Archive for roast

Roast Chicken with Bread Stuffing

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

I’ve already covered cooking large cuts of meat, like roast beef and pork, in an earlier post on this blog.  And now that the weather’s finally getting cooler, I’m getting back into the roasting mode.  So tonight’s dinner (and the subject of this post) is roast chicken.

As a note before we begin: this method of roasting works for other birds as well — duck, turkey, goose, pheasant, etc. can all be done up in a very similar way — just remember to account for the different size (a big turkey takes a long time to cook!) and fat content (ducks, for example, are very fatty birds, and the skin must be pricked all over with a knife to allow that fat to drain out during cooking).

The Stuffing

My mom taught me to make this stuffing years ago, when I was still in high school.  She always uses celery and onion as the vegetables, and it’s a good combination.  I like to mix it up a little, largely because I’m not a huge fan of celery for its own sake and I rarely buy the stuff.  In tonight’s stuffing I used rapini (also known as Chinese broccoli or broccoletti) instead, and I’ve also had success in the past using carrots, corn, green beans, kale, bok choy, red peppers, and combinations of the above.  Use whatever veggies appeal to you.  You can also throw in a handful of cooked bacon or sausage, if you’d like to make things extra meaty.

To begin with, chop a small onion and a handful of veggies into approximately 1cm pieces.  You’ll want between 1 and 2 cups of veggies in total, depending on the size of your bird (although you can make an extra large batch of stuffing and bake some of it in a separate pan, if you’ve got stuffing-lovers to please).  Put the veggies into a large saucepan or a medium-sized pot along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, on medium heat.  You want the veggies to soften, not brown too much.  If you’re using denser vegetables like carrots, you might want to boil them for a few minutes before putting them into the stuffing, just to make sure they get nice and soft.

While the veggies are cooking, add your herbs and spices.  Salt, pepper, sage, and oregano are pretty much essential, in my books, for getting that proper “stuffing flavour”.  Most herbs will taste good in stuffing, and you can add whatever your favourite flavours are:  rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, cloves, and garlic are all good choices.  Spice liberally; the bread and milk you’re going to add next will dilute the flavours significantly.

Once the veggies are nice and soft, remove them from the heat.  Now it’s time for the bread.  You’ll want at least as much bread as you have veggies, or as much as two times as much bread.  Use whatever type you have on hand; the flavour won’t much affect the final outcome of the stuffing.  Slightly stale bread or crust pieces are best, as they hold their shape a little bit better and make for a chunkier stuffing.  Tear or cut the bread into small pieces (about 2cm across), and mix these in with the veggies.  The bread will soak up the butter and spices pretty quickly.  Add milk or cream to the mix until the bread just begins to fall apart.  Finally, add one beaten egg to help glue everything together.  And now your stuffing’s ready to go into the bird!

Preparing the Bird

The first step in preparing your bird is selecting a nice one from the store.  Look for air-chilled, NOT water-chilled meat (in many parts of the world water-chilled meat doesn’t meet health code regulations, and there are good reasons for this — frankly, it’s just a bad practice).  Free range is good if you can get it, since these birds will have less fat and higher-quality meat.

Many people advise rinsing your chicken before cooking, but I’ve never liked doing it.  It significantly increases the risk of transferring salmonella or e-coli bacteria to your kitchen surfaces, increases the amount of time that you need to spend handling the raw chicken, and really shouldn’t be necessary unless you managed to drop your chicken in the dirt at some point.  Any bacteria on the chicken will be killed by thorough cooking.

Get all of your ingredients and tools prepared before you pull out the chicken, so that you won’t have to open cupboards or the fridge with dirty raw-chicken hands.  Get the roast pan out, turn the oven on, have a spoon ready to help with the stuffing, and have the twine out for binding up your stuffed bird.

Check inside the cavity of your bird to see if there are any organs in there.  Sometimes the kidneys, liver, heart, and/or neck may be tucked inside the cavity.  You can cook these up and serve them, if you like (I’m not a fan of organ meats, but some people do like them), or just set them aside to be used in making chicken stock later.

Once the cavity is empty, use a spoon or your hands to put as much stuffing inside your bird as possible.  Squish it down to remove air bubbles.  Once the bird is as full as you can possibly get it, tie the legs together to hold everything in.

