate. If there is any chicken fat in the pan you can carefully try to pour it out (remember that pan and handle is HOT), or if  you don't care, just leave it there. It is possible the onions may almost be burnt. We like them really caramelized so it doesn't bother us. If you find that happening, next time cut the onions and, if needed, the other vegetables thicker. Place your frying pan on the stove (if that wasn't where it landed in the first place) and turn on the heat relatively high.. Pour in some water and using a spatula scrape up all the brown bits. That stuff is called 'fond' and is due to the Maillard Reaction (read all about it here). You are going to use the fond and that liquid in your gravy. There's tons of flavor there! If you've already started your gravy (see recipe below), pour it all into the gravy pot, otherwise, pour it into another container. Return the vegetables to the frying pan. If the vegetables are not cooked through (we like them to have started getting brown at least), add a little oil to the pan and cook them to your liking.  By this time some juices will probably have come out of your chicken and when you pick the chicken up more will pour out of the cavity as well. We collect all those juices and put them into the gravy pot. We put the chicken back on top of the vegetables in the frying pan.



Let the chicken rest uncut and uncovered for 20 minutes. If you are scientifically inclined and are using a probe thermometer and it hasn't gotten pulled out, you can watch the temperature as it continues to rise. That is nice to watch as it tells you a lot about the time and temperature safety situation. The chicken will not get cold. Take a look at our picture below taken immediately after the chicken was cut down the middle with a cleaver. You can see the steam rising off of it. This was at least 20 minutes later.

During the 20 minute wait here's what we do: Finish the gravy. Saute sugar snaps or snow peas. Make mashed potatoes. More on that below.

After the 20 minutes, if there are just two of you and you want to impress yourselves, chop the chicken down the middle, then place each half onto a hot plate. Pile on the vegetables from the frying pan (reheated if necessary), the peas and the mashed potatoes. Douse with gravy..

HOT PLATES. This is one of the most important hints you can use for almost all hot preparations. There's nothing worse than pasta on a  cold plate. It sucks the heat right out of it.  Same for almost everything, say, the mashed potatoes here.  Our plates are pottery which we got from Pine Mills Pottery in Texas (never were there but they worked with us over the 'net to produce exactly what we wanted.). We had looked forever for the wood fired rustic glaze that we like. They will stand up to the heat of the oven (so long as you don't put them in cold-they might crack from the quick heat differential!). We'll heat them to several hundred degrees, give or take, for 15 minutes, give or take, and put the food on top. Just remember you have to be really careful after that as they are hot! (And only use plates approved for high eat in the oven; don't blame us if you put plastic plates in there.) This will make an enormous difference in the enjoyment of your food. The food you slaved over will stay hotter, longer, and taste better.

Cut Chicken with Cleaver

That's it!  Was that so hard?  Way too many words but when you do it you find out it really isn't all that much work at all. We think we heard celebrity chef Ina Garten say if there are any two things you must master it is a cup of coffee and a roast chicken. Can't vouch for the coffee, but a great roast chicken is just that.

Done!

Look, cooking is always somewhat of an art and things don't always go as planned. Relax. Try it again. We were amazed that the chicken shown in these pictures actually was a time when absolutely everything worked perfectly. Some time earlier we cut up the vegetables. At 6pm we turned on the oven to pre-heat and took the chicken out of the fridge to warm up. At 7pm we put the vegetables in the frying pan, quickly trussed the chicken and put it on top of the vegetables.  Stuck a probe thermometer in the right place and stuck it in the oven. We started making the gravy and left it in the pot.  20 minutes after the chicken went in the oven we quickly took the foil off the breast. For the next 35 minutes we relaxed elsewhere. Then the probe thermometer announced 140 degrees. Pulled the chicken out. Quickly peeled and cut up the potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker which had to get up to steam. During the next few minutes prepared the peas, finished the chicken vegetables and finished the gravy. About 3 minutes before the nominal end of the 20 minute resting period the mashed potatoes had been 'at steam' for 8 minutes.  Took them out and stuck them in the stand mixer with the rest of the flavorings and mashed 'em up. cut the chicken down the middle and put them on the places you see above.  Exactly 20 minutes after the chicken came out (leaving a few seconds to take that picture) we were eating. The chicken was perfectly cooked. We marveled that it could be so good when we were actually going to show it off. In the end there was lots of chicken leftover. What we did with that is another recipe.

Tried it? Let us know how it worked out! Something not clear? Ask.

