What’s the Best Way to Roast a Chicken?

chickenI make roast chicken a lot. I follow the kitchn’s directions—I basically have it memorized now. I’ll normally stuff my chicken with lemon wedges and garlic, slide some rosemary under the skin, and slather the whole bird in a healthy dousing of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make zuni café’s roast chicken salad, but that takes two days if you do it right. It’s a wonderful dish of roast chicken pieces, a quick bread stuffing, and arugula, all served together with pan drippings and a light vinaigrette. It really is worth all of the extra steps. I hadn’t come across a roast chicken recipe so meticulously described before this one, but it taught me a lot about the basics of a great roast chicken. I learned that what you need for a great roast chicken is a high quality, small-sized bird that’s carefully and thoroughly hand-dried, and very well-seasoned. The recipe’s method of drying the chicken obsessively, very generously salting the whole thing, and resting the bird overnight before cooking was truly revolutionary to how I considered roast chicken.

Until recently, I’ve made most of my roast chickens in cast-iron skillets, and they’ve turned out pretty well. To make dinner simple, I’ll put carrots under the bird as a roasting-rack substitute. I’ve also tried sliced small potatoes underneath, but sometimes they don’t cook through. Sometimes the garlic inside the bird doesn’t cook, either. The chicken is always good, and the skin is always crisp, but there are always those little issues.roast chicken

I’ve made Martha Stewart‘s Paprika-Rubbed Chicken recipe, which calls for a rimmed baking sheet as the cooking vessel. The chicken turned out beautifully everywhere except for the part that rested on the sheet. The skin on the underside was soggy, and the meat was less cooked there than everywhere else. From that, I learned that the bird really does need to be lifted from the pan for it to be evenly cooked. Lesson learned.

I’ve heard that vegetables create “wet heat” in an oven, and that poultry cooks best with “dry heat,” but I don’t know if that’s true with hearty vegetables. Should carrots and turnips and potatoes be cooked separately from a roast? Is it only watery vegetables like tomatoes that would create “wet heat”?

I’m going to keep experimenting with chicken roasting techniques and recipes, and even when I find a fantastic one, I will probably keep looking for how to make it better.


What’s the Best Way to Roast a Chicken?

Jacques Pépin Saved My Béarnaise

béarnaiseThe first classic French sauce I made was béarnaise, and it was just last week! Classic French cooking intimidates me because of its notoriously strict rules, and because it’s often labor-intensive for even the simplest of dishes. I’m embarrassed that I’ve never made an hollandaise, a beurre blanc, or a béchamel, so I set out to make my favorite first: béarnaise.

I chose Julia Child’s recipe. It calls for both white wine vinegar and dry white wine, along with dried tarragon and fresh tarragon. I figured that if I was going to make this sauce, I would do it right, and go all out.

I learned that hollandaise sauce is the base of béarnaise, with the addition of shallots, tarragon, and white wine vinegar. It was good to know that I was basically learning both sauces at once since all it took to make a hollandaise into a béarnaise was a simple tarragon vinegar.

After quickly skimming over Julia Child’s recipe, I began to prepare my béarnaise. I made the tarragon and vinegar mixture. I cracked the eggs, separated the whites from the yolks, and whisked the yolks for a while. I placed the whisked egg yolks on a double boiler, added the tarragon vinegar, and continued to whisk. I melted two sticks of butter in a separate small saucepan, and added it to my yolks. Then things got messy.

I wish I had read the recipe through a few times because then I would have known to be more cautious of the heat, and to slowly slowly incorporate the melted butter into the eggs instead of rushing. My sauce quickly curdled, and I was so disappointed.

Instead of throwing in the towel, I searched “how to save a curdled béarnaise sauce,” and I was so relieved to see that Jacques Pépin had carefully outlined how to rescue a hollandaise (the basis of the sauce) in Jacques Pépin’s New Complete Techniques. His instructions are to gradually add some warm water as soon as you notice your sauce begin to curdle. Sadly, my sauce was beyond this easy fix.

