October 31, 2009

The Perfect Pizza (part three) – The Attack of the Cherry Tomatoes

Read the first part of the Perfect Pizza – D’oh here, and the second part here.

I had finally determined the flour and water that I would be using for my perfect pizza!  Now, all that remained was to make the tomato topping and find a better mozarella cheese for my pizza.  How hard could it be?

It’s precisely because of the remaining ease of the recipe that I’m convinced that the following (imaginary) conversation took place in the Fat Duck test kitchen when this recipe was being developed and filmed:

Heston Blumenthal:  “Well, there it is, the perfect pizza.  All the home cook needs to do is spend about twenty minutes mixing and rolling out dough, a few minutes making tomato sauce, and then throw on some tomatoes and cheese and cook the pizza.  Simplicity itself!”

BBC womble:  “Heston, I’m afraid that’s not good enough.  You’re the guy who admitted to peeling peas in the ‘Big Fat Duck Cookbook’.  You can’t make it this simple.  It’s supposed to be Perfection by Heston Blumenthal!  This is too easy… the home cook and viewing public will never believe that this is a Blumenthal recipe.  Beyond that, the show time won’t be long enough.  Can’t you have them grind the wheat for the flour or something?”

Heston:  “No one grinds their own wheat for flour.  The Italians have that all figured out, and we can’t possibly better that.  But, I do see what you’re saying.  Let’s see what we can do to make it a bit harder and more fiddly…  What ingredients are we using?”

BBC womble:  “In the pizza crust; flour, yeast, water, salt, malt syrup.”

Heston:  “Well, there’s not much leeway for increasing complexity there.  I guess we could get them to buy rock salt and crush it by hand or using a hammer, but that’s not what I saw in Naples.  I’ve already talked about the water, and there’s really no difficulty in going out to buy a bottle of water, not that I’m even calling for that.  Any rational person should realise that tap water will do. As for the yeast, well, yeast is yeast, and it’s not like I’m making a sourdough crust where we need them to make and grow a starter…”

BBC womble:  “Why not get them to make a sourdough crust??  We could send you to San Francisco to find out how they do it.  It would take up a good five minutes or so in the show!”

Heston (somewhat irritably):  “That wouldn’t make it perfect Neapolitan pizza though, now would it?  Maybe next time we can do an American style pizza instead, and slot the sourdough in there.  What about the cheese?  Maybe we could get them to make their own mozarella?  No.  No one will be able to find water buffalo milk in the UK.  That leaves us the tomato sauce.  I’ve already got them pressure cooking the tomatoes, since you said that opening a can of tomatoes is far too easy, though that’s what they did in Naples.  What if we had them oven drying some tomatoes too?  That would give you an extra few minutes for the show.”

BBC womble:  “Good idea, Heston!  That will work.  But still, it’s not a really big deal to skin and seed three or four big tomatoes.  The recipe’s still too much of a doddle.”

Heston:  “I’ve got it!  What if we make the tomatoes – smaller?!?  I’ve always liked the flavour profile of a good cherry tomato anyway, and, come to think of it, they’re sweeter and more intensely flavoured that any normal tomato you’ll find.  That’s it!  We’ll make them smaller!”

BBC womble:  “I’m liking it, but what will that get us?”

Heston:  “Well, instead of peeling and seeding a kilogram of large tomatoes, which works out to four or five tomatoes, we’ll get them to peel and seed a kilo of cherry tomatoes, which works out to thirty or fourty of the little buggers.  And, hey, I know!  We’ll get them to dry half of the tomatoes in the oven, and make them put a selection of herbs and sliced garlic individually into each tomato half!  That will get them working!  And, now that I think of it, the flavours will be wonderful!  When we do the show, I’ll get my prep cooks to do the tomato skinning and peeling, so it will look effortless.  Does that work for you?”

BBC womble:   “You’ve done it Heston!  Love it!”  (Evil laugh)

Heston:  “Perfect!  I’ll get the staff started on the cherry tomatoes.  In the meantime, why don’t we go have a nice relaxing beverage in the Hind’s Head?  It will be at least an hour and a half before those poor bastards have got things ready to go!”