WINE PAIRING 


Nalle Winery
Nalle Winery Squirrels

Roast chicken goes wonderfully with several different types of wine. Pinot Noir and sparkling wines can be great choices. Where you have to be careful in the pairing is in the use of  the herbs. Rosemary is tricky. If you use too much it may not pair as well. Since wines change year by year you'll want to experiment. If you eat as much roast chicken as we do, we suggest trying the rosemary first, perhaps with an older pinot. If you don't think it a good match, try doing a chicken with just salt and pepper and the same. You might not have thought that Champagne (or similar sparkling wine) would be the right choice, but it really is good. We are partial to the yeastier versions with our roast chicken.
Nalle Sparkling
The reason this page exists is because we have been purchasing Nalle Wine for a very long wine. Used to say Doug Nalle's winery in Sonoma, California, was the smallest we'd ever seen because it was just him. (The next smallest winery we spend time with is a family in Paso Robles.) Now his son Andrew has taken over as winemaker (Doug's still around). Andrew and his wife April have two very small children and when we were at the winery last we were talking cooking. We've always shared our recipes and have sent some to Andrew in the past. April was interested and we sent her some of our favorites. She loved the style of the writing and thought we should do a food blog. We didn't see much use in just another blog, but when she asked if we could give her some recipes to send to the people on her winery mailing list, we gave in and said we'd do it if we could make it more informational and maybe put it up on the web just so we could show a lot of pictures that go along we the cooking. This is the result.

There is a lot of good wine in the world, but we honestly believe that Nalle Winery is some of the best. We've put down lots of our own money on it.

Nalle's Pinot Noir and sparkling wine can be a good match, though you still have to look out for the herb pairing. Rosemary is touchy. Try thyme or salt and pepper. They also produce a very nice sparkling wine which should be tried. In the past they have also produced a Chardonnay which would be a wonderful choice. Pull out a bottle if you've got one. Some of the time what we like with roast chicken is a rather yeasty Champagne. 

GRAVY

We don't think that you can have a roast chicken dinner without a good chicken gravy. So of course, you obviously need some soy sauce!  For just about forever we have been taught that there are 4 senses of taste: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness. Then, in 1908, it was proposed that umami is a fifth sense. It has been described as brothy or meaty. Adding something that contributes umami alters what we perceive and can really make a big impact. Some of the things that can add umami are anchovies, tomatoes, mushrooms and soy sauce. (TIP: When we buy fresh shiitake mushrooms, instead of throwing away the stems, we set them out to dry, then grind them up and keep them in a jar. When we make pizza sauce we add a little of the powder, along with a Parmesan Cheese rind (never throw them out--more umami and flavor!) and you've got two great umami additions. TIP2. Get a bottle of nam pla. Put a few drops of it in just about everything to heighten flavors. What's nam pla? Also known as fish sauce it is essentially fermented anchovies and salt. Look for one that is just anchovies, salt and water.  Found one once that didn't list water. It cost 5 times as much.)

Soy Sauce adds umami, flavor and color to your gravy. It is hard to say how much to use because we don't know how much pan juice you've ended up with. Judge by taste and color.  You don't want it to taste like soy sauce, but before that is reached it will make the gravy taste really much better!  In fact we've used Black Soy Sauce (available at Chinese markets at least) which can enhance the color more quickly because it is a a lot darker.  It might also add a touch of sweetness depending on the Soy Sauce, so be careful. Definitely worth trying!

Like we said, we don't know how much pan juice you've got, so the amount of ingredients is completely to taste.

Our Gravy
Done!

The classic way to start a gravy is to make a roux, a combination of fat and flour, in a saucepan.. This helps to prevent a lumpy gravy. You can use oil, butter, or the chicken fat from the frying pan.  If you are trying to reduce (slightly) the calories you can try just mixing flour with the liquid and see if you get it to dissolve. We've had luck with using 00 flour that we have around for making pizzas. It is more finely milled. If you are going this route and lumps are still a problem, try using a stick blender, a useful tool to have around anyhow.

