Friday, April 15, 2011

5 ingredients + knife = dinner

More in my "How to feed yourself like a grown up in case of zombie attack" series.

I mentioned before that my favorite meal to cook is a really simple roast chicken, roast potatoes, and roast carrots. It's stupid easy. Which is why I'm gonna share it with you.

You will need:

  1. 1 whole roasting chicken
  2. Couple good sized russet potatoes
  3. Carrots. The real grown up sized ones
  4. Cajun seasoning (I'm partial to Tony's, but anything works) IF you don't have/are too cheap to get some cajun seasoning, a heavy dose of salt and pepper works too (That pepper better be fresh ground. Does anyone even have the other stuff anymore? I hope not.)
  5. Oil. Preferably olive but veggie/canola will work too

You will need a pan that your chicken can comfortably sit in (9x13 should work) and a cookie sheet or two with a rim for the carrots and potatoes. You will also need a knife and an oven.

About the chicken: your grocery store should have these on sale. They are almost always on sale. Grab them when they're like $.79 a pound and store a couple in your freezer. Take out the day before if it's frozen to let thaw.

Alright: To cook the chicken, unwrap it in the sink. It will have icky juice everywhere. Reach into the chicken's cavity and remove all the fun bits and throw in the now empty bag that it came in. Rinse the chicken with cold water REALLY well. Make sure you rinse out the cavity. When done rinsing, take a couple paper towels and pat the chicken dry both inside and out. Place your chicken in your pan. (I always cook my chicken breast side up, as the chicken is naturally flat in the pan this way.) Throw the chicken wrapper and paper towels away and wash your hands. Turn your oven on to 375. Pour olive oil on your chicken, not a lot, just enough to coat it, 1/4 cup max. Use your hands to spread it around evenly, coating the whole chicken. Wash your hands again. Take your cajun spice/salt and pepper and shake liberally over the chicken.

Place in oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I don't use a meat thermometer, I just sort of know. The skin will be crispy and delicious looking, the grease and juice that has accumulated in the bottom of the pan will be popping and it'll just LOOK done. If you manage to undercook it, which you'll figure out only after you cut into it, you can finish the pieces in a frying pan to make sure cooked through. Try not to overcook it but short of walking away for four hours, your only real problem will be dryness.

Extra bonus pro tip: you can fill the cavity of the chicken with roughly chopped onion, a few peeled garlic cloves and some lemon slices to make it extra super fragrant. You can do any or all of those in any combination and it'll be great. Got some extra fresh herbs around? That works too.

Once you get the chicken in the oven: the potatoes. Rinse them off, pat them dry, cute into cubes (cut in half lengthwise, cut in half lengthwise again, run knife down to make uniform shapes). Throw on cookie sheet. Coat with good dose of oil, shake cajun seasoning, toss with spatula (or hands). Put in oven. (Your oven has two racks. Put the chicken on the upper one, the potatoes on the lower one.) The potatoes will only take about 45 minutes so you can put them in a bit after the chicken is in. With the potatoes, every fifteen minutes or so, you want to take them out of the oven, use your spatula to loosen them off the cookie sheet, and toss them a bit more to brown them evenly.

You can never have too many potatoes and if you end up with extra, the next day add a tablespoon of olive oil to a frying pan and essentially refry them to go with eggs. Sooooo good. I haven't touched an actual french fry in awhile because I'm eating these (though: trying to avoid potatoes altogether now).

Carrots: Peel them. If you have a vegetable peeler, fantastic, use that. If not: carefully use a small paring knife to take a thin layer off the top. Want to skip peeling carrots? Buy organic, rinse them off, chop them up (I make sticks, cutting the carrot in about 3" long chunks and then in half or quarters, depending on how thick the carrots are), voila. You could probably do the same with regular non-organic carrots, but they're just prettier when peeled.

If you don't have a large kitchen, or lack more than one cookie sheet, or are lazy, do a few less potatoes and put them on half the cookie sheet and carrots on the other half. If you are using another cookie sheet and don't have double ovens, put the carrots next to the potatoes. Place the cookie sheets parallel to each other. Make sense?

The carrots you're just going to coat in olive oil and roast. If you want to get fancy: I do an awesome spice mixture that makes them even more caramely: heavy dose of cinnamon, bit of grated nutmeg, some cumin...I think that's it. Toss that on with the olive oil. You have other spices you like? Throw 'em on. I don't see how this could really go wrong.

Carrots, being hearty root vegetables, take a bit. Toss them every so often like the potatoes but they might take a little longer than the potatoes. You'll want them tender but with a bit of crunch, that's how I prefer them anyway. I know you people in the South like your veggies dead, so if you want to leave them in longer that's cool. I won't judge (too much).

Fun fact: You can roast pretty much anything this way. Olive oil, hot oven, salt and pepper. Cauliflower becomes a whole new veggie when you roast it. Totally delicious. Asparagus too, though you want the oven about 400 and they take like ten minutes, if that.

Alright, so everything is done. Now what? If you're clever, time it so that the chicken is done before the carrots and potatoes. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes. You might want to remove it to a cutting board so it doesn't slide around it's pan in the juices and fat that have cooked off, but again, if lazy/small kitchen, you can cut it in the pan it cooked in. You do need a plate to remove the pieces to though.

Look at your chicken. You're going to cut it into four pieces. First you're going to take off the leg/thigh portion. So see the legs sticking out? Start on one side and follow the inner drumstick down on the inside  to where it's attached to the body of the chicken. Take your knife and root around a little bit. You'll feel a joint. Chop like just behind it. You'll crack the joint, the leg/thigh should pull away from the rest of the chicken fairly easily. Remove to platter. If you end up hacking away and making a mess the first few times you roast a chicken, that's fine. We're not going for fancy presentation points. Do the same with the other thigh.

The breast meat can be divided in two. There is a keel bone that runs down the middle of the chicken. It's soft cartilage dividing the breast. Cut on either side of that bone, straight down as far as you can. Then, come in at a 90 degree angle to cut off the breast meat. Repeat on other side. Ta-da! (There are also wings you can cut off and eat too, but that's snack size. My mom always pulls them off and eats them before dinner.)

Put carrots in a bowl, potatoes in another, grab whatever condiments you like (ketchup or ranch dressing for the potatoes. Or none, they're fine that way too), serve chicken. Look at you! You made a whole meal!

*I'm not trying to hone in on Sarah Sprague's deal. She's far more advanced than me. I just have a basic theory that every man (and yes, woman too) should be able to impress others by perfecting one meal. Pick yours and become really good at it. Use it as a standby. I'm not a trained chef, I just know my way around a kitchen and figure what I know is pretty handy for the novice cook. If you hate knowing how to cook, that's cool, skip these posts, but I figure it's kinda fun to share my really basic knowledge.

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