Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

chicken dinnerIt’s always good to have a go-to chicken recipe, something that can be prepped quickly and shoved into the oven, something that will cook while you sit and unwind with a glass of wine, possibly watching old episodes of Sherlock or Doctor Who. Possibly. Insert geek love of your choice and swirl, sniff, and sip that lovely liquid while you immerse yourself in someone else’s imagination.

navarro rieslingAs far as the wine goes, you can’t go wrong with a glass of anything Navarro Vineyards and Winery has to offer. It was the very first wine club I ever belonged to, and I will continue to belong until the end of time or they retire, whichever comes first — hopefully, the end of time. Anderson Valley, one of my favorite places in the entire world, one of the places that truly feels like home, is the location of their vineyards. The region grows outstanding Alsace wines, and it’s beautiful, besides. (We belong to three other wine clubs whose homes are in the Anderson Valley. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll see an image of the other wines at some point or another.) The Riesling I paired with the chicken is a dry style and is perfect with the lemon and sage I used to flavor the dish, but it’s wonderful enough to drink alone, staring at Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones or what have you.

Lemon Sage Chicken

1 whole, organic chicken
1 lemon
1 onion
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon butter
a pinch or two of red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place chicken on a cooking rack set into a casserole dish.
Mix the seasonings and butter together. Roll the lemon on the counter, using your hand and a little bit of pressure, until it feels slightly squishy. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice inside the chicken cavity. Rub some of the butter mixture inside the cavity. Carefully loosen the skin on the outside of the chicken, using your fingers to create pockets around the breast and thighs, then rub the rest of the butter mixture under the skin. Rub the outside of the chicken, ridding your fingers of any leftover butter mixture.
Insert the two halves of lemon inside the cavity. Cut onion into quarters and try to fit as much of it in the cavity as possible. Scatter any remaining onion pieces around the chicken, inside the dish.
Cook, breast side down, for an hour and 45 minutes. Flip the bird over and cook another 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip chicken back over, breast side down, and let rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Stock

There’s something so fulfilling about making chicken stock. I feel so good about not wasting anything, and then I have a freezer full of additions to my cooking.

I enjoy the whole process, too. Since I work full time, I do the majority of my cooking in the evenings. I’ll bake the chicken one night, let it rest, slice off a couple of pieces for dinner, and then cover it and place it in the refrigerator.

The next evening, I do what is so elegantly called, “picking the carcass.” Any of the usable meat is kept for sandwiches, salads, etc. The bones, skin, and other various bits gets thrown in a large stock pot along with whatever extra veggies are sitting around.

Now, there are die hard you-must-do-it-this-way-and-none-other stock makers out in the world. I feel making stock is about economizing, so I don’t buy extra ingredients for something that costs me nothing but extra time.

My grandma taught me that wasting food was a Cardinal sin – and really, why do it? That said, there were always some things that found their way into the compost bucket instead of our bellies, and it bothered me. Then I realized that there wasn’t any reason to compost all the onion ends, extra celery stalks, the going-woody carrots, past-its-prime garlic, and meat trimmings. If I kept them until I had enough for stock, there would be practically no waste.

In these days of using everything and saving as many pennies as possible, keeping a corner of my freezer reserved for unused produce just makes sense. I now have a couple of one gallon, glass jars with screw on lids into which I throw all of my extra produce pieces. Once I’ve baked a chicken and have the carcass ready for simmering, I throw everything from those two jars into the stock pot along with the chicken.

Everything simmers slowly for hours. As foam gathers on the surface, it gets skimmed off, and after the concoction has reduced by about half, I turn off the flame and let it cool. Then the big pieces get removed with a slotted spoon. What’s left gets strained until just the clear stock remains. The stock gets poured into canning jars with a bit of air left at the top and are placed in the freezer for whenever they’re needed. It’s rare for me to not have stock in the house.

Finishing this task always leaves me feeling warm, fuzzy, and accomplished. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything was like that?

Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

Ricotta-stuffed chicken is one of my favorite methods when cooking a whole bird. It comes out tender and packed with flavor, and the leftovers make for a tasty, creamy stock.* Plus, there’s something almost primal-y satisfying in butterflying a chicken.

*Make sure to keep all of the extra bits you don’t eat, including the backbone that’s removed during the butterflying process to make stock. I’ll share my method next week.

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