“What’s the difference between a fryer and a roaster?” I ask the kindly butcher at my local Safeway (who was, for the record, not kindly, as he should have been, and it wasn’t like it was busy, because it was a Sunday night, you bastard … again solidifying my love/hate relationship with that department).
I’m standing over the frozen birds, and mixed together are fryers, which appear to be smaller than (and are about half the price of) the roasters. My theory is that the roasters are special breeds designed to have bigger breasts — you know, like the turkeys that have been genetically engineered to be like 97% breast, 2% legs and 1% everything else.
As it turns out, I’m not that far off — roasters are simply older, therefore bigger (I just typed “bitter,” which may also apply) with … more breast meat. So for tonight’s meal — Roast Chicken With Croutons and Wilted Greens — I, naturally opt for … the fryer. (Wait, I can explain! I just wrote down the ingredients, not the names of the dishes. And with finances foremost in my mind, of course I went for the cheap one.)
I did, however, remember that I hate the concept of wilted greens. Either steam them or eat them raw; this “wilted” is neither here nor there, a lousy compromise that reeks of preciousness and pleases nobody. So I decide tonight’s arugula will be — substitution alert! — in salad form.
I’ve realized that I would be more likely to eat vegetarian if meat weren’t available in such tidy, pretty, E-Z packaging. Trying to wedge the giblets (not in a bag, like turkeys!) out of the inside of the still semifrozen bird was kind of wrenching, especially when I kept pulling out more organs and thinking, “This is just awful.” When I do turkeys at Thanksgiving I usually have big yellow rubber gloves on because I’m so grossed out by the experience, but decided to go hands-on for this chicken and … sorry, chicken. If it helps at all, I had to bleach out my sink because I was skeeved out by raw chicken juice all over the place.
Plus, the neck was still attached — usually it’s not, and I spent a good five minutes convinced it was just a thawing issue, prying and tugging and pleading (and calling my mom, who thankfully didn’t answer the phone to confront my stupid question) before I finally realized: “Oh, it’s a fryer, so I bet they’re expecting me to cut it up anyway.” This is why I love boneless, skinless chicken breasts: Unwrap, enjoy. (Well, unwrap, cook, enjoy.)
Cost of ingredients: $10.34 for the chicken, arugula, a lemon and French bread (to make croutons). I had red wine vinegar, olive oil, coarse salt and pepper.
Substitutions: Continuing last night’s theme, I replaced the fresh thyme with Herbes de Napa. And non-extra-virgin olive oil for rubbing the bird. It’s baking at 450 degrees. Do you think the extra-virgin quality matters?
As easy as they said? Once you get over the carnage (“Oh, God — do I have to cut things out of the inside of this bird?”), you’re home-free. There is, however, a disturbing amount of smoke created by roasting an olive oil-roasted bird at 450 degrees. At first the house was redolent of delicious herbs, and then suddenly it became, “What’s that smell?” and I went into the kitchen to be confronted by a smoky veil. I have two doors open and the stovetop vent going, and it still smells like “oven,” not “delicious food.”
ALSO: I’m not sure what spell has been cast over the folks at Everyday Food where they insist on roasting a chicken on a rimmed baking sheet. There are things called roasting pans. They’re deep, so that spattering juices (dirty!) don’t end up on your oven walls. And I usually reserve baking sheets for things that aren’t going to stick to it — which this chicken, and subsequently the croutons, are going to. But tonight I was confronted with, essentially, a hot shallow, metal board that flicked 450-degree oil at me while I tried to gently pry off the chicken intact.
How’d THAT go over? We had a timing issue — namely, that it takes more than the 45-50 minutes on the recipe to roast the bird all the way through. So I took the bird out, it looked delicious … and then we hit the uncooked part in the middle. Back in the oven you go for another 10 minutes, while everything else … wilts. (Dammit!) Also, I really, really don’t know how to carve a bird (“Where is that joint I’m supposed to be cutting into? The hell with it — I’m just twisting off the leg”) so, after the breast was taken care of, we just resorted to shredding what we could with forks. And because it was a fryer, there wasn’t a lot of meat for a grown-man dinner.
It might make a good lunch portion, though.
Would I make it again? Next time a recipe calls for a roast chicken, I will buy one for $5 at Costco — this bird cost me $4.37 and an hour that was unnecessary. The arugula with salt and red wine vinegar, though? Strangely tasty.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 02-16-10|
|The shirt: Vintage cotton button-down by Neiman Marcus (with, frankly, a disturbing pattern), from Buffalo Exchange.|
|The sweater: Zip-up vest by Cypress Links, from Dillard’s.|
|The pants: Classic fit, Harper wash jeans by Joe’s Jeans, from Nordstrom.|
|The shoes: Suede chukka boots from Martin + Osa.|