Thankfully, there is another option. This more complicated option is to break down the curdled sauce into two components: the melted butter and the chunkier egg yolk and vinegar mixture. I let my failed sauce sit for a few minutes and then skimmed the melted butter from the top, placing it in a small bowl. I used a fresh bowl and started with 2 tablespoons of warm water, and then gradually added the cooked egg yolk mixture one tablespoon at a time. Once that was all smooth, I added the liquid butter in the same way.

My sauce recovered completely, and I was thrilled. After this experience, I’m going to study Pépin’s techniques cookbook carefully. It’s clear that I need to before diving headfirst into French classics. His recipes are broken down into step-by-step pictures, and he shares indispensable advice for when things don’t go as planned.

Although I feel like I don’t want to follow Julia Child’s recipes after she disappointed me on this one, I would’ve never even tried this recipe had it not been for her straightforward and simple approach to this classic sauce.


Jacques Pépin Saved My Béarnaise

Blueberry-Pecan Galette – Bon Appétit July 2015


I prefer to make pies the lazy way. But I won’t bake a pie with a store-bought crust. I’d rather buy a great pie from a bakery if I’m going to take that big of a shortcut. Instead, I’ll make a galette, and gladly so. Until this summer, my go-to was smitten kitchen‘s Nectarine and Blackberry Galette recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart.

blueberry galette bon appetit

This month, Bon Appétit published a great alternative to a basic fruit galette that incorporates toasted pecans into pate brisée: their Blueberry-Pecan Galette. It adds a wonderful toasty complexity to the usual buttery taste of pie dough. This dough only requires the additional step of toasting the pecans in the oven before incorporating them into the food processor with flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

blueberry galette bon appetit

Part of the reason that I don’t love making pies is that I haven’t yet mastered rolling out pie dough, and this one was no different. My dough was very sticky, so I added about 1 cup more flour, which made it easier to manipulate. It still wasn’t beautifully round in the end, but these things are meant to look rustic, so that’s okay.

blueberry galette bon appetit

Was this recipe ground-breaking? No, but it elevated the recipe that I’m accustomed to. I may try to use this dough in the winter for a pecan pie/galette. Would that be a sticky disaster? Maybe, but it would be worth a try.


Blueberry-Pecan Galette – Bon Appétit July 2015

Duck à L’Orangina – The Little Paris Kitchen

Rachel KhooA while ago, I saw cookbook-writer Rachel Khoo featured on the BBC. I’d never heard of her before, but found her story interesting. A decade ago, she moved from London to Paris to attend a course in pastry and never looked back. Since then, she has written five cookbooks and now hosts cooking shows internationally. I like to see how foreigners (in this case, an Englishwoman) can interpret the cuisines of other countries, and this is especially true in Khoo’s cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen.

In a few of her recipes, she takes French classics and turns them on their heads. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t formally trained beyond taking a course at Le Cordon Bleu, but I like that she doesn’t feel like she needs to stick to the conventional and rigidly traditional style of French cooking.

The first recipe I made from her cookbook was “Duck à L’Orangina,” a simplistic and playful take on the classic canard à l’orange. This dish has a great low-brow feeling about it that I’d compare to beer can chicken.orangina duck

The recipe is very simple and quick to make. All you need to do is marinate the duck legs in orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, cumin, and salt for an hour to overnight. The Orangina comes in when you’re making the sauce, and it is mixed with Cointreau, red wine vinegar, and orange slices.

duck orangina 2

I enjoyed making the recipe. A big part of that was probably the thrill of finding out what an orange soda can do to a duck sauce, and if it could actually taste good. If I were to rework the recipe, I would add some more tartness and bitterness to the sauce because the final result is on the brink of being cloyingly sweet. I would also find a way to remove the orange pith before making the sauce for both aesthetics and taste. The picture in her cookbook displayed beautiful glistening orange slices, and mine looked a little scrappy with the leftover rind. Maybe canned tangerines could work next time?