***NOTE: if you want to make extra stuffing, I suggest cutting off the wings from your chicken and putting those into the baking pan with the extra stuffing.  This allows some of that “chicken flavour” to get into the separate pan.  You can also add a bit of chicken stock to the extra stuffing, to replicate the extra juices that would come from being cooked inside the bird.

Once your bird is stuffed and trussed, sprinkle the skin with a little bit of salt — this will help it to come out nice and crispy.

Cooking the Bird

It’s best to cook your bird at a medium temperature, to ensure that everything gets heated through without the outside getting blackened.  I generally set the oven to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit — at this temperature, a 5lb chicken will take about an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours.

To ensure a nice, crispy skin and good colour, I like to cover the pan for the first hour and a half or so, until the internal temperature of the bird is about 150 degrees (30 degrees short of finished).  At that point I’ll uncover the pan and turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees.  This last 20-25 minutes of cooking will crisp everything up nicely.

It is absolutely, positively, 100% necessary to use an accurate thermometer to check the doneness of poultry.  The density and packing of your stuffing, the density of the meat, the amount of fat in the bird, and the nature of individual ovens can all cause differences in cooking time, and undercooked chicken can kill you (or at least make for a very unpleasant few days spent getting better acquainted with the toilet).  If you don’t have one, invest in a digital meat thermometer.  Don’t guess, because you don’t want to find this stuff out the hard way.

Carving, Serving, and Leftovers

Carving a chicken (or other bird) isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks.  This is the method I use, although there are other ways out there.  A thoroughly cooked bird should kind of fall apart on its own, and won’t need much help from your knife.

A roast chicken just isn’t complete without gravy.  Combine some of the drippings from your chicken with a roux made from flour or cornstarch and water (or milk, or chicken stock, if you want some extra chickeny-flavour).  I usually add a dash of Worchestershire sauce or soy sauce to deepen the colour of the gravy a bit, since I find the yellowish colour of chicken drippings to be slightly unappetizing.

Pack up leftovers right away and refrigerate them to prevent spoilage.  I like to slice any leftover breast meat up for sandwiches, while dark meat gets chopped into small pieces to go into chicken salad or soup.

Once you’ve served up or packaged and refrigerated all of the meat from your chicken, you can make chicken stock from the bones.  I generally just throw the carcass into my small crock pot with 5 to 6 cups of water, a clove or two of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, and a sprig of rosemary.  Turn it on low and leave it overnight.  In the morning you can pour it through a strainer, and you’ve got homemade chicken stock, all ready to turn into soup or other deliciousness.

And that’s all there is to it!  Almost as easy as roast beef, and a nice inexpensive meal that will feed several hungry mouths.

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How to Cook a Roast (trust me, it’s really easy)

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , on February 3, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

It always leaves me feeling shocked and ever so slightly sad when an otherwise competent, relatively intelligent person reveals to me that they have never cooked a roast in their life.  The sadness factor deepens if this person then reveals that the reason for not cooking roast is not vegetarianism, or that they have someone else to cook for them (I’m very jealous of those of you who have personal chefs, by the way), but rather because they just don’t know how.

Humanity has reached a sad, sad state when ordinary people simply don’t know how to cook a big chunk of delicious meat.  So in the interest of preserving what vestiges of instinct and survival may remain within the species, here’s some very simple instructions that even the most average of people should be able to follow.

My roast of choice this time around was a pork roast — but these instructions are virtually identical for beef, venison, goat, human, or whatever other large chunk of meat you may have on hand.  All that really changes is the spices, and I encourage you to go as wild as you like with those.  Poultry and fish are separate issues, of course, but I will deal with those in future recipe posts.  I promise, they’re really not difficult either.

The first challenge, of course, is to select your roast.  Try to choose one with a good marbling of fat through the meat:  more fat will provide more flavour.  I like a boneless loin roast best, and that’s what I picked out this time.  Consider, when purchasing, that you’ll get about 2 servings per pound of meat; I bought a 4lb roast because that means 2 servings tonight, and lots of leftovers for later.  Leftover roast can be cooked up into all sorts of deliciousness: meat pies, soups or stews, curry, sandwiches, fried rice, and dozens of other things.  But for now I will stick to the meal at hand.

Once you get your roast home, you may wish to brine or marinade it to tenderize and add flavour.  I like to do this overnight, but even a few hours will give some benefit.  A basic brine mix is as follows:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/8 cup sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

To this you can add other flavours.  In place of water you can substitute juice, beer or wine (I like to use 3 cups water to 1 cup wine or beer).  Add herbs and spices, like bay leaves, garlic, chilis, rosemary, or whatever else your favourite might be.

