Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cook Off: Round 2

Good evening everyone and welcome to round 2 of our great culinary cook off. Last night, Maggie brought her 'A' game with two very unique dishes that worked on a very quirky level. Macaroni pizza and chocolate peanut butter fondue with apples are two 'out there' recipes that certainly surprise - but they were no slouch when it came down to taste.

Tonight, I'm tackling a more traditional 'Sunday dinner' recipe - but I'm hoping to perfect and polish what is already a solid dish. I've tackled a version of lemon roast chicken before and was quite happy with the results. As I noted in the original post, however, I did feel there were areas where I could improve. Tonight, I set out to make those improvements. With a new variation on the recipe, and some experience up my sleeve, I was hopeful hat tonight's recipes would impress.

The Recipe:   Classic Roast Lemon Chicken
Original Recipe Found In: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2nd Edition: Every Recipe from the Hit TV Show With Product Ratings and a Look Behind the Scenes

What You'll Need:

1/2 Cup Table Salt
1 (3 1/2 to 4 Pound) Whole Chicken; Giblets Discarded
2 Lemons
6 Medium Garlic Cloves (Minced)
4 Tablespoons Butter (2 Melted - 2 Cut Into Slices)
1 3/4 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon Minced Parsley
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme

The Recipe: Strawberry Shortcakes
Original Recipe Found In: The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2nd Edition: Every Recipe from the Hit TV Show With Product Ratings and a Look Behind the Scenes

What You'll Need:

For the fruit mixture: 
8 Cups Strawberries (Hulled)
6 Tablespoons Sugar

For the shortcake:
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
5 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Table Salt
8 Tablespoons (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter, Cut Into 1/2 Inch Pieces
1/2 Cup Half-And-Half or Milk
1 Large Egg, Lightly Beaten
1 Large Egg White, Lightly Beaten

For the whipped cream:
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

* NOTE: This recipe makes 6 shortcakes. If you are cooking for a smaller crowd, simply reduce the amount of all ingredients accordingly. I prepared this recipe to make 2-3 shortcakes.

The first step to a juicy roast chicken is brining. It doesn't matter what way you look at it - all of the experts agree that the only way to keep the chicken moist and flavorful during the long roasting process is to give it a good long salt bath before cooking. We've covered brining in full detail on previous blogs (see here) so I won't go into the science behind the process - I'll simply say that for this recipe you will need to dissolve the salt in 2 quarts of cold water. Place the chicken in the water and store in the refrigerator for one hour.

Just chillin' in his salty swimming pool

Once you chicken has emerged from its salty bath, dry it completely (inside and out) with a few paper towels. Next, quarter one lemon and mince your garlic. Place the lemon quarters and the minced garlic in the cavity of the chicken. There is no gentle way to put this: you will have to violate the chicken. 4 slices of lemon are tricky to shove into a small cavity. Once everything is packed in there nice and tight (sorry chicken) brush both sides of the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and season liberally with pepper (no salt since you just gave the bird an hour long bath in salt).  Move the chicken to a roasting pan, breast side down (preferably one with a v-rack - if you lack a roasting pan or a v-rack a drying rack over a baking sheet will do the trick as well. As long as there is space below the chicken for the air to circulate - you are fine).

One chicken: Slightly violated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the buttered up bird in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the chicken from the pan and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Carefully rotate the chicken so the breast side is facing up and return it to the rack. Add one cup of the chicken broth to the bottom of the pan and return the pan to the oven.

Allow to roast for another 40 to 45 minutes, or until the breast measures 160 to 165 degrees and the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees. Once at the optimum temperature, remove the chicken from the oven and set on a cutting board (uncovered) to rest while you prepare the sauce.

This beauty is what comes out of the oven after all of that roasting

Using the roasting pan or a smaller sauce pan, place the juices and drippings on the stovetop over high heat. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of chicken broth. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about 1/2 cup - this should take about 4 to 8 minutes.

Remove the lemon and garlic from the chicken's cavity and discard. Next, cut the chicken into quarters. To quarter a chicken, you first need to cut the chicken where the leg meets the breast and pull away.

Next, cut through the joint that connects the drumstick to the thigh (look for a softer, visible spot in the middle of the two pieces, that's the easiest place to cut)

Cut down the side of the breast bone, removing the meat from the bone. Finally, cut the wings from the breast pieces.

OR you can do like I do and hack at the little bugger until all the meat is off. Not as presentable, but still just as effective.

Next, halve the remaining lemon and squeeze 1/2 of the juice into the chicken broth mixture. Reserve the other 1/2 to serve with the chicken. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stir in the parsley and thyme. Pour this pan sauce over the chicken just before serving.

To make the strawberry shortcake, begin by mashing 1/2 of the strawberries in a large bowl with a potato masher. Slice the remaining strawberries and add to the bowl. Add the sugar and mix well until everything is blended. You can set this mixture aside for up to 2 hours before serving. (Allow at least 30 minutes of resting time before serving)

Strawberry mash

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pulse the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor until the mixture is combined. Add the butter pieces to the mixture and pules until the mixture reaches a coarse meal like texture - about 15 seconds. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl.

Whisk the egg and half-and-half in a bowl until combined. Add this mixture to the bowl with the flour and turn with a large rubber spatula until lumps begin to form. At this point, remove the dough and knead on a floured surface until everything comes together (no lumps or dry spots).

Work the dough into a (roughly) 9X6 inch rectangle. Using a round cookie cutter or some other form of guide, slice the dough into rounds. Arrange these rounds on the baking sheet with about 1 1/2 inches between each round. Brush the tops of each round with the lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar. Place into the oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until the shortcakes are lightly golden brown. Transfer the the shortcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool slightly (10 minutes) before serving.



To make the whip cream, combine the heavy cream, vanilla and sugar in a medium bowl and mix with a handheld mixer until foamy and peaks begin to form. (About 2 to 3 minutes)

When the shortcakes have cooled, split them horizontally and add the strawberries and a dash of the whipped cream. Serve immediately.

The Results:

Exactly as I had hoped. The chicken was a juicy and flavorful affair with nice hints of lemon and just a touch of garlic. The strawberry shortcake, while not picturesque or even all that presentable (hey, I'm a chef - not a baker) was still quite tasty.

That's all we have for you this evening. Tomorrow night, Maggie and I will be back with full recaps of both recipes this week. We'll give our opinions, rate the pros and cons of each recipe and eventually pick a 'winner' of the $20 cook off. It should be an interesting 'back and forth' blog tomorrow, so be sure to stop by and check it out. Until then,


Oh, and that 'other' site that we are working on - it's not done but you can see the future home of the blog by clicking here.

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