Monday, September 24, 2007

Mmmm... meaty, saucy goodness

Today was a nice return to the format I've been so accustomed too. Unfortunately, three members of the class were out today, making for an faster kitchen but also a emptier one. I've been particularly looking forward to saute and roasting day for a while now because I'm quite the adept roaster and would like some techniques to improve my skill and final product.

I like to roast chickens every week and I rarely deviate from my standard fix, but today we were able to make a roast chicken using chef's seasonings and using his cooking method (which were a real surprise to me). After we placed some thyme, garlic and S&P in the cavity, we trussed the chicken (which, no matter what will always illicit giggles from me) and placed it on its' side onto a wire rack which hovered about an inch or two above a sheet pan lined with foil, and threw that into the oven for 40 minutes. After that time was up, we took out the chickens, moved them onto their other side and filled the gap between the wire rack and the sheet pan with mirepoix. Then we roasted for another 40 minutes.

After this, we were supposed to place the bird breast side up and finish it in the oven for 15 more minutes. I say supposed to because my group decided to just take the chickens out and skip the last 15 minutes. We had stuck a thermometer into the thigh and saw a 155F which is about when I'd normally pull a chicken out and let it rest. I think another 15 minutes might have made some beautiful looking skin and whatnot, but I don't think its worth the sacrifice in terms of juicy meat. I think I'll always believe that flavor trumps presentation (of course, I don't work in a restaurant... yet).

Even though we pulled the chickens early, I think they still ended up with a nice crisp brown skin. I normally roast my chickens in a Pyrex with lemons and garlic and cover the whole thing with foil. It partly steams the chicken, I guess, but it leaves me with lots of pan juices (which are wonderful to soak up with some toasted croƻtons) and moist meat all around. Unfortunately, it'll never win awards in terms of crisp skin and presentation, but for a home cook, I don't think it's that important.

Seeing this other method was very interesting to me. I not only got to see how much flavor just a little seasoning could impart, but I also got to dispel a long held belief that traditionally oven-roasted chicken ends up dry. At this point I've only eaten the thigh and leg, but I'm hoping the breast holds up to the same standard as the dark meat.

(P.S. The breast was... ok. Not super juicy but not terribly dry either. I'll definitely try it all again but cook it for less time.)

My chicken in tarragon sauce was just a mess. I never thought I could mess up a dish quite as much as I did. I think there was a lot of confusion because the morning demo didn't match the directions on the recipe and we weren't sure which one to follow. Chef wasn't entirely sure either, but he tried to explain to each of us what needed to be done. At presentation, we all stood around our dishes and took turns telling the class what went wrong (which made me feel a little better about things, at least I wasn't the only one that messed up!).

I can detail exactly what I did wrong at each stage:
1) At prep, my brunoise wasn't small enough or consistent enough and I think I had too much of it overall.
2) During saute, my pan got too hot and while I tried to correct it my removing my pan from the fire, I don't think there was much I could do about what had already been cooked at the high heat. It was later very obvious in the striations in the muscle/meat. I still can't believe that chicken can be cooked at such a seemingly low temperature, but next time I'll know to have some more faith in the process.
3) I removed my chicken breast and drained the fat fine. But after that everything just went into the pan in the wrong order. I added the shallots and wine and started the reduction, which went fine. Then after I added the chicken stock to reduce, I think to reduced the sauce too far and was left with too little in the pan. At that point I started to get flustered and really lost my footing (I should have just taken a breath and re-read the recipe), I added in the veggies before the cream (wrong!) and before the chicken (double wrong!). Then, realizing my mistake I threw in the cream (wrong!), tomatoes (oof...) and chicken (oy vey!) and hoped for the best.
4) I was only supposed to put the chicken in the sauce before the vegetables were added to let it re-warm and get coated by the sauce. At this point in my sauteed chicken debacle, I removed the chicken and plated it, then dumped the chopped herbs into the sauce, swirled for a second and poured it over my chicken. Completely forgetting to season the sauce AND add the butter to finish the sauce.

So, that's what went wrong. Everything. I lost my mind, all logic and reason and went crazy. My chicken was a little stringy, the sauce was undercooked and unfinished and oh... totally sucked in the kitchen.

On the plus side, chef used the rotisserie to make roast beef for us:

And showed us how to make a yeast dough for us to form rolls. My roll was so cute I refused to eat it. Instead I just kind of stared at it in loving awe. It was the one thing I did perfectly today.

My inner carb lover was clearly dominating today.