Once upon a time a Russian acupuncturist told me that we all have our very own, very special internal clock. Tic-tock. She said that the clock controls our thoughts and desires, our metabolism, that it governs the way our body functions and the way it responds to external stimuli. Tic-tock. She kindly offered to take a measurement and help me figure out the inner doings of my device, but I chickened out. What if she discovered that the hours of the day when I am supposed to be in the office, working, thinking, contributing to science and humanity are at the very bottom of my productivity cycle? Or, even worse, that my most creative moments are in the middle of the night, when I am fast asleep?! How would it feel to realize that you have outslept your creativity by good four decades? No, I do not think I am ready for that yet...
The later possibility is particularly scary, because I often experience some strange tic-tock patterns during the wee hours of the night. Once the handles of my internal clock travel past midnight and fall into that dark precipice between 1am and 4am, before shadows begin to disappear and before indigo turns purple, that is when the dials on my clock begin to spin and spin, and some of my most profound thoughts rise to the surface of my consciousness. Why does hair grow faster in the back of our heads than on the sides? Can one swim in a pool of salted caramel? How many recipes for roasted chicken exist on the Internet?
Fortunately, some of these pressing thoughts disappear into oblivion by the time I wake up. Some, like the salted caramel enigma, call for elaborate experimental set-up in order to solve the puzzle, and I let go of them too. Or, if I am lucky, I might stumble upon truly curious individuals, the kind of knowledge seekers who dot not raise the white flag as easily as I do, and they help me find my answer. (Just in case you are wondering, Nature teaches us that swimming in syrup is as easy as swimming in water. “Whatever strokes the swimmers used, their times differed by no more than 4%,” Nature reports, “with neither water nor syrup producing consistently faster times.”)
And then there are the puzzles that are just one mouse click away from being de-puzzled. Thus, when I woke up one morning haunted by the roasted chicken riddle, I ran to my computer and typed “roasted chicken recipe” into the Google search box, and Google came back within 0.45 seconds with the most illuminating answer. Can you guess? Three thousand?? Twenty seven thousand??? Hundred and fifty thousand????
You will not believe this, but according to Google, there are about 8,740,000 search results related to my query!!! What really surprises me in this whole thing, is that I actually do not find the eight-mill number surprising at all. I am not an intensely chicken person, mainly because: A) my first pet, The Little Prince, was of the aforementioned species, B) these days, in ninety nine point nine percent of cases, chicken tastes like styrofoam, and C) a heavily marbled rib eye is my protein of choice. Calling me a chicken lover would be a many-mile-long stretch, yet a mare thought of roasting a chicken gets my culinary juices flowing, and every once in a while, more often than not, I turn the oven on and flip a bird or two, just for the sake of doing it.
So perhaps a question more profound than any other -- and I often ponder it late in the night -- is why is roasting chickens so addictive? Could it be deeply embedded in our genetic DNA, a tiny string of our helix that dates back to our earliest ancestors, a primal call to our ancient fathers (and mothers!!!) seated around the ancient fires, perhaps turning a spit or two, and munching on a drumstick with their bare hands? It all makes a lot of sense, yet it still puzzles me why chicken and not any other frolicking material. (A quick check on Google proves my point; a search for “roasted lamb recipe” yields 1,900,000 results, while “roasted beef recipe” query produces impressive – but do not get your hopes too high -- 5,700,000 results).
Come on guys, help me out here! Is it because chicken takes less time to cook than other proteins? Because it is cheaper?? Because in the olden days it was easier to kill a chicken than a pig??? Because one bird feeds perfectly a family of four, and you need a village to consume a pig???? Because you cannot really screw it up -- even the worst of the badly roasted chicken will triumph over a slice of poorly roasted beef anytime????? Is it the crispy skin?????? (By the way, I take it back, when it comes to crispy skin, I am a chicken lover -- a bite of crispy skin trumps close to any other bite in the world, rib eye, Baci chocolates and Selles-sur-Cher included.)
Which brings me to the next puzzle, something I pondered for a while in my most ponderous moments. Namely, what is the best method to roast a chicken? The dilemma was not a long-lived one, because once I discovered Thomas Keller’s recipe for his Favorite Simple Roast Chicken, I’ve abandoned other experiments. I have not roasted any other chicken since. Every once in a while I wake up in the night covered in sweat, in fear that perhaps by doing this I am missing on other groundbreaking recipes, but one does not tamper with a winning horse, and the worry quickly goes away. And whenever my internal tic-tock attempts to revive the agony, I remind myself that good folks from BuzzFeed have recently confirmed the Keller method to be the best. Given that it has been close to scientifically established that all other approaches pale in comparison to the Chef Keller’s one, I can spend my wee hours pondering other issues. I am very grateful to the good folks from BuzzFeed for this little piece of mind.
Volumes have been written about the TK method. It’s simple. It’s bulletproof. It’s been recognized by close to every food publication and just about every food blogger in the world. And they all agree that it cannot be made any better.
Or perhaps it can?
That’s where the Bipolar Thomas Keller Chicken comes into the picture. Speaking of which, I may want to clarify that the term bipolar applies to the chicken and not the Chef. God forbid you thought the opposite.