Note: I used 1lb of duck breast because my local butcher didn’t have wings, so my duck turned out a little overcooked. I would say if you’re using duck breast instead of duck legs, reduce the cooking time by 5-10 minutes.


Duck à L’Orangina – The Little Paris Kitchen

Cauliflower for Dinner

cauliflower steakI always put a head of cauliflower in my shopping cart at the grocery store. Just like eggs and butter, it’s an ingredient that I know I’ll always use. If I don’t want to be creative for dinner, I’ll make a stand-by: roasted cauliflower with garlic, onions, and parmesan. Chop up a head of cauliflower into half-inch pieces, peel some garlics, thinly slice a white onion, toss it all in olive oil and salt, throw on a baking sheet in a 425F oven for 35 minutes, remove from oven, grate parmesan over top, throw in again for 10-15 minutes, and presto! If you’d like to add some herbs like rosemary or thyme, you can do that too. Another of my everyday options is to steam roughly chopped cauliflower until tender, throw it in the food processor, and eat it while pretending it’s mashed potatoes alongside a piece of grilled fish or roasted chicken.

In the past couple of years, wonderful and original cauliflower recipes have appeared in cooking magazines. There’s the whole roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese. That recipe really impresses me. It would be a good one to make for a dinner party. I still haven’t made it, but I look at it longingly every time I flip through my recipes. cauliflower steak

One night, I wanted to make something out of what was in my refrigerator. All I had was a head of cauliflower and a hunk of ginger, but luckily I also had a fully-stocked pantry. I found this recipe: “Cauliflower Steaks with Ginger, Turmeric, and Cumin“. I followed the recipe exactly (without the cilantro because I hate cilantro), and it was a perfect healthy vegetarian weeknight meal. I served it on a bed of quinoa just like in the picture—I cook mine in chicken stock for more depth of flavor. I’d like to try the same recipe using different spice combinations, or maybe with a soysauce and mirin marinade.cauliflower steaks 2

That night, I had originally planned on making Dan Barber’s “Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Purée” but I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. I had just heard Dan Barber’s story in an episode about Blue Hill at Stone Barns on Netflix‘s Chef’s Table, and it made me want to follow one of his recipes. After making my first cauliflower steak recipe, I now understand why Dan Barber’s recipe calls for both cauliflower steaks and their purée because you can only make two steaks out of a single head of cauliflower, and there are a lot of florets left over. It’s a great way to use the whole cauliflower head, and to cook it in two ways for the same recipe.

I really need to make that whole roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese soon.


Cauliflower for Dinner

Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – Momofuku

pork rice cakesLast year, J wrote a post on his mixed feelings about momofuku noodle bar. I visited the restaurant separately, and personally loved it. The momofuku ramen, their version of tonkostu ramen, is wonderful and distinctive, complete with a rich chicken and pork-based broth. They use bacon, and it does make it taste a little different.

I’m fascinated by David Chang talking about food in The Lucky Peach and in shows like The Mind of a Chef. His relationship with food and the way he tries to educate eater drove me to stop by his ssam bar on Second Avenue for brunch one day. We’d passed it before, at night, when it looks like it’s impossible to get a table. When we went for brunch, there wasn’t much of a life, which was nice. The atmosphere is very casual, and the menu is filled with unexpected and inventive choices. The focus is not on presentation (neither in decor nor on plating), but on experimenting with food, flavors, and melding different cuisines to make a distinctively new menu. We ordered the honeycrisp apple kimchi, the liver mousse, the rotisserie duck over rice, and the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes. Everything was very good, but the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes were really very memorable.



rice cakes 3

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It’s deceptive to qualify this dish as spicy sausage-like, because it’s just ground pork that’s incorporated into the stir-fry. There’s also a good helping of dried red chilis, gochugaru, and Sichuan peppercorns thrown in, but it isn’t a spicy sausage. It’s more like a pork bolognese with Sichuan and Korean flavors. Regardless, this dish is incredible. The best part of eating it is the variety of textures, balance of flavors, and complexity of spices and ingredients.

