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Duke's Food Obsession

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Great Roast Chicken

My wife claims I am a freak because I have a need to rank things and know at all times where my favorite things stand in the rankings. To wit, I have a need to know, in case you stopped me in the post office, my top five favorite movies, books, or record albums. (To anyone under 40 reading this those are plastic, pizza-sized discs that when you put a special needle on them and spin them around really fast, produce music.) I even have a special list of beautiful women or actresses that I call my to-do list. But, without a doubt, my favorite things to categorize are foods. I have several lists: my favorite foods, my favorite meals - a sort of “last supper” list, not to be confused with my favorite dinners which would be naturally served in a restaurant. For the purposes of this article, I will introduce you to one component of my favorite meals: roasted chicken, porcini mushroom sauce, butter-packed mashed potatoes, and a mixed green salad with sherry vinaigrette. Let’s talk chicken.

Simpler preparations - indeed, single ingredient preparations - demand top-quality ingredients. For a great roasted chicken, that means the free-ranger. Besides being better tasting due to their diet and exercise, the free rangers don’t suffer the oftentimes barbaric conditions befalling factory-farm raised animals in this country - but that is an article on its own.

First, and most importantly, you must pre-season your bird. Chicken, like pork, benefits immensely from pre-salting the meat, or brining. I brine my chickens overnight in a heavily salted water mixture and I add thyme leaves, bay leaves and garlic. The next day, I remove the birdie from his saline bath and let him sit for a couple of hours on the counter to come to room temperature and let the skin dry out. Like the Chinese Peking duck preparations, dry skin=crispy skin later.

To truss or not to truss? I have read many articles advocating both sides, but I believe you should truss if only because it looks pretty! If you are roasting in the oven, avoid the temptation to use one of those beautiful Williams-Sonoma deep roasting pans with the rack in them. You’ve seen them: they have the beautiful turkey on them that was rubbed with Vaseline by a food stylist to look perfect. I don’t think they are worth a damn because the deep sides prevent the heat circulation that will give you crispy skin. I use a sheet pan in restaurant parlance - or a heavy cookie sheet. (Unfortunately, this allows the juices to evaporate, so you won’t get lots of juice, and the fat splatters all over the oven, but that’s a small price to pay.)

I rub my chicken with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I am not in the basting camp, because in my experience it does nothing other than reduce the oven temperature every time you open the door. Roast the chicken for approximately an hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Take the bird out of the oven and let it rest, like all meats should, for ten minutes before carving in order to retain their juices.

Should you want to make what is in my mind the perfect roasted chicken, you must buy, as I did last summer, a Weber kettle with the rotisserie attachment. This is not the gas Weber, but the black kettle. It is worth every penny. You will follow the same instructions as above, but build a charcoal fire in your kettle and when the coals are ready, move them to the perimeter. Put on your chicken and roast the same amount of time. No need to lift the lid, baste or anything. This gives you ample time to drink and the results are fantastic: slightly smoky, crispy, and juicy. Now as to my favorite movies...

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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