Oh, my dears, the cooking that has gone on here today!
I decided to put together a lovely, old-fashioned Sunday dinner because I found a chicken in the freezer I didn't know I had. I honestly have no recollection of buying it, but I took it from the freezer yesterday and defrosted it, puzzling my head all the while. Today, I went to the living room, where my husband was cozily watching college basketball and asked him suspiciously, "Did you buy a chicken and not tell me?"
"I did not," he replied, his eyes never leaving the television screen.
"Because if you did, it's okay. I'm going to roast it today."
"And if you ever decide to buy another chicken? And put it in the freezer? It's okay to tell me."
"I'm telling you that I did not buy a chicken."
"Did you buy a bottle of wine, by any chance, while you were shopping?" I asked wistfully. "I could really go for a glass of wine and we don't have any and here it is Sunday, and illegal to buy alcoholic beverages at the grocery..."
"I didn't buy a bottle of wine at the same time I did not buy a chicken, but you are welcome to have one of my beers. And if you'll just step from in front of the TV screen, I'd be very grateful."
Murmuring, I went to the shelf where I keep my grandma's Mastering the Art of French Cooking books and chose Volume I, wherein Julia gives lovely, long detailed instructions on how to roast the perfect chicken. Her directions are perfect for one such as me -- I mean, I -- who occasionally becomes flustered when asked to assemble eight hundred and fifty different dishes, bowls and saucepans (Le Cordon Bleu at Home, I'm looking at YOU, my friend) plus fresh tarragon and a sea bass. I'd have better luck rounding up a baby unicorn and a garden sculpture taken from someone's courtyard in the lost city of Atlantis than finding fresh tarragon and a sea bass in this city, which is why Julia and I are so tight: She doesn't make unreasonable demands either of me, my kitchen or my budget that hurt my feelings.
Julia's roast chicken is very easy to prepare, but it is definitely a venture only for a Sunday afternoon when I have luscious long hours of time stretching out before me which I can spend basting the divil out of a chicken. Ingredients-wise, Julia is very easygoing. But when I tell you she wants you out in that kitchen quickly basting that chicken every ten minutes, I am not joking, chéries. Wear your track shoes and don't bother taking off the oven mitts; just keep them on and learn how to turn the pages of your book with the tip of your pert nose.
The first thing with you do with the chicken is rinse it off, and then deftly salt the....*gulp*...."inner cavity" and rub the skin with butter while the oven is preheating. When it is hot, place the chicken breast up in a nice roasting pan and brown it for fifteen minutes -- if your chicken is about five pounds, which mine was -- brushing it with a mixture of butter and olive/canola oil. At the end of that initial fifteen minutes, turn the chicken on one side, baste, and brown it for five minutes and then repeat the process on the chicken's other side.
I always run into problems at this stage because the chicken -- headless, with salt up its butt -- always looks so....jaunty....resting there on its side, leaning on its elbow as if it's going to wink and ask me who my daddy is, only it has no head. When it comes to meat on the bone, Iamthisclose to being a vegetarian, so seeing my dinner posing in that roasting pan, I always have to squint a little and think about how deeply and truly I hate live chickens, so smelly and pecky and inclined to look at you in that calculating, sideways manner which always makes me nervously imagine that they're wondering what my eyeballs would taste like. That's the only way I can get through it. A glass of wine helps, which is why I wondered if my husband had bought any. The things I'm required to suffer in order to feed my family just beggar description.
The bird has to roast on one side through the entire ninety minutes it is in the oven. I assume this is because you want all those rich basting juices to be sinking down into the meat; if you roasted it breast up, the breast meat would likely be dry and fairly tasteless.
My chicken turned out just like Julia promised. It was juicy and flavorful and I was terribly gratified that my family raved about it. I scuffed the toe of my shoe on the floor and beamed in shy pride.
But I also added 3/4 of a cup of nice sherry to the chicken: 1/2 cup in the roasting pan and 1/4 cup in the little saucepan of butter and oil. I also put four tablespoons of cold butter into that cavity and peppered and paprika'd the skin as well as salting it. I served it with baked potatoes, green beans and homemade whole wheat/oatmeal/sunflower seed bread.
That's how I improved on Julia, but let it be our little secret.
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