So here it is July, and I’m proud to say that I have taken another step toward the completion of my New Year’s Resolution (to attempt a restaurant-quality meal each month). I’m not as proud to say that this still only makes four such meals despite the fact that July is the seventh month of the year, but I’m committed to picking up the slack so that I can still end the year with twelve of these experiences under my belt.
For this month’s challenge, I found myself intrigued by several tweets raving about Thomas Keller’s recipe for roast chicken. “So simple!” “So perfect!” So I decided to try it for myself and see what all the fuss was about. To complete the restaurant quality meal, I turned to Food & Wine’s archives and picked a suitably summery side from a list of Keller recipes: heirloom tomatoes stuffed with succotash. Remembering what happened when I tried to channel Barton Seaver back in May, I knew I would be thinking long and hard about every grain of salt I added to these dishes.
Recipes for Thomas Keller’s favorite roast chicken and the succotash-stuffed tomatoes after the jump.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a 2 1/2 to 3 pound chicken (the fresher the better) and rinse it. Pat it dry with paper towels as thoroughly as possible – the less moisture remaining, the drier the heat in the oven and the crispier the skin. Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken and truss it (to promote more even roasting). At this point the recipe calls for us to “rain salt over the bird” to the tune of another 1 tablespoon of salt. I scaled it back to about a half a tablespoon in deference to my experience with Seaver’s recipes last time.
When the oven reaches temperature, place the trussed chicken on a roasting rack (or in an oven-safe pan) and cook it for 50 to 60 minutes. Take out the now beautifully browned chicken to let it rest, and turn your attention to the pan drippings that have come from the roasting. Add two teaspoons of minced thyme to the juices and use them to baste the chicken a few times while it’s cooling.
And that’s pretty much it. After 15 minutes’ rest you can tear into the chicken, or you can spread some unsalted butter and/or Dijon mustard atop the crispy skin to enjoy the meal the way Keller does.
While the bird was cooking, I moved on to the second half of the meal – heirloom tomatoes stuffed with succotash. I’ll be the first to admit it: unless there’s a “Sufferin'” before it and it’s coming from a cartoon, I have next to no experience with succotash. I know it’s generally perceived to be a a disconcerting vegetarian option…frozen lima beans aren’t very appetizing, and fresh ones are all but impossible to find. But I was committed making a succotash from scratch, which would give me a chance to learn exactly what it has to offer.
To make the succotash, my first challenge was finding fresh lima beans. Frozen just wouldn’t do – there was an entire note from Keller talking about the difference between the succotash of his childhood (frozen) and the one he prepares from fresh. Stymied as to where we’d find 3/4 cup of fresh lima beans, I remembered a product from my Trader Joe’s days and made a key substitution; I opted to use shelled soybeans instead. With that little hurdle cleared, it was time to make the recipe.
I preheated the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and, while it was warming up, cooked the kernels cut from 2 large ears of corn and about 4 ounces of shelled soybeans in a pot of boiling water. I drained the beans and corn and set them aside to cool. Meanwhile, I cut a wedge out of the top of each of four heirloom tomatoes, though I didn’t go all the way through. I roasted these tomatoes (without throwing anything out) for about 5 minutes before pulling them out of the oven and scooping their insides like a jack-o-lantern. Each roasted tomato would serve as a delivery mechanism for the all-too-messy succotash.
To finish the recipe, I added two tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat and proceeded to cook down a finely diced red pepper. When the pepper looked about done (could take you about 4 minutes, could be closer to 10), I added the now-cool corn and soybeans to the skillet. Next stop: plating.
The succotash was vibrant, with the bright green of the beans picking up the white of the corn and the red of the pepper. The flavors were equally bold, a nice counterpoint of sweet corn and acidic tomato. The side easily emerged as the hero of the plate. We found ourselves hungrily enjoying the combination and even thinking ahead to how well it would work in our lunches the next day.
The chicken? Sad to say, it didn’t fare quite as well. Maybe I just didn’t pat enough of the moisture out before popping it into the oven, or maybe we’re spoiled from our favorite brining recipe, but we found Keller’s version a bit plain. The skin crisped in most places but generally speaking it was not the succulent meat with the crunchy skin that we were hoping for.
Even so, the meal was a celebration of fresh, local ingredients that definitely highlighted Keller’s ability to bring tastes together. And the substitution of the soybeans for the lima beans? We thought it worked out pretty well, thank you very much.
If you’ve had experience with the Keller chicken recipe, we’d love some thoughts on what we might have done wrong. I can’t guarantee we’ll try it this way again, since brining a bird is not an especially laborious step and it pays off with BIG dividends, but I’d love to pick up some tips as well.