And off they marched, snickering merrily…

It was now Thursday, and Perfect Pizza Testing Day was scheduled for the following evening.  I had expanded my testing group, though somewhat involuntarily.  Why?  Since I’ve become a housewife, most of the people who I meet up with on a regular basis ask me what I’m doing with my time.  So, I tell them.  This, combined with my frantic appeal for people to take excess pizza dough off my hands, piques people’s curiosity.  Basically, it’s the same thing that happened with the Perfect Chicken:

  1. I tell people what I’m doing.  “Well, I made twelve different types of pizza dough because I’m testing out the recipe for Perfect Pizza in Heston Blumenthal’s ‘In Search of Total Perfection’ to see if it’s truly perfect.”
  2. People tell me that I’m crazy.  “You’re out of your mind.”  I also got “Oh my!  You poor, mad soul.  I really do have to find you a job!” from one of the people I walk dogs with, who happens to be a recruiter with my resume on file.
  3. The same people who doubt my sanity volunteer to test the results.  “So when do we come over for the taste test?”
  4. I invite them over.  “Friday at seven pm.  Bring a lot of wine.”

So, for Perfect Pizza Day, I had about 12 or so people coming over for testing purposes.  As mentioned before, Heston’s recipe makes enough for five pizzas.  So, to make sure that I had enough for both the pefect pizzas, and the “Build your own Perfect Pizza” mayhem to follow, I needed to triple Heston’s recipe.  That was no problem with the dough, although I only had enough Stefano’s flour to make one batch (I made the other two batches with the organic strong white bread flour and figured that no one would notice the very subtle difference).  Note that I did make the pre-ferment for all of the dough batches before getting down to the tomatoes, but I figure that I’ve already saturated the web with pictures of my KitchenAid mixing dough, and though I’d spare the world the details of batches 13, 14, and 15). 

The problem lay with the tomatoes. 

Three kilograms of cherry tomatoes translates one big shitload of tomatoes.  I ended up buying out the supply of cherry tomatoes on the vine at the local Spinneys.  Happily, I also found a different brand of mozarella cheese there (finding balls of mozarella cheese, lovingly stored in their water and tended by a solicitous deli-person here in Dubai is like finding a unicorn in your back yard), since my husband and I didn’t like the one we’d used on our test pizza the night before.  I’m glad I found a cheese that I liked, because an appeal to the local Dubai forum www.expatwoman.com, yielded very little success (but a shared longing for good mozarella).  The ladies online did come up with a suggestion to visit a local restaurant, Bufala, that specializes in water buffalo meat and dairy products, but when I took that suggestion to my husband, the idea was nixed.  So, I’ve not yet gone there, and cannot make any recommendation (but one day I will!).

Here’s what three kilos of cherry tomatoes looks like:

sc-tom2

To make the sauce, I first had blanch and peel the lot of them.  Heston recommends blanching them whole, then – and only for the ones that won’t peel easily – cutting an ‘X’ into the bottom of the tomato and re-blanching them.  I decided that none of them would peel easily and ‘X’d them all from the start.  So, I brought a pot of water up to the boil, and filled my sink with ice water.  While the water was heating up, I carefully stemmed the tomatoes (reserving the stems as directed by Heston), then cut an ‘X’ into each and every one of them:

sc-tom3

Once the tomatoes were all ‘X’d, I briefly blanched them in boiling water, then plunged them into an ice water bath to prevent them from cooking any further:

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 Then I started peeling them:

sc-peeling2

… and peeling them … :

sc-peeling4

… and peeling them.  Once the peeling was done, I started seeding them, by cutting them into halves and scooping out the seeds.  I strayed from Heston a bit here; he wants you to cut half of the tomatoes in half and seed them, then cut the rest of the tomatoes into eighths, place those eights into a sieve, then salt them to strain out the tomato-ey juices.  I didn’t stray because of bloody-mindedness or because I had a better idea; I strayed because I didn’t bother to look at the recipe while I was deep into my tomato-fugue-state and thought that I had to seed and halve all of the bloody things.