In this case, I used 3 cups water, 1 cup white wine, 1/8 cup salt, 2tbsp brown sugar, two bay leaves, two garlic cloves, and a sprig of rosemary.  I put it all into a large Ziplock freezer bag and left it in the fridge overnight.

The next big question is how long to cook your roast for.  You want to get the internal temperature on a pork roast to be about 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Beef roasts can get away with being a little more rare — closer to 130 degrees — but with pork there’s the risk of trichinosis if you go much below 150 degrees.  A good rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes per pound at 300 degrees Fahrenheit — at least for smaller roasts.  When you start getting up into the 10lb range, you get to the point where you want to be cooking at lower heat in order to get it evenly cooked all the way through, and then the numbers go a bit wonky.  When in doubt, ask Google:  type in “how long to cook an Xlb pork roast” and I assure you, the answer will be there.

Calculate your time accordingly, so that you’ll know when to start cooking.  Remember that you’ll want the roast to sit for about 10-15 minutes once it comes out of the oven, and remember to keep that in your calculations.  So for my 4lb roast, I’ll want between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes for cooking, plus another 10-15 for resting.  So if I start the cooking an hour and a half before dinner time, I should be in good shape.

Now it’s time for another little trick:  preheat the oven to 500 degrees, instead of the 300 you’ll want to be cooking at.  Letting the oven get really hot, then turning it down as soon as you put the meat in, means that your meat will brown a bit on the outside when it first goes into the oven.  This makes for lots of extra flavour.  Alternatively, you can brown your roast in a large skillet for a couple of minutes per side — but I find that this just creates extra dishes to do later, and a large roast can be hard to fit into a pan, much less manipulate around once you’ve got it browning.

While the oven preheats, chop up a small cooking onion into quarters and throw this into your roasting pan.  You can also add other vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes.  For this roast I just used carrots, because I’m planning green beans and some fresh-baked whole wheat bread as side-dishes, but when I’m not feeling so ambitious I’ll just throw everything into the roasting pan together.  The vegetables in the bottom of the pan will add some flavour to the roast, and they also serve as a trivet or rack, keeping the roast from touching the bottom of the pan (there are wire racks available for this purpose, but I find that they just get in the way).

Take your roast out of the brine and place it on top of your veggies.  Now it’s time to add a spice rub:  for this roast I used salt & pepper, garlic powder, an Italian spice blend (basil, sage, oregano, rosemary & parsley), and some fresh rosemary.  Sprinkle it on liberally, and give it a pat with your hands to stick it in place.

Toss in a couple of bay leaves and garlic cloves, and about 1/2 cup of liquid (water, stock, beer, wine, juice, apple cider vinegar — whatever catches your fancy).  I used white wine for this roast.  Then just put the cover on your roasting pan (if your pan doesn’t have a cover, just use aluminum foil), and toss it in the oven.

Don’t forget to turn the heat down to 300 degrees as soon as you get the roast in there, or it will overcook on the outside without cooking well in the middle!

Now, wait.  Go do something else for a while, and enjoy the delicious smells that will soon be filling your house.

When it gets close to the time when you expect your roast to be done, check it with a meat thermometer.  Meat thermometers are really the only reliable way to know the doneness of a piece of meat, so if you don’t have one I really suggest you go out and get one.  There are nice digital models available in lots of places for around $10-$15:  they’re fast and accurate and VERY useful to have around.  You’ll want the meat to be in the 150-155 degree range when you pull it out of the oven; it will continue to cook a little bit once you’ve taken it out (this is why it needs to sit for 10-15 minutes), and the internal temperature will rise another 5 or 10 degrees in that time.

Keep your roast covered while it is resting, and keep the vegetables in a place where they’ll stay warm (I usually just turn the oven off, open the door a crack, and put the bowl full of vegetables in there).  There should be some drippings in the bottom of the pan, which you can use to make gravy while you’re waiting for the roast to settle up.

Once the roast has sat for a few minutes, it’s ready to be sliced and served.  Use a large, sharp knife for the slicing, and a fork or set of tongs to hold the meat in place.  And there you have it: a delicious roast!

And just like I promised you, it really wasn’t difficult at all.