It will probably be a rare opportunity for me to cook from a recipe that declares me a “numbnut” from the first sentence. And I have to admit, the snarky jaded voice that I can’t get enough of in his memoirs, grated on my ears as I was attempting to make this recipe. I was paranoid about making it from the start, worrying about being called a “helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron” (though I don’t wear an apron), in Bourdain’s voice, which I know all too well from being a fan of his shows. I can’t help it. I’m overly sensitive, as most people who know me can attest to. And I’m impatient. I want my food to turn out well, even if it’s the first time I’m making it.
That said, this is a decent recipe. While his shortcut to trussing was a little convoluted and didn’t include what I was supposed to do with the chicken wings, I loved the idea of putting butter underneath the skin on the breastbone, something I saw Gordon Ramsay do in his Christmas special with a turkey. Rubbing the outside chicken skin with butter after putting the salt and pepper on it, caused the spices to be displaced, so in the future, the butter goes on before the salt and pepper.
I didn’t use his sauce, even after all the work preparing it – the chicken sits on top of onion and giblets, and a bit of white wine, and you make a sauce from that. The fact that the sauce turned out not to my liking was more likely due to the poor quality of wine I used. Reducing a tart wine makes it even tarter – something that shouldn’t surprise me, though I thought I could fix it with some chicken stock. Unfortunately no, and I ended up throwing the whole thing out (but saved the neck bone and another giblet that hadn’t turned into mush for stock).
The timing of this recipe was tricky for me. I was cooking a 7-pound bird instead of the 4 lbs recommended in the recipe. Bourdain’s technique is to start at a lower heat (375 degrees) and then crank up to 450 degrees. He says in the introductory note to this recipe, “Yes, you can sear the skin of the chicken in a pan before roasting. Yes, you can sear the skin, the vacuum-seal the bird, then roast it slowly.” What he does instead is sear the skin in the latter half of cooking time. However, at the end of this cooking/searing time, I realized that my chicken was still not finished cooking – though the juices between the leg and thigh ran clear, when I let the chicken rest on a cutting board, the juices that ran out were red. Not pink, but red. And even though Bourdain insists, “a little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry,” and I myself am not averse to some pinkness, particularly in the thigh, this was red, and I worried about it. So I had to put the chicken back in the oven (which made me sad – I was hungry!), at 375 degrees. I checked on it every 10 minutes – it took about 30-40 minutes longer. My timing might be off. I wasn’t measuring at this point, just checking the thigh muscle’s color. I worried about drying out the breast. I worried about drying out the thigh, which is my favorite part.
Thankfully, after I decided both thighs were the right color, and after I tapped my foot waiting for the 15-minute rest period to end, I started carving, and it was beautiful. The drumstick and thighs were juicy, as was (most surprisingly to me) the breast. I’ve never been an expert at carving chickens, and was working off pictures in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I did a pretty good job, though I forgot to take a picture. I was too hungry.
But before I ate, I threw the carcass into my massive stockpot, peeled a couple of carrots, washed a few celery hearts, peeled an onion, and threw those into the stockpot as well, with a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and water to cover. The stock simmered for about 3 hours last night, and I’ve had it going for 2 ½ hours today. It’s a good thing. It makes the house smell nice, as Bourdain says in his section on stocks, and I can always use a good chicken stock.
In all, I’m happy with the meal (and many meals!) that will come from this chicken I purchased for $7.99. I know it’s not an organic, free-range, kosher chicken. And while I’m satisfied with the end product, this particular recipe made me nervous; it was a little hairy there as I waited for the final result. Bourdain says, “There are many ways to roast a chicken. Put twelve chefs in a room, with the mission of defining once and for all how to best roast a chicken, and you will never get agreement.” Next time I’ll probably try another version, in my never-ending quest to find the simplest, most forgiving way to cook; a way that is inspired not by restaurant cooking, but by family and home.