Chicken crosses road, meets raisin

14 Apr

From the “I Don’t Want to Make Him Babies, I Want to Make Him Dinner” files:
We adore roast chicken. But we love it more with glorious rich drippings soaking into pasta, couscous and chewy bread chunks.
Here are three versions of this bliss. All feature the sweetness of raisins.

CHICKEN PASTA FROM THE VENETIAN GHETTO
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which was adapted from Claudia Roden’s recipes from her Book of Jewish Food.
(online, we have read complaints that this dish is too bland. Perhaps instead of a whole chicken, we will roast thighs and reduce the amount of pasta.

1 chicken (three and a half pounds-ish)

Salt and pepper

Some white wine

Some pine nuts

Some raisins (optional)

Possibly some butter

A pound of linguine or tagliatelle
Roast the chicken. Last time I did this, I butterflied the chicken, seasoned it with salt and pepper, put it in a roasting pan with a glug of white wine, and blasted it at 450.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a platter and let it cool. Meanwhile, put the roasting pan on a burner (or scrape all the juices, chicken fat included, into a saute pan). Do what you need to do to make the sauce. This varies case by case: sometimes, if the chicken wasn’t that fatty, I’ll swirl in some butter. Last night’s chicken was plenty fatty, so I added another glug of wine to the saucepan along with a bit of water. You could add some rosemary here, too, if you wanted. I roasted the chicken in a glass pan and won’t do that again: I want to be able to deglaze the roasting pan properly for the sauce.
Add the pine nuts and raisins to the pan and let it simmer for a bit. Be careful and don’t let it all cook away, though.
Pull all the meat off the chicken and put it in a bowl. You can also put the skin in the bowl, if you want; I only like skin when it is very crispy, so I eat the crispy bits and feed the rest to the wagging dogs at my feet.
Cook the pasta and toss it with the chicken meat and the sauce. I usually make a salad to go with this, since it is very very rich and could use something astringently green afterwards, but last night I opted for brie instead and I won’t say that was a mistake.
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ROAST CHICKEN BREAST WITH RAISINS AND PEARL COUSCOUS
Recipe: Wolfgang Puck
• 4 (12-ounce) chicken breasts
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup fennel bulb, 1/4-inch dice
• 1 sprig sage
• 1 lemon, zested
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 cup white wine
• 1/2 cup sweet wine, preferably Passito or Moscato de Pantelleria
• 1/2 cup Zibibbo raisins, if available
• 1 cup Chicken Stock
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 2 ounces butter
• 1 cup sweet seedless grapes, halved
• 8 crisp fried sage leaves
• couscous
• • 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/4 cup chopped onions
• 1 cup pearl couscous
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups chicken stock, hot
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To prepare the chicken: Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a saute pan, heat olive oil and sear skin side down until golden in color, about 3 minutes. Turn and saute another 3 minutes. Transfer pan to oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until done. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.
Remove fat from pan. Add fennel, sage sprig, lemon zest, lemon juice, and raisins and deglaze with 1 cup of white wine and 1/2 cup sweet wine. Over high heat, reduce by half. Add brown chicken stock and cream. Reduce until slightly thickened. Remove sage and finish sauce with butter and grapes.
To prepare the couscous: In a saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onions and cook for 1 minute, until glossy (do not brown). Add pearl couscous and stir until well coated with oil. Season with salt and add 1 cup of chicken stock. Stir occasionally until 2/3 of the liquid is absorbed. Add the remaining cup of stock, and continue to cook until al dente. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, stir in butter, and finish with parsley. Set aside and keep warm.
To serve: Place a few tablespoons of couscous in the center of a plate. Slice each chicken breast diagonally into 2 pieces. Arrange on top of couscous. Nap with sauce and sprinkle with sage leaves. Serve immediately.
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ROASTED CHICKEN WITH BREAD SALAD
FROM ZUNI CAFE

1  2 3⁄4-3 1⁄2-lb. chicken, preferably a fryer, 
lump of fat inside chicken discarded

4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, 
rosemary, or sage

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1⁄2–3⁄4 lb. day-old chewy country-style bread (not sourdough), cut into large chunks crust removed
8 tbsp. mild olive oil

