on chicken and frugality
In the not so distant past, when a recipe called for chicken, I would automatically grab boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store. Maybe I was even a little smug, thinking about all the time I was saving by having someone else deal with the bones and skin. But at heart, I am a frugal girl, so I started worrying more about saving money instead of time and then I started eyeing the whole chickens at the market whenever they were on sale. But I was still hesitant; wasn’t cooking a whole chicken difficult? Wouldn’t I have to invest in a roasting pan and kitchen twine to truss the bird? No, no, and no!
Right around the time I started to seriously consider the benefits of roasting a whole bird, I happened upon what must be the easiest recipe for roasted chicken ever on Epicurious. It was one of those happy accidents of timing that is so coincidental it almost seems like fate.
Once it is roasted, this chicken is delicious on its own, but I usually shred it and refrigerate or freeze it for use in other recipes. I rarely use chicken breasts at all any longer, since most of the dishes I prepare that call for chicken generally want it to be in pieces anyway. The flavoring used in the paste rubbed in and on the chicken is subtle, so once it’s shredded, it can be thrown into a variety of dishes. I use it in anything from Red Chicken Curry to Chicken Enchiladas Verdes to Chicken Soup with Dumplings. The meat from this one chicken can usually be used in three or four different recipes, and that makes my frugal heart smile.
You will have to cut out the backbone of chicken – but do not throw it away! I toss the backbone in a freezer bag, where the bones and skin of the chicken also go to live once the shredding operation is complete. When I have the remnants of two or three chickens saved up in the freezer, it is time to enjoy yet another money saving aspect of roasting a whole bird: making my own chicken stock!! Homemade stock is really so much more flavorful than your average canned chicken broth; and it is completely satisfying to breeze past the broth section in the store. I’ll talk about how I prepare stock some other time; for now, just remember not to throw out those bones.
This recipe does call for one ingredient that I had never used before: juniper berries. Who knew it would be so difficult for me to locate juniper berries? Iowa may not have a particularly large population, but it’s hardly at the fringe of civilization! It may have been difficult to find specialty ingredients here ten years ago or so, but I’m usually able to find anything I need without too much searching! Alright, maybe it is harder for some people in Iowa to find ingredients, but fortunately that is not usually the case in Iowa City. My main spice purveyor, Stringtown Grocery, did not carry juniper berries. And none of the grocery stores in the area stocked these little pups, not even my favorite co-op. I finally tracked some down at a little shop in the Amana Colonies called The Herb Lady. To my dismay, the day I bought them, she dropped the bomb that she was relocating to Missouri. If you are having the same kind of trouble finding the juniper berries, have no fear; they are available online. They are certainly worth trying, although apparently you should avoid them if you have kidney problems or if you’re pregnant.
Roast Chicken with Garlic Paste
Adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2008
Yields 6 servings
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
5 juniper berries
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt or coarse kosher salt
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 5- to 6-pound whole chicken, backbone and neck removed
- Combine garlic and next 3 ingredients in mortar and crush with pestle until coarse paste forms; you may also use a mini processor to create the paste. Mix in oil.
- Rinse chicken and pat dry. To remove the backbone: place the chicken with the back facing up on your cutting surface (I usually just perform this step over a bowl in the sink) with the drumsticks pointing towards you. The back has the little nub where the tail used to be. Cut up one side, through the rib bones, then up the other side. The strip you remove will be around 1 to 1 ½ inches wide.
- Open chicken like a book; place it skin side up in 13x9x2-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Loosen skin from breast and thigh meat; rub about 3 teaspoons of the herb/oil mixture over meat under skin. Rub remaining 1 teaspoon of mixture on the outside of the chicken. Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before roasting.
- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Roast chicken uncovered until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 170°F, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer chicken to platter and serve, or allow it to cool and then shred chicken and refrigerate or freeze.