It's been four months, but we finally redeemed our free cooking lesson that we won back in October.
Bryan actually won the free cooking lesson with Richard Garcia, executive chef of Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro (update 2011 - Richard Garcia has left Tastings and is now executive chef at 606 Congress) . This happened back in October when we attended the Eat Drink Be Fair event - a Top Chef style cook-off where four local chefs competed to create the best meal with the secret ingredient (in this case, Green Mountain Fair Trade coffee).
When Richard asked me what I wanted to learn, I said, "Make me your signature dishes. What's most popular at your restaurant?"
According to Richard, the all-natural ½ roasted chicken is one of his most popular dishes. Not only does the owner of Upstairs on the Square order it every time she goes there (about once a month), he claims it's better than the famous roasted chicken at Hammersly's. (!)
Learning to make chicken is actually perfect for me. If you haven't noticed by now, I don't cook much meat. In fact, I'm pretty horrible at it. I don't generally like handling raw meat, and I hate bones. As a result, my knowledge of how to cook meat is close to nil. I hate to admit it, but this was my first time ever cutting a whole chicken and roasting it!!
Here's Richard explaining to me how he chooses his chickens. He's very against large-scale commercial chickens (no yellow chickens!) and instead opts for all natural "white" chickens from a local vendor. He's passionate about fair trade and sustainability (just check out his blog!). He cares a lot about the source of his ingredients, and personally visits many of the farmers, fishermen, etc. that source his products.
Here's Matt. He's the chef de cuisine, and has worked with Richard for years. Matt's nuts - he lives in Boston yet commutes by rail and bicycle every day to work. Keep in mind this restaurant is at Patriot's Place in Foxborough. Not close! Truly a living example of true, sustainable living!
Matt's showing me a cool trick here - using tongs to juice a lemon into the brine.
I had a lot of fun at this cooking lesson. Not only did I get to cook inside a real live restaurant kitchen, I had a fabulous time talking to Richard and Matt. I learned a lot about what it's like to be in the restaurant business. Let me tell you - it's tough work! Richard was telling us that this was probably the first time in over 5 years that he was actually sitting down and enjoying a proper meal at his restaurant. I guess when you're working in the kitchen there just isn't any time. You graze all day, but can't afford to sit down to a real meal!
We made brine by combining water, salt, sugar, herbs (rosemary and sage), black peppercorns, garlic, and lemon. Heat the brine mixture to melt the salt and sugar, and then let it cool completely before adding the chicken to brine overnight. At home, if you're short on time, you can cook everything in ¼ the volume of water and then cool it down quickly by adding the remaining ¾ volume of cold water to the pot (see recipe at bottom for details).
While the brine is cooling, you can debone the chicken. I had never deboned a whole chicken before, so this was interesting. Honestly, I can't remember much except that Richard says he doesn't cut chicken the way most people do it. His way is sort of a shortcut. Instead of laying the chicken on its front and cutting out the spine first, he lays the chicken on its back and cuts around the spine . . . I think.
I needed lots of help from him, but I did successfully debone my first chicken ever!
After removing the chicken from the brine, rinse well, slather with olive oil, salt, & pepper, and bake at 375°F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160° F. Of course, you can put some root vegetables underneath the chicken to collect all the drippings. Yummmm . . chicken fat roasted potatoes!
Oven Roasted Chicken
courtesy of Richard Garcia, executive chef of Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro
two 3-lb chickens (deboned and cut in half)
1 gallon cold water
1 cup plus 2 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus 2 T sugar
12 sage leaves
8 garlic cloves (1 head) smashed
2 T black peppercorms
3 large rosemary sprigs
zest and juice of 2 lemons
In a very large pot, combine 1 quart of the water with 1 cup of the salt and sugar, sage leaves, garlic, peppercorns, and rosemary. Add the lemon zest, juice, and lemon halves and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Let cool completely. Then stir in remaining 3 quarts of cold water. Add the chickens, making sure they are completely submerged, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the chicken from the brine and dry well (you can use paper towels). Place on a rack in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours closest to the fan.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Season the chicken liberally with salt and fresh cracked pepper, rub with extra virgin olive oil, and place in oven skin side down for 15-20 minutes. If you want, you can use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. When the internal temperature reaches 160° F, take out the chicken. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
Jen Tries the Recipe At Home
Well, you can probably tell from the picture, but my home version didn't turn out quite as yummy as the one made by Richard. I'm thinking the biggest reason is that I don't own a roasting pan. As a result, my chicken pieces were sitting in their own juices versus having the juices drain to the bottom like in a real roasting pan.
This equals not-as-crispy-as-I-would-have-liked skin.
The meat was definitely juicy and tender, though, and not tough at all. The brining definitely helps a ton.
I'm a bit sensitive to salt, and I thought my chicken was borderline too salty. I wonder whether that was because I purchased pre-cut chicken, which may not need to brine as long. If I were to make it again, I would either brine it for less time (I did about 8 hours this time), try the recipe with a whole chicken, or rub the chicken a little less generously with salt before baking.
All in all though, I learned a ton at this lesson. Richard is really friendly and knows a lot about cooking. I definitely need to stop by again and actually try some of the dishes on the menu!
Tomorrow: Pan Seared Scallops with Carrot Ginger Puree and Trumpet Mushrooms
Thanks to Loren Shih for taking some of these photos and thanks to Matt Maue for letting me borrow his camera after mine ran out of batteries!
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