…and reviews of two bistro cookbooks, Bouchon by Thomas Keller and Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
I wrote this in February 2009 and somehow it slid to the bottom of the drawer. I’ll blame it on getting busy preparing my income tax. In any case, its just as relevant today. Roast chicken does not go out of style, and Bouchon and Les Halles Cookbook are still in print, so you can rush right out and get your own copy (don’t get it from Amazon, they don’t pay California sales tax and owe the state about a bazillion dollars).
I had never roasted a plain, whole chicken before, always left that to Carol. I loved eating roast chicken, either home made by Carol or brought home from a rotisserie shop or the roli roti truck at the Farmers Market. I don’t know, a roast chicken always seemed mysterious to me.
In his book House:A Memior, Michael Ruhlman, co-author of Bouchon, described inaugurating the new kitchen of his new house with a simple roast chicken:
“I turned on the oven. I took a cast iron pan off its hook. I set a fresh chicken in it and salted the bird well.
“There was never a doubt what the first meal n the new kitchen would be. Roast chicken, baked potatoes, green beans with lemon and butter. Roast chicken is to me the iconic meal of the home. Many pleasures attended its cooking; in a way it seasoned the kitchen, the way you’d season a pan. Its smell filled the room, the house. I like to baste a chicken, to hear the crackling juices from the cavity spill into the fat, to spoon hot, clear fat over the darkening skin. A perfectly roasted bird is a beautiful sight.”
I was envious of his ability to simply and effortlessly roast a chicken. I read House in 2004. It took me until now to roast a chicken myself.
Roast Chicken Bouchon
My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken
Mon Poulet Roti, Thomas Keller
I was looking through Bouchon, one of my favorite books about cooking. I think of a cookbook as a book of recipes. Bouchon is so much more than that, it’s about food and cooking, with recipes used as illustration. In any case, I was thinking of writing a review of Bouchon. As I leafed through, I came across a two-page spread entitled My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken, Mon Poulet Roti. Below the title was Thomas Keller’s narrative description of how he roasts a chicken at home. On the facing page was a gorgeous picture of a roast chicken. It looked so good, I just had to give it a try.
Here’s the picture from the book that enticed me to make THAT chicken.
It looked pretty simple: Heat the oven to 450°F. Rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken. Truss it with butcher’s twine. Rain salt and pepper over the bird.
“Place the chicken in a roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone – I don’t baste it, I don’t add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel that creates steam, which I don’t want. Roast it until it’s done, 50 to 60 minutes.”
I had questions. Roast on a rack? Brine the bird? I referred to page 192 to learn how to truss the bird and found the restaurant recipe, answering my questions. Rack: no. Brine: he brines in the restaurant, but not when he does it for enjoyment at home.
I can do this. I got out my chicken and my cast iron skillet.
“Place a heavy 10” ovenproof skillet over high heat. (Heating the skillet will help keep the skin of the bird from sticking to the skillet.) When its hot, add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet and heat until hot. Put the bird breast side up in the skillet, and then into the oven with the legs facing the back of the oven.”
I took out my three-pounder at 55 minutes, 50 minutes would have done. For a sauce, I spooned the fat out of the pan and deglazed the pan with stock and wine, finished with butter. Served with mashed potatoes and broccoli (green beans are not yet in season).
That plate is way overcrowded, primarily because that’s half a chicken on the plate – way too much for one person, at least this person. We each ate a breast and wing. Enuf.
I made Chinese Chicken Noodle Salad with the leftover legs and thighs. And of course I froze the bones and scraps to make chicken stock.
Bouchon is a big, thick, heavy book. It has food porn quality photographs throughout and the book design – from page layout to typography – reflects the excellence of Thomas Keller’s food. It’s the kind of book that rich folks will put in their $100,000 kitchen next to The French Laundry Cookbook and never use.
I use my book. The first thing I did was take off the handsome dust jacket to make it easier to handle. Unlike the FLC, Bouchon features bistro food. The recipes are accessible and produce hearty, substantial dishes.
Roasted Beet Salad “Roasted, just out of the oven with some salt, a beet gives you ten times the pleasure of a baked potato.”
Vegetables a la Grecque
Potato Leek Soup
Salmon tartare 106
Cod Brandade 110
Flatiron (hanger, skirt) steak 207
Skirt steak with caramelized shallots and red wine jus 1.05 “This is fabulous!”
Glazed vegetables – 243
Macaroni Gratin (mac n cheese)… potato gratin, cauliflower gratin.
Basics/building blocks/foundations – onion confit piperade, vinaigrette, aioli, roux, mornay sauce, chicken/veal/beef/vegetable/fish/shellfish stocks, broth or jus
Anthony Bourdain takes a different approach to roast chicken in his Les Halles Cookbook, my other bistro cookbook. His introduction to the dish is pointedly direct:
“Poulet Roti, that’s roast chicken, numbnuts! And if you can’t properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron.”
“Perhaps I’m being a little unfair. Given that 95% of the chickens roasted in this country are clearly the result of insensitive and murderous overcooking… why should I expect you to know how to roast a damn bird?”
“A good-quality chicken, of noble birth and upbringing, respectfully prepared by someone who loves and understands it, is a beautiful thing. Many chefs claim to be able to tell everything about a prospective cook by how he or she roasts a chicken – and I can well believe it.”
“But this recipe works for us at Les Halles. It’s simple, it’s good, it requires minimal technique – and the possibilities of failure are few.”
After washing and drying his chicken, Anthony Bourdain departs from Keller’s simple, dry approach by stuffing herb butter inside the skin on each side of the breast bone and rubbing the outside of the skin with plain, softened butter. Then… “place the giblets and half an onion in the roasting pan. Place the chicken on top of same. Pour 1/2 cup of white wine into the pan and roast [at 375°] for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the fat and butter that collects.”
He then cranks it up to 450° for 25 minutes to finish. While the bird is resting, he discards the giblets and onion and deglazes the pan juices with butter.
Both bistro cookbooks cover similar dishes. Generally, Bourdain’s preparations are simpler than Keller’s – with the notable exception of this roast chicken. When I am longing for a bistro dish; onion soup, hanger steak, mac n cheese – or any gratin – I go to these books. I might cook from one or the other, or make my own recipe from the ideas of both, but these are the real deal on bistro food.
Thomas Keller on beets,
“Roasted, just out of the oven with some salt, a beet gives you ten times the pleasure of a baked potato.”
Anthony Bourdain on stock:
What’s missing in your home cooking? Why doesn’t that dish you painfully recreated from the chef’s recipe taste like it does in the restaurant? What’s wrong with your soups, your sauces, your stews? The answer is almost certainly ‘stock.’ Restaurants make their own stocks.”
Right on! Roast a chicken and liberate your culinary soul. Once you’ve done it right you have every right to argue with anyone — Keller and Bourdin included — about the best way to roast a chicken, a delicious discussion in every respect, especially when combined with a glass or two of divine Chassagne-Montrachet, preferably 11 years old.
Roasting a chicken at 450 degrees never occurred to me. I’ve always done them lower and slower. But that illustration of the finished roaster looked “picture perfect” to me. It’s a good thing I had just finished dinner or I might have drooled all over my keyboard.
I like using my clay pot from the 70’s.
I’ll do the chicken if you do the wine.