Perfectionism and Poulet Rôti

April 4th, 2011 | Rachel

 

Julia (Child) says the best way to judge a cook is by his or her roasted chicken.  Sure, there are other ways of cooking chicken, like wrapping it in bacon and cooking it rotisserie-style (ummm….yum), but those ways doesn’t require anywhere near the level of oversight as poulet rôti.  Julia says it takes a true perfectionist to get it right.  You have to hover over it, basting it every 8 or so minutes, and the way to know it is done is by the sounds it makes.

I guess you could say I am a bit of a perfectionist.  I particularly enjoy projects that are detail-oriented and that put my obsessive nature to good use.  This is probably why baking was such a natural creative outlet to pick up while I was in law school.  I first dabbled with cake decorating, but quickly grew bored with making cakes out of a box.  Next were cookies and cupcakes, the crowd pleasers.  But when that wasn’t enough, I switched to pies.  Pies combine the art of pastry-making with the endless possibilities of cooking fruits, custards, and creams.

Even though I am used to dealing with finicky recipes, I was nervous about attempting the simple dish of French roasted chicken.  I thought about making it my first dish because it is one of my all-time favorite things to eat, but I got scared I wouldn’t do it justice and my infantile run as an amateur French cook would come to an abrupt halt.  Instead I made the more forgiving boeuf bourguignon.

You see, there is a part of me that believes I can get most things right on the first try.  Call me egotistical — or at the very least overly sure of myself — but I’ve never started a project I couldn’t finish and I’ve never met a recipe I couldn’t make.  When it comes to French roasted chicken, however, that part of my brain was strangely quiet.  It was only with great hesitation that I forced myself to attempt this dish this past Friday night.

The other reason I chose this endeavor for this particular evening is the cook time was only an hour and twenty minutes.  Even with a full day of work, there would be plenty of time to stop by the grocery store and cook in order to have dinner ready at a reasonable hour for my two dinner guests who so kindly agreed to be my guinea pigs.

Getting started with Julia Child and Edith Piaf on Pandora

The makings of roasted chicken

I was about five minutes into the recipe when I realized I overlooked the part in the recipe calling for a carrot and an onion to flavor the chicken.  So, with the oven and chicken ready to go, I ran out the door to the grocery store around the corner.  Buying groceries in the city can be expensive and heavy, but nothing beats beings able to run and grab a few forgotten items from the store and getting back before the end of the next song on the playlist.

Although I ended up with all of the correct ingredients, I still took one shortcut…. I didn’t truss my chicken.  According to the instructions, I am supposed to use a mattress needle to sew up my chicken into a neat, tight bundle of poultry.  I don’t even have string to tie Ms. Poulet’s legs together, much less a six-inch needle.  Julia claims this is done for presentation’s sake, so I skipped over the trussing instructions and focused on the salting and buttering.

The secret ingredient is butter

Julia’s recipe for roasted chicken is simple.  A little bit of salt and layers and layers of butter.  You have to constantly babysit the bird, basting it every 5-8 minutes.  Sounds like a pain, but I assure you the hovering is worth it.  To accompany this dish, I repeated Julia’s buttered potatoes and added roasted tomatoes and buttered green beans.


Roasted tomatoes and buttered green beans

In the end, the chicken wasn’t perfect.  I was running behind schedule, and I quickly learned that trying to entertain guests and cook a French dish for the first time isn’t easy.  Between listening to the chicken and listening to my friends’ stories, I chose the latter.  Perhaps as a result, the chicken ended up far from crispy, although the inside was still moist and delicious.

Crispy or not, we devoured the 3-pound bird, and the stripped carcass is now sitting in my freezing waiting to be turned into chicken stock.

I give myself a C+ on this one.  I am going to have to do some research about chicken skin to figure out why mine wasn’t crispy.  I suspect my oven is not as hot as it should it.  Also, I was paranoid about ended up with dry chicken (what greater sacrilege could there be than a dry chicken?), so I took it out probably ten minutes too soon.  But, like I said, it was still delicious.

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