So, I seeded:

sc-seeding5

… and seeded … :

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… and seeded … :

sc-seeding3

If you’re wondering why I’m wearing the funky latex gloves in these pictures, it’s not because I normally like to cook with my hands sheathed in rubber.  I blame it on my husband’s supervisor who had invited us out to golf eighteen holes the previous day.  I’m not a regular golfer, and at this point hadn’t been on a course for probably five years.  So, naturally, I held the clubs with a death-grip and succeeded in ripping off large chunks of skin from both hands.  I neither wanted to get acidic tomato juice into the wounds, nor wanted to share any, err, “wound-ooze” with my guests, hence the gloves.  Incidentally, my hands were not the worst served by the golf trip.  We were at a rather posh club which frowned on golfers wearing anything but golf shoes on the course, and insisted that I rent some of their shoes instead.  For me, the brand name “FootJoy” is a misnomer.  I ended up with some fantastic blisters which culminated in missing skin – lots of missing skin – and me playing barefoot from the twelfth hole onwards.  I’m sure the snooty club vastly preferred me doing that to wearing sneakers.  Much, much, much classier.  But I digress.  (And no, I won’t tell you my score.  I can’t count that high.)

Anyway, I was seeding tomatoes.  I left the seeds in one of the pans, and filled the other pan with beautifully halved, seeded tomatoes.  Then I strained the juices from the tomato seeds and pulp, cleaned out my strainer, weighed out half of those halved  tomatoes (which were supposed to be eighths), and put them in the strainer with some salt.  I left them to drain.  This, too, was a bit of a waver from the Heston-approved method, but he didn’t really say what to do with the excess tomato seeds and pulp, and I didn’t want to throw them out without getting every last bit of tomato-ey goodness from them.

Once the tomatoes had drained out some additional salty tomato-water, I threw both the tomatoes and the strainings into my pressure cooker, brought it up to pressure, and cooked it for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, I started working with the cherry tomato halves that were to be dried.  I covered two baking sheets with aluminum foil, and started setting the cherry tomato halves out individually, so I could lovingly fill each one of them with a slice of garlic (which I had previously peeled and sliced).  Then I said “Sod it!” (well, actually something worse), bunged all of the tomatoes into a bowl WITH  the garlic and herbs (which were supposed to be fresh thyme, bay leaves and basil, but I couldn’t find fresh thyme or bay leaves, and instead used dried), added olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also needed to add three teaspoons of sugar, so pulled out my teaspoon and bag of castor sugar, dumped it in, and stirred gently.

sc-driedtom3

Later, when I went to put away my bag of castor sugar, I looked more closely at it, and realised that I’d added salt instead.  This time I said many, many things that were worse than “Sod it”.  I had thoughts of throwing it out and starting again, but it was late at night, and I honestly couldn’t face the blanching, peeling, and seeding of another 1.5 kg of cherry tomatoes at that time.  I also needed 2-3 hours of drying time, possibly more if my Judas-device decided not to cooperate with me, and just couldn’t be arsed.  So I rationalized that I normally undersalt things anyway, threw in the sugar, and called it good.  I then spread my tomatoes out onto the foil lined baking sheets, and placed them into the Judas-device (my oven).

By now, my tomato sauce had cooked under pressure for the requisite amount of time, so I released the pressure, took off the lid (after swearing copiously for several minutes because I couldn’t get the bloody thing off, then finally realised that I was hitting the button that seals the lid instead of the button that releases it), and started reducing the tomato sauce.  Because I had started with more tomato-liquid than Heston called for, I had a lot of reducing to do.  So I boiled:

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… and boiled … :

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… and boiled, until I could see the bottom of the pan when I drew a wooden spoon through it:

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I let the sauce cool, then decanted it into a large freezer bag, added the reserved, washed, tomato stems (which Heston claims contain a great deal of tomato flavour and aroma), and bunged it into the fridge overnight.  Here’s a shot of the sauce:

sc-bagged

There’s not much sauce there, is there?  I hoped there’d be enough for the next day!

Once the oven tomatoes were dried, they looked like this:

sc-drying6

Again, a craptacular shot (our main camera had run out of juice, so these were taken with my husband’s cell phone.  The flash is clearly not up to the task, but at least the tomatoes are there in all their dried glory).

