Friday, January 18, 2008

Cooking With Craisins

A few weeks ago Frank Bruni, the NYTimes food critic, posted an entry about chicken on his food blog. One of the opening statements of this entry was that you could really tell a the quality of a restaurant by trying it's chicken dishes, sort of like testing a pizza place by ordering the plain cheese pizza. He then went on to describe some of the better places to get chicken in NYC. Chicken is by far the most common source of protein in the American diet (average annual chicken consumption is about 86 lbs/person) and, due to its low fat content, it is really tough to cook correctly. When done right, though, chicken is really really good. In fact, the best meal I've ever had was a roasted chicken with fries that I had in Porto seven years ago. Anyway, after reading Bruni's blog, I had a craving for a good roast chicken.

I dropped by Savenor's when I got home from work to pick up a chicken, and then got that started while trying to figure out what else to make. We ended up going with potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Turns out, the brussels sprouts were the highlight of the meal, with Craisins as the ingredient that really pushed them over the top. Who'd have thought? The final menu was a simple roasted chicken, garlic and thyme fried smashed potatoes, and roasted brussels sprouts with craisins and lardons. Here are the recipes. The execution of these dishes is pretty non-technical and it comes together fairly quickly. Try it. Its really good....probably one of the best meals I've made in quite some time.
Start by roasting the chicken. If you plan way ahead, you can brine the chicken, but you want to do that a full day ahead. One way to time things would be to brine over night and in the morning dry the chicken off with paper towels and let it air dry in the fridge all day. To get good, crispy skin - and that, after all, is the best part of roast chicken - you need it to be nice and dry. If you have a good quality free range chicken, you don't need to brine it. You should probably always go free range anyway. It doesn't cost that much more and there is really no comparison in taste. Before prepping the chicken, preheat the oven to 450F and take some potatoes (preferably smaller ones, like new potatoes), put them in a pot of cold water and place on high heat. Rinse the chicken off quickly and pat it dry with a paper towel. Truss the chicken (tuck the wings back and tie the legs together, as pictured) and generously sprinkle it with kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper. If you have a temperature probe, stick it in the chicken breast and set the alarm to go off when the internal temperature is 150F. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in and get to work on the other dishes. Make sure to turn the fan on, since 450F is well above the smoking point for the chicken fat that will render during cooking.

By the time the pot with the potatoes comes to a boil, they should be nearly done. Test by seeing if a knife slides into them easily. Once done, take them out of the water and let them cool. While the potatoes are cooling, begin prepping the sprouts. You just want to rinse them off, cut them in half lengthwise, and cut off the very ends of the stalks to clean them up. Place in a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then roast them in the oven for about 20-30 minutes.
In the mean time, prep all the other ingredients. For the potatoes, you'll need to chop a few cloves of garlic and mince some thyme. For the sprouts, you'll need craisins and salt pork or pancetta (salt pork is preferable, but probably harder to find). Cut the pork or pancetta into cubes and saute in a large frying pan for about a minute. Add the craisins along with about 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of water. As this cooks down, it will rehydrate the cranberrys and meld all of the flavors. Craisins are really sweet, so this step allows the saltiness of the pork to cut the sweetness from the craisins. Cook this at med-hi until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup. When the sprouts are done roasting, just toss them in the pan with this mixture.

While the craisin mix is boiling down, start heating a heavy skillet and smash the potatoes on a cutting boared with a big pot or pan. As soon as the chicken is done, start frying up the smashed potatoes. The chicken will need about 10 minutes to rest (during this time the internal temp should rise another 10 degress to 160F), and this is about all the time you need to finish the potatoes. Place them in the skillet with a bunch of chopped garlic and thyme and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until they are nice and crispy on each side.

This meal should take a little over an hour to make.

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