To make the dish, you caramelize yellow onions in a large pan (I used a cast-iron skillet), then you cook ground pork in another skillet, breaking up the pieces as you go along. It’s a bit of a juggle to handle and keep track of all the ingredients, and I don’t own two large skillets, so I had to transfer the ingredients from one pan to another mid-cooking (ugh).

Next, the pork is reserved to the side, then the red chilis are toasted and the garlic is cooked in the pork fat left in the pan from the pork-cooking part. Then, ssamjang, Shichuan peppercorns, and gochugaru are added. The caramelized onions are incorporated, then the pork, everything is seasoned, rice cakes are boiled and added, and then silken tofu is mixed in.

The potent spices are calmed and softened with dense rice cakes and whipped silken tofu. Although not instructed in the recipe, I would recommend using a whisk to incorporate the silken tofu into the rest of the ingredients, as it adopts a fluffy and creamy texture that works really well with all of the other textures.

This recipe is now a household go-to. Spicier than a bolognese, it is more complex than a ddukboki, and hearty enough to be a stand-alone dinner. These are not ingredients nor flavors that one would happen to combine into a dish during a regular weeknight, but there’s no reason why they can’t be incorporated into your everyday food repertoire with a little bit of effort. The flavors in this dish are the expression of the thoughtful creativity that draws us to David Chang.

-V (& a little bit of input from J)

Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – Momofuku

Chicken Claypot with Caramel Sauce – The Slanted Door

caramel chickenEven if you don’t like sweet sauces at the dinner table, Charles Phan’s Caramelized Chicken Claypot really is a winner. When I first considered what a caramel chicken dish would taste like, I imagined a gooey and thick sugary sauce coating small pieces of chicken. This dish, from the Slanted Door menu, however, is thankfully nothing like that.

The sauce is complex: not just sweet, but also spicy, salty, slightly fishy (in a great way), and fragrant. It is made by melting rounds of palm sugar over medium heat, and whisking in fish sauce. To prepare the chicken, ginger and shallots are first added to the bottom of a claypot, then the chicken and thai chilis are added, along with the palm sugar/fish sauce mixture. It’s given a bit of time to cook, and dinner is done.

The only specialty ingredient in the recipe is the palm sugar, but it’s easy to find in Thai grocers—we found ours at Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown. Just like cooking with cane sugar, you need to keep close watch of it to make sure it doesn’t burn. It turns into a strange thick yellow mess before it melts completely, and it takes some careful regulation of temperature to get there. Nothing too complicated though. It’s an indispensable part of the recipe, and more than worth it.

palm sugar

chicken claypot

To watch a video of Charles Phan preparing the dish on camera for epicurious, click here.


Chicken Claypot with Caramel Sauce – The Slanted Door

How to Prepare Chinese Broccoli

chinese broccoliIn NYC Chinatown, there are so many affordable and fresh vegetables to choose from, but I often don’t know how to prepare them. In Chinese restaurants, there are wonderful vegetarian options on the menu like eggplant with garlic, stir fried Chinese broccoli, or water spinach, but strangely, they’re frequently the most expensive items on the menu. I’ve often wondered how vegetables can be more expensive than meat or poultry, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of our favorite vegetables is Chinese broccoli (gai lan). You can find heaps of this leafy green in Asian supermarkets for less than a dollar a pound. I didn’t have a recipe, but I’m not one to look at something that’s less than a dollar and not buy it.

I scoured the internet and as most things go online there were a lot of variations and opinions. Many recipes added questionable ingredients or were unnecessarily complex.

I didn’t find a specific recipe online, but I did come to an understanding of what I needed to do in the kitchen to cook gai lan properly. Keep these thoughts in mind when you’re at home cooking this vegetable yourself. Preparing the stalks and leaves: remove the tough ends of the stalks, ugly leaves, and any buds. Cooking: no need to steam, just blanch them and watch as they become a vibrant green (poke to check for doneness). Make sure to drain them well and prepare a nice sauce.

