This was my latest Rouxbe recipe, as I’ve started a unit on chicken. The recipe is here. For those who don’t feel like clicking through, the short version is that you marinate chicken legs in olive oil, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Then you make a short stock with the backbones from the chicken legs and a bunch of vegetables. When you’re ready to cook, you caramelize the skin side of the chicken in a hot pan, then finish it up in the oven, and then use the sucs (caramelized bits), onion, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, stock, toasted pine nuts, honey, and cilantro to make a pan sauce. (In the original recipe, there’s supposed to be olives, but I don’t really like olives, so I left them out.)
The end result is extremely tasty, but also takes quite a lot of time, especially making the stock.
I did this recipe over two days, making the marinade and stock yesterday and cooking the chicken today. It took about an hour and a half each day, though admittedly about 5-10 minutes of today was spent dealing with an unrelated spill in the refrigerator that got into and under my vegetable drawer. (Sigh.)
There were a lot of firsts in this recipe for me:
1. First time cutting out the backbone of a chicken.
This was actually kind of fun once I got the hang of it. You cut a little along the rib cage (I had to feel with my fingers to figure out where that was), and then POP it backwards to reveal the joint, and then cut through the joint. Because I was turning the bones into stock, I had to cut the backbones into 2″ pieces, which was a bit harrowing as I only have a chef’s knife, not a cleaver. But it worked out, and I still have all my fingers.
2. First time doing a marinade
I picked up some new tupperwares for this (2 liters, long and flat), because all of my previous ones are tall and boxy, which isn’t what you want for a marinade. Surprisingly easy, and WOW did the chicken taste good because of it. Oh, baby, marinade, where have you been my whole life?!
3. First time making a stock
For this recipe, you make a “short stock”, which means you caramelize the chicken backbones for a while, then sweat the vegetables (I used a leek, two carrots, a celery rib, an onion, and three or four garlic cloves), and then deglaze with white wine (I used water). Add a bunch of water, a bouquet garni (I used fresh cilantro, a bay leaf, some peppercorns, and some dried parsley). Gently simmer for an hour, skimming occasionally, then strain. Use immediately or refrigerate.
I admit, this was a pain. It probably took an hour and a half. Sweating the vegetables took a long time to get to the point where they “started to color and soften,” maybe 10 minutes or so. And I had no real idea what I was doing when I was skimming — how do you tell the normal simmering/poaching bubbles from the impurity bubbles? No clue. I just skimmed anything that looked like bubbles. Also, I discovered that using the dried parsley was a mistake; I probably skimmed off all of it.
Straining was also a bit tricky. My “big” strainer isn’t very good and doesn’t latch on to bowls properly, so I wound up putting a colander in a big mixing bowl and straining through that. I’d wanted to line it with cheesecloth (the holes are kind of large), but four separate grocery store clerks had no idea what “cheesecloth” was, even after I’d described it and explained it, so I had to make do without.
Also, I was kind of dismayed that after an hour and a half, all I had to show for it was three cups of liquid. Yes, it was flavorful, but there wasn’t very much of it. I look forward to trying the “easy chicken stock” recipe from Ruhlman’s 20, in which Michael Ruhlman recommends just dumping a cut-up chicken carcass in a pot, covering it with water, and putting it in a very low oven (180-200 F) overnight. Then add whatever other ingredients you’re adding (onion, carrot, bay leaf, etc.) and return to the oven for an hour. That’s my kind of simplicity.
Also, I wasn’t sure what to do with the used-up vegetables and bones. Can you do anything with them, or do you have to throw them out? Anyone know?
4. First time cooking with skin-on chicken
I’m not generally a huge fan of chicken skin (too fatty for me), but I wanted to try it this time. In retrospect, even though I had it skin-side down in the pan for 5-7 minutes, I probably should have gone even longer than that. It was kinda brown, but could have been browner. And there weren’t all that many sucs when I was done.
5. First time finishing something in the oven
Until a few weeks ago, none of my pans were oven-safe, so this was right out. But finishing the chicken in the oven was lots of fun. Hands-off, and then you take it out and have beautiful chicken. (As Jamie Oliver might say.) What’s not to love?
One tip that the Rouxbe lesson gave was to keep a towel around the handle of the pan, as it was extremely hot. Instead, I just stuck an oven mitt over the handle to remind myself, “This is damn hot, you fool!”
6. First time making a pan sauce
Kind of fun, but also a bit of a pain. The recipe called for you to grate the onion and ginger so that it “disappears into the sauce.” I’m not sure it actually did that, and I’d probably be happier just dicing them; it took a lot longer to grate and I’m not sure I’m happy with the results. It was very hard to tell when the onions and ginger were “soft and translucent,” because they were pretty soft and translucent to start off with. They mostly just became grey, instead of the lovely translucent onion color I’m used to.
Also, I left out a few ingredients from the sauce. Olives, as I mentioned, because I don’t really like olives, and saffron, because it’s BLOODY EXPENSIVE. I do have a local store that sells saffron, but it sells it at $35 a gram. Which is insane. So I just left it out, and it was fine. On the other hand, I did splurge and buy pine nuts ($7 for 100 grams), and even toasted a few extra because I knew I’d be munching them. I love pine nuts. I love them so much. I wish they were cheaper.
In the end, the sauce came out very tasty. I was worried for a while, because it was extremely lemony and acidic to start with, but the honey and the butter mellowed it out, I think, and now it’s just mildly sweet and very pleasant. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of it — after taking a few tablespoons for my serving for lunch, I’ve got just about a cup left. Which doesn’t seem like all that much for the work that went into it. (About half an hour just to prepare the sauce.)
In any event, very tasty. Not sure I’d do a pan sauce again, or at least not one as involved as this one, but the marinated chicken was super-moist and tender, and I could definitely see myself using the pan-to-oven technique in the future. Mmm… food.