These tomatoes were much less dry than the sundried tomatoes you can buy in stores.  They were awfully tasty too.  I did sample a few of them (and nibbled quite happily on the dried basil which was delightfully oily and garlicky), and thankfully my blunder with the salt did not greatly affect them.  I stopped myself from eating the lot, and put them into a dish for the next day:

sc-drying7

Again, for all my work, there certainly wasn’t that much tomato topping to go around, especially when you consider the mound that I started with.

With my work for the day done, I tucked everything into the fridge, did the dishes, and went to bed.  Perfect Pizza Day was nigh, and I figured  I needed my rest!

October 1, 2009

The Perfect Chicken (part 3)- The Chicken Fight

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

It’s 7:30 am, and I’ve rolled out of bed with a snarl in my heart.  It’s time to start the final stage of cooking the “Perfect Chicken”, so it’s ready to serve at 3:00pm today.  Yes, you read it right.  That’s 7.5 hours of cooking.  For a roast chicken.  At this point (since I’m more of an extreme night-owl than a morning person), I’m having one of the conversations that I have with Heston.  I haven’t mentioned these chats before, but since I’ve started my own search for perfection, Heston and I have been chatting a lot.  Pity it’s only in my head.  This conversation went along these lines:

Me:  “Heston, it’s seven thirty in the bloody morning, and I’m up to cook a chicken.  If I wasn’t doing it your way, I could’ve gotten up at noon and had plenty of time to cook it.”

Imaginary-Heston:  “The chicken will be perfect.”

Me:  “It’s seven-thirty and I have to cook it at 60 degrees Celsius for four to six hours.  I’m not even sure that’s safe.”

Imaginary-Heston:  “By cooking the chicken at a lower temperature, the muscle proteins contract and squeeze out water at a much slower rate.  You want your chicken moist, don’t you?  Do it this way and the chicken will stay moist.”

Me:  “But, Heston, it’s sixty degrees.  That freaks me right out.  It’s summer in Dubai right now, and the temperature’s in the high forties.  I get the feeling that I could put my chicken under a glass dome on the table on my deck for six hours and have a cooked chicken by your standards.  Are you sure that there’s no typo??”

Imaginary-Heston:  “No typo.  I worked my arse off to perfect this recipe, and I tell you, the chicken will be perfect.  Trust me.”

Me:  “But… it’s sixty degrees…”

Imaginary-Heston:  “Which one of us is renowned for marrying science with food to revolutionize cooking?”

Me:  “Uh, you are, Heston.”

Imaginary-Heston:  “And which one of us can boast running the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’, huh?”

Me (after checking the recipe again and seeing that 60 degrees is not a typo):  “You.  Fine.  I’ll cook it your way.  But I really hope it’s perfect, Destroyer of Sleep-Ins and Enemy of Night-Owls.”

So, it was time to wake the Perfect Chicken up, and get him ready for his prolonged sauna.  I pulled him out of the fridge, preheated the oven (if it can be called that) and got my roasting tin out.  At this point, though, someone felt that I had already done needless work and that the Perfect Chicken was ready to eat:

pc-readyfor dog

At that time of day, I was inclined to agree, but despite the winning grin and boyish good looks, he did not persuade me (beyond that, I had guests coming for dinner, and really couldn’t tell them that the dog ate it):

please

It looks like the Perfect Chicken had a great night’s rest!  See how he was drooling?  (I do that too, especially on airplanes and during afternoon naps.  Sexy, no?)

pc-morningafter 

Once the oven had warmed up to 60 (which took seconds), I tucked him into his roasting tray for his long sauna:

pc-baking

I put him in the oven, and then retired to the living room to splash espresso in my eyes in an attempt to wake up.

After about an hour of espresso-splashing and general faffing about, I went to check on my chicken, and learned that my oven should have a career in politics.  To put it bluntly, the oven gauge lies.  I had suspected this before, since I’ve scorched things like brownies, so had bought an in-oven thermometer.  So while the gauge said “60”, the in-oven thermometer said “140”.  Heston, I let you down again.  I whacked down the oven gauge a bit more, opened the over door a bit, then watched like a hawk to make sure that it went back to sixty Centigrade.  While I was doing this, I started to get my veg ready.