I pan-fried minced garlic, minced ginger, and chili flakes in some vegetable oil and drizzled it over the gai lan. Salt was not necessary nor was oyster sauce. V is rarely impressed with my cooking, but she couldn’t help but compliment me for this.

And that’s it! It’s super simple and super tasty.


How to Prepare Chinese Broccoli

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

seabass cabernet sauceLately, I’ve been biting off a lot more than I can chew in the kitchen. I’ll see a tasty recipe and glance over it to see what I need and gauge whether or not I’ll like eating it. At that point, I should also consider skill-level and cooking time, but for this recipe I did not to my discomfort.

Do not let French Roots fool you with its one-page recipes. Do not think that because the ingredients are non-speciality items that this is something easy to make. DO get ready for one of the more delightful, succulent, and exquisite fish dishes that you can enjoy at home!

bassEach element of Pan-Fried Bass is simple to execute, but there are many of these elements. Fortunately, French Roots presents the recipe in the most logical method I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. The ingredient list is sequential. It doesn’t matter to me that ingredients are not grouped in some way or another. All ingredients in sequence made life a breeze in the kitchen! I didn’t have to back-track or wonder or divide portions, I just went through the list and added elements together.

bass 2

The sauce was very time-consuming, as is customary for many traditional French sauces. Vegetables are cooked in olive oil in a large Dutch oven, adding red wine (oops, used a whole bottle instead of half by mistake) and fish bones (we used frozen stock made from the fish department at Whole Foods) after 6 minutes, and then brought to a boil, then simmered. The vegetables and fish create a lovely stock. Then a shallot reduction is made alongside the fish and vegetables, eventually incorporated and made into a sauce. We had to reduce the sauce forever, but then again, it might have had something to do with using a whole bottle of wine! Meanwhile, leeks are gently cooked, fish is sautéed, butter is whisked into the sauce, and a beautiful dish comes to life. Despite some bumps in the road, some improv, and some mistakes, this was easily one of the most interesting French meals we’ve ever made at home. We are so excited to continue cooking through French Roots.

p.s. You may notice in the pictures above, a strangely bound object. We had a bit of fun with the elements of the bouquet garni and bound them up in celery stocks…in the end we put it all in a muslin bag…never forget to have fun in the kitchen!

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce

-V & J

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

Almost-Refried Black Beans

black beansRecently, I’ve grown tired of ordering takeouts for weekday dinners, so I’ve made an effort to cook more simple meals at home. Ideally, I’d want these meals to also serve as lunch for the next day.

I’ve always enjoyed the refried black beans at Rosa Mexicano, and love that their flavor is smokier and more complex than pinto refried beans. I set out to make refried black beans just like those as a side dish for dinner, and to have the remainder for lunch the next day. I found a lot of recipes for refried black beans online, using various methods of soaking dried beans, prepping, and cooking.

black beansBefore finding the right recipe, I went grocery shopping and mistakenly bought an uncured slab of bacon, assuming it was a crucial ingredient. Turns out that isn’t quite true, and I had to do a bit of digging to find a refried black beans recipe that included bacon. I found a great one in the end—a recipe that is thankfully easy, that doesn’t require soaking dried beans overnight, and that isn’t very time-consuming.

black beans 2

I used the “Refried Black Beans” recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen, and made some adjustments. Instead of chopping slices of bacon, I cubed the uncured slab of bacon. I sautéed the onions, garlic, celery, and jalapeños along with the bacon, added the chicken broth, beans, and salt, and brought them to a boil. Then I simmered them all for 3 hours, adding some more chicken broth midway through. But then I stopped at step 4. I didn’t purée the mixture in a food processor, and I didn’t refry the beans in vegetable oil. Instead, I tried the cooked beans and bacon before I was going to blend them, and they were already delicious. Why purée and fry something that’s already great?

