September 21, 2009

The Perfect Chicken (part 2) – The Chicken and the Roman Baths

If you haven’t already done so, read Part One of The Perfect Chicken – The Chicken Hunt here.

After we had found the Perfect Chicken and his Imperfect brother (cousin?  nephew?  co-chicken?), we tucked them into the fridge overnight before the first day of cooking.  That night we met up with our Estonian friends for tennis.  They are a lovely couple who play tennis better than my husband and I, and who think we’re crazy.  I know this for a fact because they said “You’re both crazy” after we had revealed that we had spent the better part of an afternoon shopping for the perfect chicken.  Later on, during post-tennis beers, they were introduced to the Perfect Chicken and his Imperfect pal.  When they heard how long it would take to prepare the Perfect Chicken, they again said “You’re crazy”.  Then they immediately volunteered as taste testers.  The Great Chicken Showdown was set for two days hence.

So, on to the cooking.  The next noon, I awoke bright and early to start the chicken prep.  First, the chicken needed to be brined.  This is the first step that Heston takes to make certain that his Perfect Roast Chicken is as moist as possible.  When you brine a piece of meat, it ensures that it stays juicy during cooking.  I’ve brined a Christmas turkey before and it works wonders on the meat.  (Brining a turkey or other large cut of meat is best done in a cold climate like Edmonton Alberta, Canada in December, because you don’t need to make extra room in the fridge for a ginormous turkey when you have a conveniently frozen outdoor world.  We just bunged ours onto our frozen, snow covered deck for the entire brining time.  Winter – Canada’s Beer Fridge!  Unless it gets too cold of course, then you get a frozen block of salty turkey and beersicles.  That’s not great.)  For those who are interested, here’s an explanation of how brining works.

To make the brine, I had to first determine the weight of the water that would cover the chicken completely.  Unfortunately, my scale couldn’t cope with the weight of my cast iron dutch oven plus chicken:

H20 req

I ended up having to fiddle-faddle around by covering the chicken with water, then removing the chicken from the water, dumping it into a jug (after tare-ing the scale on the jug weight), then adding together the total weight of the filled jugs in order to determine the total water weight.  All in all, it took 3.85 L of water to cover my chicken fully.  I then had to calculate 8% of that amount, which told me how much salt (in grams) I needed for the brine:

determining NaCl

Isn’t math fun?!  Note also that my salt packaging is in Arabic.  Thankfully, the other side is in English, otherwise my shopping would be far more interesting.  Math and language in one post – who says blogs are unedifying vanity projects?

I dumped the salt into the water, heated the water and stirred until the salt was fully dissolved, then cooled the brine. 

the salting

While I was waiting for the brine to cool, I did a little surgery on the Perfect Chicken, giving him a wingtip-ectomy.  These wingtips were put into the fridge for further cooking the next day.   

PC - wingtip removal

Once the brine was cool, I added my chicken, then put it into the fridge for six hours of brining:


(The fridge that I’m using is one that we bought to put into the back of our Land Rover for camping trips in the desert.  In the year I’ve been here, we haven’t been camping yet, but this little fridge has come in very, very handy for parties and cooking marathons.)

Six hours later, I recovered the brined chicken from his dark, chilly isolation tank.  We started the Roman Bath; I rinsed him off, filled the sink with ice water and left him there to rinse off, changing the water every fifteen minutes.  While he was basking in the tepidarium, I washed out my pot, filled it with fresh water (again, enough to cover the chicken), and brought it to the boil.  When it was boiling, and the chicken had completed his hour-long soak, I cleaned out the other side of my sink and filled it with ice water.  Then the Roman Bath continued. 

First, into the caldarium for thirty seconds:


And then into the frigidarium for 30 seconds:


These steps were done twice.  The purpose of the Roman Bath is to prepare the skin so it gets as crispy as possible.  As Heston explains in his book, it’s the same process used to prepare crispy duck.  If you’re wondering why my hands are looking less than feminine in the caldarium photo, it’s because I’m astonishingly clumsy, so rather than having a wonderful photo session of me dropping the chicken halfway between the hot water and the stove, splashing and burning myself, then knocking the chicken on the tile floor, chasing it around, tackling the dog, and forcibly extracting the chicken from the dog’s mouth (which would be off-putting for our taste testers, though admittedly, they wouldn’t know unless they’re reading this now), my infinitely more dexterious husband volunteered to be the Perfect Chicken’s bath attendant.  He was a magnificent poultry-manipulator. 

After the Perfect Chicken had his second dip in the frigidarium he was all tired out and ready for bed.  Swimming does that to me too.  So, we dried him off, put him on a wire rack, covered him with a new J-cloth, and tucked him into bed.






Nighty-Night Mr. Perfect Chicken, sir!!!

Once this was done, I too retired, ready to get up bright and early the next day for the final stages of the Perfect Chicken cooking process, and the taste test, which was set for 3:00 pm.

It took about nine hours to get to this part of the recipe, but none of the steps were particularly onerous (unless you count the danger-fraught Roman Bath chicken-wrangling bit).  I was pretty confident at this stage that the next day’s cooking would be similarly involved, yet easy enough that I could get the entire meal finished and ready by myself.  Was I mad?

Read Part Three:  The Chicken Fight here!

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