First the broccoli.  I cut the broccoli into florets, brought a pot of salted water to the boil, and filled my sink with ice water.  Once my water was boiling, I blanched the broc for a minute, then threw it into the sink:

carrots and broc

Once the broccoli was blanched, I stuck it back into the fridge until it was showtime.  I also cut the carrots into pieces, and flang them into a frying pan with butter, salt, and pepper.

I also started the potatoing.  If you recall, I couldn’t find the Maris Piper potatoes that Heston called for, so decided to do a bit of potato experimentation with the potatoes that I could find.  Here they are:

potatoes

Red, Local, and Russet Potatoes

First I washed the potatoes off, then peeled them.  I washed them first, because Heston wants the potatoes peels to be cooked along with the potatoes, since the peels hold a lot of flavour.  Heston, being a cheffy-chef with suppliers lined up to provide the Fat Duck with everything that the restaurant requires was able to put the peels into a muslin bag.  I, being a goofball housewife who couldn’t find muslin or cheesecloth at the grocery store (after wandering up and down the aisles, fixed staring at all of the gadgetry on offer) used ladies nude knee-high stockings (US size 9-11).   Since we were going to be judging the various potato varieties on their suitability as roast potatoes, I needed to keep them in separate pots.  So, I tripled up the number of dishes that I had to do, and increased my workload.  SMRT.

It wasn’t just a matter of filling a pot with water and putting a few grinds of salt in either.  Heston wants you to use 10g of salt for every litre of water.  When I saw the amount of salt measured out, I figured that Heston had really lost it.  It seemed a veritable shitload of salt.  Far, far, FAR too much salt.  But, I promised that I would follow the recipe and not second guess, so I reluctantly dumped it in, figuring that I would be serving my guests salty, inedible potatoes.  Anyway, here’s the shot of the potatoing:

the potatoing

The frying pan in the centre is the carrots, ready to go for later cooking.

And here’s the ever-so-delectable shot of the local potatoes with their stocking full of potato peels.  Num, num!!!

muslin

Heston’s instructions are to boil the potatoes until they’re just about at the point of being soup (if you’re brave enough).  He helpfully adds that the difference between well-boiled potatoes and potato soup can be a matter of seconds.  Was I brave enough?  Hell ya!  Did I misjudge and get three pots of watery, salty potato soup.  Well, no.  Only one potful, actually.  While the local potatoes and the russet potatoes both held their shape very well, the red potatoes fell to pieces like the McCain campaign after Sarah Palin’s nomination.  Sure there were still a few coherent pieces left in the potato sludge, but most of the potato had dissolved into a pasty white mass, not that I’m making any comparison to the US Republican party.  Though they’re both pretty white and pasty looking.

In any case, I drained the potatoes, threw out the peel-stockings, shook my colander to rough them up (which Heston recommends, again, only if you’re brave enough), and left them to cool.  By this time the chicken was ready to come out of the oven, despite another full-on oven betrayal.  Recall that after setting it to 60C, it had leapt merrily up to 140C, and cooked my chicken at that temperature for about 20 minutes or so.  Well, after I had turned the temperature down again, the Judas-device decided to go way low (about 30C).  Luckily I caught that rather quickly, but between oven-tomfoolery, and frequent checks on the chicken’s temperature with my electronic probe thermometer, I was starting to despair of getting the bloody thing (no pun intended) cooked in time.  By the time I had consistently registered the chicken’s internal temperature at 60C, it had been in the oven for about seven hours, and I knew lunch was not happening at three. 

Here’s how the chicken looked when it came out of the oven.  Pretty similar to how it looked before it went in, eh? 

pc-afteroven

Note that there’s only a wee, tiny, pool of chicken juice in the bottom right corner of the pan (if you can see it).  Heston was right.  Cooking the chicken at this low a temperature definitely seemed to help keep it moist.  I was still concerned, however, that my bird wasn’t fully cooked, despite all thermometer indications to the contrary (I had probe the damn thing about 20 times at various stages after it was out of the oven).