2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. dried currants

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

2 tbsp. pine nuts

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

2 scallions trimmed, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced

2 tsp. lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water

4 handfuls (about 3 oz.) baby red mustard greens or arugula or frisee leaves
1. Rinse chicken, pat very dry inside and out, and put on a plate. Loosen skin from breast and thighs without tearing it and tuck an herb sprig into each pocket. Liberally season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
2. Put bread on a baking sheet and brush with 3 tbsp. of the oil. Broil until lightly colored on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear bread into 2″-3″ wads and put into a large bowl. Preheat oven to 475°. Mix white vinegar, 4 tbsp. of the oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Toss 1⁄4 cup of the vinaigrette with the bread. Soak currants in red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp. warm water in small bowl.
3. Heat a 10″ ovenproof skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Wipe chicken dry, put in skillet breast side up, and roast in oven for 30 minutes. Turn bird over and roast for 10-20 minutes more, then flip back over to recrisp breast skin, 5-10 minutes more.
4. Meanwhile, warm pine nuts in oven for 1-2 minutes, then add to bread. Sweat garlic and scallions in 1 tbsp. of the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add to bread and toss well. Drain currants and add to bread, then add stock or water and toss again. Put bread salad into a small baking dish and tent with foil. Transfer to oven when chicken gets its last turn.
5. Remove chicken from oven and turn off heat, leaving bread salad in oven for 5 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate. Pour off fat from skillet, leaving pan drippings behind. Swirl 1 tbsp. water in skillet. Slash skin between thighs and breast of chicken, then tilt bird and plate over skillet, draining juices into drippings. Allow chicken to rest for 10 minutes, then carve into 8 pieces.
6. Simmer pan drippings over medium heat, scraping up browned bits, for 1 minute. Toss hot bread salad with a spoonful of pan drippings in a bowl, ad greens and remaining vinaigrette, and toss well. Put bread salad on a platter and arrange chicken on top.

—–
Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken
Adapted from the cookbook from the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
The original recipe falls over three-plus pages in a small font and includes a fantastic amount of detail. It’s a great read. However, I prefer recipes that cut to the chase a bit more, so I have edited this down significantly, into the hopefully dish- and time-saving way I would approach it next time. It is typically served with the Bread Salad (recipe below) but I see no reason you can’t use any of your favorite side dishes instead. To me, the real genius is getting that bird so perfectly roasted all over with only a modicum of fuss.
Serves 2 to 4
One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water
Season the chicken: [1 to 3 days before serving; give a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2-pound chicken at least 2 days]
Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.
Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.
Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.
Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below). The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.
Serve the chicken: Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.
Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste — the juices will be extremely flavorful.
Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter (on top of the Bread Salad, if using).
Capitalize on leftovers: Strain and save the drippings you don’t use, they are delicious tossed with spätzle or egg noodles, or stirred into beans or risotto. You can also use them, plus leftover scraps of roast chicken, for a chicken salad.
Zuni Cafe Bread Salad
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
I can’t describe it any better than they do: “Sort of a scrappy extramural stuffing, it is a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread, a little slivered garlic and scallion, a scatter of currants and pine nuts, and a handful of greens, all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings.”
As I noted above, I’ve trimmed down the steps for this recipe significantly so it doesn’t resemble the original recipe a whole lot. But it remains equally delicious.
Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants plumped in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried
Preheat the broiler. Carve off all of the bottom and most of the top and side crusts from your bread (you can reserve these to use as croutons for soup or another salad). Tear bread into irregular 2- to 3-inch chunks, wads, bite-sized bits and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.
Toss them with just a tablespoon or two of olive oil, lightly coating them, and broil them very briefly, just to lightly color the edges. If you’d like to toast the pine nuts (recommended) you can put them on your broiler tray as well, but watch them very carefully — they cook quickly!
Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.
Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts, if they were not already mixed with the bread scraps from the broiling step. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again.
Taste a few pieces of bread — a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.
If you’re going to serve the salad under the roast chicken (recipe above), you can pile the bread salad on the serving dish you want to use and tent it with foil. If you want to serve it separately, do the same, but in a 1-quart shallow baking dish. Hang onto the bowl you mixed it in — you’ll use it again.
Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Tip the bread salad back into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.

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