First a bit of background; My parents grew up in what would generously be called extreme poverty and have always been rather frugal with spending, even though we are at least in comparative terms, fairly wealthy.
As a result, meals in our house tended to be fairly simple "peasant food" using cheap cuts of meat and lots of veggies. Since taken over cooking, I've started branching out into more expensive ingredients and I had always wanted for a long time to do a "proper", up market western style dinner with all the appropriate bells and trimmings. I found the recipe for Roast Chicken off "Good Eats", the TV show and decided it would make a good base for my meal.
The ingredients are a little upscale and pricy but it was worth it just for a good night in and a chance to treat my parents to some gourmet food.
First Course: Garden Salad with a Red Wine & Basil Vinaigrette
Second Course: Roast Chicken with Garlic & Basil Potatoes & Mixed Vegetables in a Red Wine Jus
Third Course: Apple & Berry Pie with Boysenberry Ice Cream
Wine: Wolf Blass 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 Romaine Lettuce
1/2 Red Coral Lettuce
1 box cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber peeled
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup First pressing extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
3 - 4 leaves of Basil finely chopped
Comments: Because the Roast Chicken is quite a heavy dish, I wanted a light and simple salad to start off with. But feel free to improvise as a salad is versatile. A bit of rocket would go great with this as the bitterness would cleanse the palate. If you wanted to go for a Greek flavour, chuck in some feta cheese and some olives. If you wanted a slightly Asian flavour, chuck in some spring onions and put some sesame seed oil in the dressing.
As for the dressing, I have read that most Balsamic vinegar on the market is made with chemical processes instead of natural ageing and that it was far cheaper and tastier to go for a different vinegar such as Red Wine or Cider. I have heard reports that the quality of the olive oil was vitally important to the quality of the dressing but personally, I found very little difference between this and the ordinary extra virgin that I use in cooking. I found the salad dressing to be rather insipid myself with a strong kick at the start but very little body. I've read on the web afterwards that adding Dijon mustard would give it some fullness. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, replace it with a simple lemon juice dressing. Personally, I've not had much luck with lemon juice dressings so I avoided one for this meal. A white wine would have gone better with the salad but we are not heavy drinkers so we stuck to the same wine throughout the meal.
1 Large Chicken ~ 1.6kg
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp of whole black peppercorns
1 - 2 lemons worth of zest
3 - 4 garlic cloves
5 - 6 basil leaves finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 tbsp of rock salt
1 cup of Red Wine
1 Cup of Chicken Stock
4 oldish carrots
4 oldish stalks of celery
2 oldish onions
Potatoes & Vegetables:
4 New Potatoes
1/2 a Cauliflower
2 Cups of Peas
4 Corn Cobettes
Comments: Having not invested in a mortar and Pestle set yet, I found the making of the seasoning for the chicken harder than I thought and I was unhappy with the texture of it. The seasoning for the chicken has a fair bit of leeway to adjust for your own personal tastes. Personally, I found that the lemon wasn't nearly as prominent as it should have been and I would have probably preferred another 1/2 a lemons worth of zest. Don't skimp on the carrot/celery/onion mix either as this is crucial to the cooking process. I always have celery/carrot/onion in my fridge as it makes a wonderful trio for so many dishes and this is a good way to dispose of some of the older ones. On reflection, a 1.6 kg chicken is bigger than it looks; we were all rather stuffed by the end of our meals. Perhaps a smaller bird would have been better if your not big eaters. The vegetables were also rather ordinary and I'm looking for a way to make it a bit more classy, Perhaps a Potato/Pumpkin/Sweet Potato mix all roasted would be better.
1 store bought Apple and Berry Pie
4 scoops of Tippa Boysenberry Ice-Cream
Comments: We're not a big dessert fan so ordinary store bought pie was fine. On reflection, the berry in the pie was a bit redundant and a simple apple pie would have given a stronger contrast between the tart/sweet and hot/cold. The ice-cream however, is simply amazing. It's imported from New-Zealand and its to die for. Also, some fresh strawberries as a garnish and maybe a light chocolate sauce would have made this better but it would have been wasted on store bought pie.
Get a large roasting pan and fill the bottom with the carrots/celery/onion mix until it forms a layer about 2 - 3 vegetables deep. The vegetables serve a dual purpose; first is to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan so that it doesn't sit in its own juices and boil. Second is to add flavour to the jus. I made the mistake of putting not enough vegetables in and the chicken wasn't as crisp as it could have been.
In a mortar and pestle, grind down the peppercorn so that it's all broken up but still has some texture. Add the garlic and grind just until it starts letting off a bit of water. Add the zest and mash 3 or 4 times until the lemon aroma is released. Now add a generous dash of rock salt and basil and pound just a few more times. Add enough olive oil so that you get a gritty, pasty consistency. At about this stage, you should turn your oven to it's max setting and allow it to preheat with only the top burner on. Unlike most dishes, pre-heating is vitally important as inadequate heat when putting the chicken in means less crispy skin and tougher meat.
Now, get the chicken and flip it so its backbone is facing upwards and away from you. With a sturdy pair of kitchen shears, snip on either side of the backbone taking the backbone out. Open up the chicken and you should be able to see the small, triangular shaped keel bone down the bottom. Slice open the thin membrane covering the keel bone and lever it out with your fingers. This may require a bit of grunt work or delicate work with the knife so be careful not to damage the chicken. This should leave you a chicken which you can lay relatively flat on the counter. This is called a "butterflied" chicken; it means that you can cook the chicken faster and in less time which leaves the insides tender while leaving the outsides crisp. Wash the chicken and remove all the internal organs. Poke your fingers under the skin of the breasts and the thighs; the skin should come off fairly easily and form little pockets inside the meat. Expand the pockets as much as you can without tearing the skin but don't go overboard. Spoon about a teaspoons worth of seasoning mix under the skin in all 4 places and then gently rub to fill all the nooks and crannies, taking care not to get any on the outside of the chicken. You should still be left with about 1/3 of the seasoning mix. Putting the seasoning under the skin has the dual effect of letting it penetrate more deeply into the meat and letting the skin get nice and crisp at the same time. Gently massage the top of the chicken with some oil, making sure to get it in everywhere and then turn the chicken over and sprinkle some salt over the exposed meat.