Once I pulled the chicken out of the oven and drained my potatoes, I was able to whack up the temperature and get ready for potato roasting.  I turned the oven up to 190C, filled three pans with olive oil (to about a centimeter deep), and placed them in the oven to warm up.

potatopans

Remember this guy? 

ic

Yes, it’s the Imperfect Chicken!  Now that I was onto the final stages of the Perfect Chicken recipe, I was ready to prepare the Imperfect Chicken.  To do this, I unwrapped him, gave him a wingtip-ectomy, plunked him in a roasting tray, ground salt and pepper over top, and drizzled on olive oil.  I then bunged him in the oven, along with my potatoes, which I had rolled in the hot olive oil.

ic-roasting

russetroast2

The potatoes needed to be in the oven for about 50 minutes (and turned every twenty minutes), and I figured that the Imperfect Chicken would be done at the same time as the potatoes.

By the way, I also tasted some of the potatoes at this point.  I was certain that I would just taste salt, and no potato.  Heston, I was wrong.  They were absolutely freaking delicious… potatoey-tasting, with just enough salt to enhance the potato flavour.  I should not have doubted.  I am a philistine, and Heston is a potato-savant.  I will not doubt again.

Then I went on to Phase Three of “Keeping the Perfect Chicken Moist”.  We’ve already brined the buzzard, and roasted him for-bloody-ever at an impossibly low temperature, the last step was “The Buttery-Saucing of the Perfect Chicken”.  To do this, I pulled out the reserved wingtips from both the Perfect and Imperfect Chickens, and cut them into small pieces.  I then flang both the wingtips and 100g of butter into a frying pan, cooked the wingtip bits until they were a dark golden brown, then strained the wingtips from the sauce.  During this time, I also turned the potatoes once, put my carrots on to cook, and poured myself a much needed glass of wine.  Here’s the buttery sauce being strained.  Looks lovely, doesn’t it?

strainbutt

At this point my guests arrived.  Thankfully, they’re on Estonian-time, so they were a bit late.  They came in, viewed the chaos in the kitchen, offered to help, and were informed that I had things completely under control.  So, my husband poured them each a drink, and they went out to play with the dog.

Shortly after this, I realised that I did not, in fact, have things completely under control.  I still had to crisp up the Perfect Chicken’s skin, stirfry broccoli, make gravy for the Imperfect Chicken, and Buttery-sauce the Perfect Chicken.  I also had to photograph all of these steps.  Since all of these steps had to happen more or less at the same time (if we wanted hot food), and I’m not an octopus, I summoned the troops (and threw the idea of a blind taste-test out the window).

To crisp up the Perfect Chicken’s skin, Heston recommends heating up a frying pan on full heat for 10 minutes, then coating it with a thin film of peanut oil (though he calls it groundnut oil, since he’s a Brit), and browning the chicken with a pair of tongs.  For obvious safety reasons, my husband did this, while I worked on the broccoli and gravy, and someone else took the pictures. 

pc-browning4pc-browning2pc-browning3

The Imperfect Chicken had a lot of chickeny juices in the pan after his roasting, though for some reason I didn’t take a picture for comparison purposes.  I used these juices to make a gravy by dumping the juices into a frying pan, adding flour to make a roux, then finishing by adding some white wine and chicken stock (from a cube).  I feel that gravy is an important part of any chicken dinner, however, Heston completely ignores this critical fact in his Perfect Chicken recipe.  (Sadly, he also forgot about the cheese sauce for broccoli.  While I enjoy broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, I regard them primarily as carrying devices for a cheese sauce made with sharp cheddar cheese.  My husband regards all of them as crucifers of the devil, cheese-sauce or not.  Why Heston recommends broccoli be served, and neglects the cheese sauce is something I just don’t understand.  That being said, I’m following the rules, so the broccoli went cheese-sauce-less on this occassion.  Never again.)

ic-gravy2

After the Perfect Chicken had been browned, it needed to be Buttery-sauced.  Instead of making the sauce into gravy like a perfectly normal chef would, Heston wants you to inject the chicken with the sauce.  When he shows this step on the television program, he uses a large stainless steel turkey baster with a needle-like tip.  I didn’t have such a device, nor could I find one in Dubai.  However, I discovered that one could buy syringes in the pharmacy for about 2 AED each.  So that’s what we used.  Unfortunately, while Heston’s tool injects Buttery Sauce into a chicken in about five seconds flat, we found that syringes take a lot longer, require two people (and two syringes), and also involve Buttery Sauce flying around the kitchen and into your Buttery Saucing counterpart.