We usually have homemade chicken stock that has been reduced to be thick and stored as cubes in the freezer. If you don't have that, we've also used the Trader Joe's Savory Broth Chicken Flavor (they come in a small box as a gooey liquid in packets). Mix with flour like a roux and go from there. Typically we do that when the chicken goes into the oven. We add enough liquid to get the gravy started. At this point we add the soy sauce, a few drops of white wine vinegar, some poultry seasoning, to taste, pepper, to taste, dash of garlic powder.  Usually leave it kind of thick since we like thick gravy. When the chicken is done, add the juices (see main recipe) to the saucepan. Chop up some of the gizzards and add. If you like liver use a lot of it. If you don't like liver, try using just a little bit.  It adds flavor but you don't know it is there.  Adjust seasonings (particularly the salt).  If you want more gravy and you think the flavor is there to support it, try mixing some flour and water into a slurry and add it to the saucepan along with more water.

What's the vinegar for? adding a little acid to a dish can brighten the flavors. Try it if something taste lilke 'it needs something'. Try it in this gravy.  Taste it before and after the vinegar. Be careful. You don't want so much that you really start to taste the vinegar. Don't over do it. Lemon juice is another source of acid that you should try out in your cooking.  

As you can see this isn't a precise thing. And don't leave out the soy sauce!

Done!

STOCK

If you have leftovers and are planning on pulling the meat off the bone, don't throw away the bones! (We also know people who keep the gnawed on bones as well and also reuse them. Given they're going to be cooked a long time we suspect there aren't any germs, but we aren't encouraging the practice.) Take all the scraps with whatever little left over meat, including left over gizzards, neck and the like and put them in a pot. Toss in an onion, a carrot and some celery and whatever you like (we sometimes might include some parsley if it is in the garden). We might also add a bay leaf and perhaps 1 TB of tomato paste (more umami). Add a lot of water.  Bring to a boil, then set to simmer. Cook a long time. (OK, maybe 3 hours or so, till it is 'done'.)  Strain the liquid and discard the bones (though often there is some meat on them you can snack on). Keep boiling it down until it is a thick syrup (watch out, don't burn it). We put that in Pyrex glass tray (use whatever works for you) and freeze it. Take it out, thaw slightly so that you can cut the gel into cubes, then store the cubes in a bag.  This makes great extra stock for your next roast chicken gravy. As you can see, it is also free of added sodium. There is going to be some from the dry brining, but odds are if you want the stock to taste like anything it is eventually going to need some salt.  

Equipment tip: Get a pressure cooker. There are a lot of wonderful uses for them (check out the mashed potato recipe, and we've got our 'killer' split pea soup recipe...). Follow the steps above but put the ingredients in the pressure cooker and cook at high heat for an hour. Release pressure then follow on making the syrup.  By the way, we find it works better to transfer the liquid to a non-stick pot for the final reduction.  Makes it easier to get it out. An hour is a long time. We do it, but check the manufacturer's suggested times. Really good pressure cookers will lose less water during the process.

We usually freeze the bones until we have two chicken's worth. We do a roast chicken every 2 to 3 weeks. There's probably 8 to 12 cups of liquid that gets cooked down.  If you want to get rid of all the fat, do what we do. Put liquid in the freezer. When frozen you can scrape the fat off, then complete the process of boiling down to a syrup. The pictures below show the process.

Frozen Gold:


MASHED POTATOES

A great roast chicken really calls out for mashed potatoes smothered in good gravy. For years we'd try to figure out when to start cooking the potatoes (by the boiling method).  We'd want them done exactly 5 minutes before we want to eat the chicken.  Since you can't really know how long any individual chicken might take, this became a losing game of guesswork. Then inspiration hit. Why not use a pressure cooker? Since the chicken needs to rest for 20 minutes anyhow, this is perfect.  In our pressure cooker, it takes 8 minutes. Plenty of time to get them done and out and mashed up.

Once again ingredient amounts are up to you.  Here's what we use for 2 people (there's always leftovers).
Put the sliced potatoes in the steaming rack of the pressure cooker. Bring to high heat and cook 8 minutes. You can use the quick release to get at them quicker. Of course if you aren't using a pressure cooker, cook them however you like.  Boiling is fine.  You probably could even try a microwave. Mash them. Of course you can use a potato masher right in the cooking vessel. We put all the ingredients in our stand mixer with a whip attachment.

You want decadent mashed potatoes? Use a lot of cream and butter. We just use a small amount, maybe 1/2 TB butter, 1 TB half and half. The horseradish and the mustard give added flavor with a lot less calories.  We use about 1 TB mustard and a few TB horseradish.  But it is all to taste.

Mash, whip or whatever (hmmm...). Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on those HOT PLATES we talked about above.


Here's a .pdf summary of the chicken recipe you can print.
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