Chuck the backbone and the keel bone in among the vegetables and then lay the chicken over the vegetables face up in the pan. By this stage, the oven should have heated up nicely so put the chicken in about 1 slot down from the middle of the oven. Putting it too close to the heat will not cook the chicken entirely through. You want a constant and intense heat source so do not close the oven door fully, leave a gap open or the heating coil will shut down. Now, quickly and roughly wash and chop the potatoes into bite sized pieces with the skins still on. I have found that simple cubic potato chunks are rather boring so a better way of doing this is to flake it off. To do this, get a bluntish knife and cut the potato about 1 - 2 cm in, then turn the knife clockwise/counter-clockwise and lever out a piece of the potato. This means that each piece will have a rough edge which allows more of the seasoning to penetrate the potato. Combine the potato with 1 - 2 tsp of the seasoning mix from the chicken along with extra garlic, basil and salt to taste. I personally love garlic so I chuck heaps in. Mix with olive oil until the mixture is coated and arrange in a single layer on a flat roasting tray and chuck it at the very bottom of the oven. The chicken will protect the potatoes from direct heat so the insides will get nice and soft.
You now have about 15 - 20 minutes of waiting so now's a good time to clean up your work area and start prepping the vegetables. Check the chicken from about 10 minutes onwards and flip the chicken over by grabbing it with it's hind legs when the top looks browned. Cut the carrots into slices, the cauliflower into florets and soak all 4 vegetables in some cold water. Bring lots of water to the boil and chuck in a fair bit of salt and some oil. When you flip the chicken, dump the carrots into the pot. After about 2 - 3 mins, dump the cauliflower into the pot as well and wait another minute. Dump the corn and peas in and then almost immediately take off the flame and drain.
You want to start the salad prepping about 5 minutes after you turn the chicken. Break up the lettuce into bite sized pieces, halve the cherry tomatoes and peel and slice the cucumbers. Toss together in a bowl until combined and then dish out onto individual plates. Put the red wine in a mixing bowl and gradually introduce the olive oil until you get the right mix. You have to be careful because if the mix has not emulsified, the vinegar flavour dominates so I found myself with a very oily dressing after about 5 minutes leaving it standing and had to introduce more vinegar. Add the salt and pepper gradually tasting until you reach a nice balance. I like to give the resulting mix a little whirl in the blender just before serving to make sure it is mixed properly.
Set out the nice silverware and open the wine and allow it to breathe right before the chicken is done. Take the chicken out of the oven and check for doneness. You can either use a meat thermometer or poke the chicken at the thickest part and see if the juices run clear. Put the chicken on a chopping board to rest. Move the potatoes to near the top of the oven and chuck the pie down the bottom. Tip the roasting pan to one side and spoon out the fat from the chicken while being careful to leave the juices in the pan. Put the roasting pan on a high burner and chuck the remaining seasoning in the pan and fry for a while. When the pan is hot, pour in 1 cup of red wine, scrape off all the burnt bits at the bottom of the pan and allow it to reduce. Pour the salad dressing over the salad and sprinkle with chopped basil and announce and server the first course :D.
After about 5 mins, chuck the chicken stock in as well and allow it to reduce again. Check on the potatoes and turn if necessary. After about 7 mins, clear the first course and get ready to bring on the second course. Strain the jus through a strainer and discard all the solids. Put the Chicken, potatoes and veggies on a plate and cover with the jus. The jus should be fairly salty so be careful in applying it. Put the pie on the middle rack and announce and serve the second course :D.
Check on the pie periodically and possibly turn off the heat if it looks to be approaching doneness. Clear the second course. Take the pie out of the oven and put a clean chopping board over the pie. Flip the entire thing over so the pie is upside down on the chopping board and remove the pie container. Cut the pie into quarters and use a knife to flip it right side up onto a plate. Scoop out a scoop of ice-cream onto the pie and top with half a strawberry. Announce and serve the third course :D.
Clear the third course and bring out the platter of fine cheeses and chocolates along with coffee for anybody who requests it. We skipped this stage because everybody was at a contentedly full and slightly tipsy;).
The salad was above average but still so-so. Needed a bit of an extra body for the dressing. Any suggestions for a good garnish would also be appreciated. The chicken was slightly less crisp than it could of been since there wasn't enough vegetable covering the bottom of the pan but it was spectacularly tender and I don't think I've had chicken this tender in $50 a plate restaurants. The sauce was amazing but the red wine was slightly overpowering, possibly next time I should allow it to reduce a tad more. The potatoes were orgasmically fantastic and the flavour really penetrated all the way through. The vegetables were rather humdrum and boring though and did little to counterpoint the rest of the meal. Dessert wasn't anything special in itself but it made a nice cap off to a rather pleasant meal. The wine was very good but I think I drank it a bit too fast and I had to concentrate a bit when serving dessert :).
Overall, it was a fantastic experience, no so much the food itself as the labour of love that went into it and the opportunity for the entire family to sit down and have a proper restaurant experience. It certainly was a learning experience for me as well and allowed me to experiment with some new ingredients and methods I had never used before. Total cost of the meal would have been around $25 - $30 including wine. Total value: Priceless :D.