Here are the two chickens, together at last.  The Perfect Chicken is getting its Buttery Sauce fix, while the Imperfect Chicken is resting:

pc-inject5

Ten minutes before the potatoes were to be done, I threw in a sprig of rosemary (from the bush in my backyard) and a couple of cloves of peeled garlic.  (I had also turned the potatoes every twenty minutes since they went in the oven.)  The carrots were merrily cooking along in their covered pan (with only butter, salt, and pepper), so I quickly stirfried the already blanched broccoli in more butter, salt, and pepper while stirring gravy with my other hand.    Once the broccoli was done, we were ready to serve.  Here’s the spread:

spread2

 

Before we all tucked in, we had a taste-testing (and opened another bottle of wine, since the first one seems to have evaporated).  We weren’t very scientific on the ratings, merely ranking both chickens and all three potato varieties out of ten.  Here are the final scores (the four individual scores were added then averaged):

Perfect Chicken:  8.125 / 10

Imperfect Chicken:  6 /10

Russet Potatoes:    8.25 / 10

Red Potatoes:  6.25 / 10

Local Potatoes:  7.5 / 10

It seems that the Perfect Chicken was extremely good, but not absolute perfection.  The panel commented that the texture and moistness of the Perfect Chicken were much superior to those of the Imperfect Chicken, which was stringy and quite dry in comparison (note that only breast pieces were tested).  Not everyone agreed about the potatoes, though the Russets were marked quite highly, and the Reds (which turned into moosh) were the lowest marked.  In hindsight, we should have had criteria for things like moistness, crispness of skin, texture, and overall flavour.  For the next recipe, I will endeavour to break down the ranking into more criteria that add up into an overall score.

The carrots and broccoli were delicious, though strangely, there was quite a bit of broccoli left over.  I blame this on the absence of cheese sauce.  My husband did try some broccoli prepared Heston-style, and grudgingly admitted that with this preparation they were more Vegetables from Heck rather than Vegetables from Hell.  He’s not a convert to the Way of Broccoli yet, though.

The biggest issue with the Perfect Chicken, beyond the mind-bending amount of labour that went into the bird, was that after an insane amount of time in the oven, the thighs still weren’t fully cooked, as you can see below:

pc-uhoh2

After the taste testing, we gorged ourselves on an excellent feast (barring the legs and thighs of the Perfect Chicken), including dessert, brought by our Estonian friends.  It was a delicious apple cake:

dessert

 

Despite all of us being quite full from our main meal, this cake disappeared in no time.  Yum!

So, would I make this recipe again? 

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t do the whole thing over.  The low temperature, long-time cooking made me nervous, and didn’t have great results.  So I think I would probably scrap that, or cook my bird at a higher temperature than sixty Celsius and lower than the “usual” for a longer time (if that makes sense).  That would hopefully give me a cooked bird with crisp skin that doesn’t involve the danger of flinging around a three pound bird in an overheated frying pan (while trying to get the rest of the meal finished at the same time).

I’m keeping the brining step, and the Buttery Sauce (which my husband loved).  I don’t know that I will always be forking over the cash for the likes of a Perfect Chicken, though would do so for a company meal, or for a tasty splurge.  We have chicken here at Villa GoodEnough frequently, and often pick one up in the local grocery store, rather than going on Mission Improbable for it (and paying through the nose).  It’s sad to say, but convenience outweighs the full taste of a Perfect Chicken.  I also don’t like the carbon-footprint of the animals that are flown in (as the Perfect Chicken was).  However, if I could find a good source for locally raised free-range chickens, I would definitely be purchasing some on a regular basis, and keeping one in my freezer. 

I’m glad I did the recipe though.  I learned a lot, and there are definite things that I will continue to do (not only the brining and the Buttery Sauce, but also boiling the peels along with the potatoes, and cooking them in quite salty water).  And who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll be able to have my own chickens!

Next up, The Perfect Pizza.