So here is the thing that really keeps me up at night... Why do all the chefs of the world, and all the moms of the world, and all the food enthusiasts of the world roast their chicken breast side up? (If you do not believe me, check Chef Keller’s video on YouTube. And the photo of his dish on Epicurious.) It just does not make any sense!!! Because we all know that breast meat cooks faster than the dark meat and can get dried out. Correction, it gets dried out. So wouldn’t then be beneficial to put the chicken breast down, and let the juices drip into the meat, thereby keeping it moist. This puzzled me so hard, that about a year ago, I asked the question on Food52 Hotline. To be precise, I did not quite ask, “Why does Chef TK roast his famous chicken breast side up,” I wrote something like this, “Roasting chicken... Do you roast breast side up or breast side down? ... or do you flip? What's your method of choice and why?” The community quickly wrote back. They flipped, they spatchcocked, they braised, but no one, and I mean no one, roasted their chicken breast side down!
As I already mentioned, some riddles can be solved only via scientific experimentation, and this time, the experiment was in my reach, so I ran to the supermarket, acquired two close-to-identical-little-birds, powered up my close-to-identical two ovens, and left the decision to science.
Fifty-five minutes later, science had spoken. Both birds looked closed to identical. Golden and fragrant, with crispy skin, just like parchment paper, they both had beautifully crunchy wings, the color of burnt caramel, and firm, intensely savory thighs. But one of them produced breast meat like no breast meat before.
Do I have to tell you which one?
White meat on the winning chicken practically melted in my mouth, like butter, like some sort of a weirdly aromatic marshmallow, like a protein flavored cotton ball. It tasted almost like poached white meat, poached in its own sweet juices – hence, I named the winner the Bipolar TK Chicken. A chicken with split personality -- half roasted, half poached. In a quite magnificent way.
So to answer my own question of Food52, the Bipolar TK Chicken is how I like to make my bird. Case closed. Question answered. Riddle solved.
But I still ponder the question of “why chicken”... I cannot let it go, this riddle visits me at night more often than any other one, and I keep on seeking the answer. If you happen to have a clue, please drop me a line... Although, a couple of nights ago, I came up with another theory. The one I like so much, that I am close to accepting it as an unadorned truth. See, no other dish is more universally loved by the moms of this world than the roasted chicken. And we all know that in our memory and our minds, nothing beats the taste of our favorite childhood dish; seasoned with memories and flavored with past, one tiny roasted bird caries in it all the meals our moms have ever cooked, the warmth of their kitchens and their love.
Case closed. Question answered. Riddle solved.
The Bipolar Thomas Keller Chicken
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s recipe on YouTube
* one 2 – 3 lb organic free-range chicken
* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
* roasting pan with a roasting rack
About an hour before roasting, take the bird out of the refrigerator to bring the meat to room temperature. (If the chicken is still refrigerator-cold when you put it in the oven, the oven temperature will drop, plus the chicken will not cook evenly).
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Rinse the chicken (or not, see below). BuzzFeed argues that rinsing a chicken only spreads raw chicken germs all over your sink, and that by cooking it properly to 165°F, the dangerous germs or bacteria will be killed. Read more about it here. Rinse or no rinse, your choice, but either way, dry the chicken most thoroughly with paper towels, both inside and outside. It’s critical. Any excess moisture will create steam inside the oven, and steam is the enemy of crispy skin.
Season the inside of the cavity generously with salt and pepper.
Slide the wings underneath the body of the bird. Truss the chicken. (Very nice demo here.)
Salt the chicken liberally -- rain about one tablespoon of salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating. Season to taste with pepper.
Place the chicken breast side down on a rack over a roasting pan. (The rack will ensure that the chicken cooks evenly and it will prevent it from sticking to the pan.)
Roast for about 55 minutes for a 3 1/2 lb chicken. Do not open the door. Do not even think about opening the door. (Opening the oven will decrease the oven heat, increase cooking time and kill the crispy skin.)
Leave the chicken on a cutting board, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove the twine, carve the chicken and serve immediately.
A simple salad for a simple chicken roast. It is one of my favorite companions for roasted chicken, because it acts as a sponge for chicken drippings (you do reserve the juices from the bottom of the bird I hope?), so imagine all that parsley, lemon and herbs doused in yummy goodness. And if you want to be a bit more indulgent, add a teaspoon of honey and extra lemon juice to the drippings, it will make a lovely sauce.
* 1 cup whole grain bulgur (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
* 1 1/2 cup water
* 1 large English cucumber (about 14 oz)
* 5 – 6 scallions
* 2 stalks of celery
* 1 1/2 packed cups parsley
* 1 1/2 packed cups dill
* 2 - 3 tbsp finely chopped mint
* 2 – 3 tbsp finely chopped basil
* 1 tsp finely chopped oregano
* one small garlic clove
* juice of one lemon
* 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* 1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
* salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring the water to a boil. In a bowl, combine the water and bulgur and soak for an hour. Drain well and if needed squeeze out any excess water.
Chop the parsley and dill finely.
Cut the scallions in quarters lengthwise, and then slice finely crosswise. You will end up with close to minced scallion.
Peel the cucumbers and cut them in quarters lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Cut cucumbers into a very fine dice, 1/8-inch or smaller. Cut the celery into very fine dice, 1/8-inch or smaller.
Juice the lemon. Smash the garlic and in a small bowl mix it with olive oil, red wine vinegar and half of the lemon juice. Add the salt and pepper.
In a large bowl mix the bulgur, cucumber, scallion, parsley, dill, mint, basil, organo and vinaigrette. Mix well and let it rest in refridgerator for at least 30 minutes for flavors to combine. Taste and if needed add more lemon juice, salt or pepper. Serve.