Sunday, November 3, 2013

Time to Talk About Food

                 Did I tell you that I LOVE to cook?  I get a kick out of quality food in general and there is very little that I won't try at least once.  I have also spent a lot of time poring over cookbooks in a tiny library cubicle with stacks of them all around me.  I am all about learning new techniques and trying different flavors and textures.  To be truthfully honest, I spend quite a bit of my time in the kitchen, stirring and musing.  

                 On a related note, my ma says that for some odd reason, a lot of the "stuff" she’s had for years, especially all the strange cooking utensils and equipment that have been resting in the dark and collecting dust, are the same items that I’m finally using now.  Perhaps it is because they provide me with "free" cooking tools.  That way, I am perpetually learning something new in the kitchen.  Well, that's part of it.  Anyhow, the Romertopf clay pot is one of those freebies.  I love that thing like crazy.  I probably use it every other week and I'm always attempting a new dish.

                 Why is sister talking about a clay pot? Not long ago I made a clay pot chicken that everyone at home practically inhaled.  I love my family.  I also love that they loved my chicken. 

Still experimenting...

About that chicken...

                  I am no culinary expert or chef and, as I wrote earlier, I'm always researching and working/experimenting to learn as much as I possibly can about cooking.  Really, I just like to make food that tastes good and to cook with the body in mind.  However, on occasions when I have been able to accomplish this, folks ask me how I prepare that delicious something.   I try to explain the basic idea behind the dish as if I were speaking to my sister, who, though magnificently talented in many other areas, is a bit challenged in the kitchen.  If she asked me how on earth one would use a clay pot (you never know) and some possible tips on how to make my chicken, this is what I might say:

                It’s a given (hopefully) that we want to nourish our bodies with the best we can find.  I don’t eat a whole lot of meat so when I do, I want it to be good.  No one chicken should sacrifice its life for nothing.  The key is to find the appropriate size/weight and quality chicken (along with the spices and herbs that suit your taste) for your size clay pot.  Also, be sure to have a conventional oven. I won't be offended if you run over to the kitchen to check.

                You should even choose the sides that you want to serve along with the bird.  I sometimes prepare a hodge podge of vegetables separately,  this time I sautéed some green beans with carrots and carmelized shallots.  I spiced the vegetables with sumac, salt and pepper.  Sometimes, now that it is later in the year, I roast roots and squash with ground cumin, cloves, and coriander for a little warmth.  

TIP: A nice enjoyable way to find “side” inspiration is to grow your own vegetables or herbs (so satisfying) or to take an opportunity to get to know your local farmers market.  Peruse the different stands, be inspired by the current season’s colours, textures and flavours.  Or, if there is no farmers market accessible to you, have your vegetables delivered (i.e. Farm Fresh to You), you can also enjoy your local supermarket's produce aisle.  It doesn't matter, just have fun!

Prep/What I've Learned So Far: 

The main thing to do FIRST is to SOAK your entire clay pot.  Both the top and the bottom.  Remember that clay is porous, and all that water becomes steamy moisture that keeps your chicken from turning into sad, rubbery jerky.  I soak my clay pot for no less than 30 minutes (and that’s when I’m rushed, feel me?). 

When you unwrap the chicken, give it a rinse.  Afterwards I like to rub it inside and out with half a lemon or a lime. Or both.  

I would include a picture of a raw chicken receiving a lemon bath know.  So, in its place I thought this photo of David Bowie would suffice.  Here he reminds me not of a a raw chicken but he has a strong resemblance to a Polish hen, super inspiring...

             As for the spices and herbs I like to keep things basic but with a little twist.  As I usually do, I melted some butter.  Then I incorporated some large grain salt (either Kosher or Fleur de Sel) and a blend of spices, like Herbs de Provence (feel free to use a regular poultry seasoning as well), a pinch of chili flakes, a little black pepper.  I also ran out to the garden for some fresh herbs and, in a fit of inspiration, picked a sprig of lavender, plucked off all the flowers and threw them into  the melting butter, just for fun.  Add enough to give the chicken a little kick but still let it do its thing. 

            I packed that chicken in with an apple, a handful of prunes (I usually use some dried apricots too) soaked in white wine or brandy, then some halved green onions and a smal orange.  I poured some of the butter mixture inside and took turns pouring the butter on the outside of the chicken and under the skin, and rubbing some more salt (muy importante friends, more salt on the outside = mo crisp), herbs de Provence, pepper and a dash of marjoram in those same places. 

Final Words

              The last itty bitty thought I’d like to share is that I hate dry chicken breasts.  Even writing that was gross.  More often than not, when I order/buy roasted chicken the breasts are dry enough to make you choke (something that actually happened to my sis at Stow Lake, it was a particularly hot day and she hadn't had enough water to drink.  You can imagine how uncomfortable the poor family sitting nearest our table felt as her body literally rejected that dry chicken).  

               At home we prefer dark meat so I usually flip the chicken and roast it chest side down.  This is definitely a personal preference but I will say that the entire chicken is moist and lovely as it releases its own juices that blend with the “prune” wine.  I also add the gizzards in with the chicken for those that like the neck and liver, etc.  As my brother-in-law says, "You gotta have the flavour."  

Avoid this at all costs
If you've persevered and lovingly respected the sacrifice this chicken made, pop the covered clay pot into a cold oven, set it for 425 F and roast for about an hour and twenty, depending on your oven.  

NOTE: Some might raise the issue of reaching the right internal temperature and all I can say is that I have never used a meat thermometer yet we are all still alive.  I usually roast the chicken until it feels like the time is right to take it out, that's when I take a knife and pierce the leg to see if the juices are clear. I then add about 5-10 minutes, give or take, just to be sure.  Additionally, towards the end you can always bump up the oven temp if you really want a crispy skin situation.  

Be sure to let the clay pot cool before you wash it (NO SOAP, just scalding hot water and a stiff scrub brush).  True, this all takes a little time and love but I always feel that food is not just fuel, it is also sensory and for enjoyment.  In time we may all achieve gastronomic intuition. 

And, in so many words, that is what I would tell my little sis. 

I hope this inspires you to consider using that tool/appliance that you've been neglecting or simply haven't experimented with--you just never know.