Heartier than a refried bean, they were spicy, smokey, bacon-heavy, and perfect. I served them as a side dish at dinner, and then ate them with rice the next day. Highly recommended indeed.


Almost-Refried Black Beans

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

ak cookiesPeter Meehan mentions a recipe for his favorite cookies in New York magazine’s Grub Street Diet. Grub Street Diet interviews are fascinating to me because sometimes I discover great restaurants through them. I also like that I don’t have to feel nosey when finding out what other people are eating through the week. Don’t know why it’s so compelling, but it is.

Interview aside, this particular Grub Street Diet steered me towards the Lucky Peach website, where the AK cookies recipe lives.

These cookies are the gold standard in Meehan’s home. If a man that writes well about great food for a living wants to share his favorite cookie recipe, there’s no reason not to make it.

These AK cookies (named as such after a friend from Alaska who first made them) are basically souped-up chocolate chip cookies. A lot of extra ingredients go into the making of this cookie, but they all make sense together. You’ll need to procure oats, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans in addition to the regular components of chocolate chip cookies. They were simple-simple to make (2 steps), and are easily freezable.

I scooped all of the batter into little ice cream scoops, baked half of them, and froze the other half. The fresh batch took around 14 minutes to bake while the frozen batch, baked a couple days later, took around 17 minutes. AK cookies

These aren’t cookies to impress a baking wizard, but these are extraordinary everyday cookies that are a pleasure to eat as an afternoon snack. They are not beautiful, and they will not show off your baking craftsmanship, but they will satisfy your cravings for sweet things and then some.AK cookies 2-V

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon Appétit January 2015

spicy charred octopusIt’s worthwhile to read the “RSVP – readers sound off” inquiries in the beginning pages of Bon Appétit. There are often unexpected recipes requested from notable restaurants around the U.S., and wonderful cooking inspiration. In the January 2015 issue, someone asked how to make octopus at home. I’d personally never considered making octopus a feasible endeavor, but the recipe looked fairly straightforward and the ingredients sounded perfectly balanced and intriguing.

Jeffrey will take on any frightening cooking that’s presented to him, and this octopus dish was a great example of that.

With the ingredients list in hand, we headed to Chinatown to check out their aquatic offerings. The recipe called for a 5 to 6 pound octopus, but these are very difficult to come by it turns out, so we went with 5 pounds of baby octopus instead. They were half-frozen, but we learned from the magazine that that’s actually a good thing, and that it helps tenderize the sometimes tough and chewy flesh. I didn’t involve myself with this project besides being there for the shopping, so we will continue with Jeffrey’s thoughts on the preparation of this dish:

Most people who have any business in the kitchen or have high culinary aspirations or know a thing or two about food will immediately think of Jiro’s poor assistants from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. There’s a tiny moment in the documentary during which it is explained that the lowest assistant on the totem pole is tasked with “massaging” the day’s octopus…for hours! It’s explained that this is the key to tender octopus. So, thinking of Jiro’s lowest assistant, I hiked up my sleeves and massaged the babies for no more than 15 minutes. As V mentioned, the octopi were half-frozen…15 minutes in, I lost feeling in my fingers. There was no discernible difference in tenderness, so I’d go with the magazine’s opinion that frozen octopus is more tender than fresh octopus. It’s easier to find anyway.

octopus 1
We were not drunk in the making of this dish, so why is there a cork floating in the sauce? This was another tip from the magazine. Apparently, this aids in the tenderizing of octopus as well. But who knows why or how this works? It’s easy enough to throw the cork in and no one loses.octopus 2
It’s fun to think about how people are people in the kitchen and will come up with all sorts of tips and tricks to pull off the perfect dish. It’s a primal desire to want to eat and prepare tasty things, so it makes sense that our illogical and superstitious impulses remain strong in the kitchen as they are lost in our other daily activities.

octopus 3

For the recipe, visit Bon Appétit: Spicy Charred Octopus

– J & V

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon Appétit January 2015