Thanksgiving is not only my favorite holiday, it’s my Super Bowl.
I train to embody a Butterball in both shape and body composition and I also train to improve my turkey roasting game. Last year I finally pried the turkey reigns from the obscenely anal-retentive grip of my mother and if I’m gonna exclaim “HELLO SUBJECTS! IT IS I, YOUR TURKEY QUEEN!” I’m gonna have a bitchin’ turkey to back it up.
Disclaimer: I am going to proclaim this for at least the entire month of November, turkey or no turkey. I get really into Thanksgiving.
As much as I would love to, practicing with turkeys would be… impractical. Those suckers are big and if I made four practice 15 pounders I would get too fat for my pants because I have no self control and then when I sat down at work they would do that thing where they poke into your belly fat and it would make me angry and I would scream “OH MY GOD, FUCK IT.” and rip them off and then I would get fired. I’m poor. We can’t have this.
So I turn to the turkeys smaller poultry pal, the chicken. A classic, a staple, its the training wheels for TurkeyGeddon. I’d like to take this moment to thank all the chickens that gave their lives so that I could absolutely crush the turkey game.
After a small flock of practice fowl and two years of testing, today’s chickens finally blew it out of the water. Here’s the latest in TurkeyGeddon training:
For the chickens:
- 2 (4-5 lb) chickens, backbones and giblets removed (spatchcocked: see photo)
- 1 stick butter (its two chickens or a whole damn turkey, okay? JUDGY. Its my party and I can butter if I want to. In fact, I’d like to state now for the record that I would like to be buried with at least four sticks of butter. If there’s an afterlife, I’m definitely going prepared.)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup parsley (leaves only)
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1 bottle of dry white wine
- Five cloves of garlic (I’d also like to be buried with what can only be described as a shitload of garlic. Talk about things I don’t go anywhere without I’m like fuckin’ Mary Poppins except my purse is full of garlic and Pinot Noir and kids don’t like me as much).
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
For the gravy:
- Backbone, neck and giblets of the chickens (or turkey), cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 small white onion
- 1 large (or two small) carrots
- 2 ribs of celery
- 1 shallot
- 3 tablespoons potato flour
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon Better than Bouillon Chicken Concentrate
- Black pepper
- Kosher salt
For the chickens:
- Preheat oven to 425 °F.
- Spatchcock your chickens and press down to break the breast bone. It’s like you’re giving them little tiny chicken CPR. Like CPR, this works best if you do it to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees.
- Salt and pepper the underside of the chickens liberally and flip them over. Pat with paper towels and set aside to dry out. Dry= crispy.
- In a food processor, pulse butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic, orange zest, and orange juice until well combined. If you don’t have a food processor this is easy to do with softened butter by hand, I’m just lazy and don’t want to chop my parsley and garlic myself. Sue me. Please God don’t sue me, I was just kidding. Did I mention I’m broke as fuck? All you will get is like 20 bucks and what’s left of my faith in humanity.
- Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin over the chicken’s breasts and thighs/legs. This will feel very creepy, believe me I am not immune. We do what we must in the name of butter.
- Grab balls of the butter mixture and tuck them under the skin of each chicken. Using your fingers, press on top of the skin to get the butter distributed underneath. I usually do four strategic butter entry points, one on each breast and one on each thigh. You can push the butter over the legs via the thigh. Your hands will be buttery and you will get butter all over the outside of the chicken. This is not a bad thing, you’re doing great.
- Once those babies are buttered up, liberally salt and pepper the skin. Place them on a wire rack over a large roasting pan. If you don’t have a roasting pan big enough, a large sheet pan with deep edges will do. Pour about 1/8 inch of the dry white wine into the bottom of the pan, and place in the oven.
- After 15 minutes, check your wine level and add more if the pan is getting dry. Turn the temperature down to 400 °F. Roast the chicken until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 °F, another 35-40 minutes. Check periodically during cooking and add wine to the pan as needed.
- Remove from rack and allow to rest on a cutting board for 10-15 minutes. You want juicy chicken. This requires patience. Don’t touch it. I said so.
For the gravy:
- Place a stock pot over high heat and add the canola oil. Once the oil is shimmering, throw in the necks, backbones, and giblets to get a nice sear. The hard part about searing for me is that I ALWAYS want to fuck with it. I’m impatient and I want to move the pieces around and you’re just not going to get that good brown stuff that way. Let it be. Let the pieces sit for a few minutes and then peek at the underside of one. Is it deep brown and delicious? Flip em around. When they are well browned on all sides, add the chicken stock, celery, onion, and carrots.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Let it sit there and simmer for an hour, then strain.
- When the chicken is done, strain the juice from the bottom of the pan and add it to a deep-sided frying pan over medium-high heat. Keep in mind: it should be shallow but still able to hold the volume of stock you made.
- Toss your finely-chopped shallots into the pan and let them cook down for 8-10 minutes until they are all caramelized and delicious. At this point, your kitchen smells like magic and everyone thinks you’re a food wizard. Let them think this because you are. In fact, if you worry they aren’t thinking this, now is the time to yell “SMELL THE MAGIC, REVEL IN IT AND REJOICE. IT IS I, THE (insert poultry currently in the oven) QUEEN.” You can brag. You’re about to back that shit up.
- Add the fortified stock you so lovingly raised to the pan and scrape the bottom for any tasty shallot bits. We want that flavor in our gravy, not rage-scrubbed by whoever has to clean while they silently curse you.
- While whisking, slowly sprinkle the potato flour into the liquid. This isn’t one of those things where you can just dump it in there. It will be lumpy and sad, a fate I may be destined to but I’ll be damned if your gravy can’t avoid.
- Mix the corn starch into just enough cold water to dissolve, and then add this slurry, the dry sherry, and the Better than Bouillon paste to the gravy. Mix well.
- Let your (very sore) arm rest for a moment and wait for the gravy to come to a boil. When it gets nice and bubbly, whisk and let it reduce until thickened to your liking.
- Turn off the heat and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
And there you have it. A perfectly delicious crispy chicken and a tested method for my next round of TurkeyGeddon. I served mine with mashed potatoes and an arugula salad with pomegranate seeds and a cherry- citrus vinaigrette. This turned out really well, but in hindsight I may prefer to dry-brine my turkey overnight with baking powder and kosher salt (check my favorite food blog, Serious Eats for the technique) to really crisp up the skin. I had previously used lemon in my compound butter, but I really enjoyed the gentler acidity and flavor of the orange here.
Don’t be afraid to stray from a recipe. Use it as a guideline and if you think an alteration might taste good, try it. There is a lot of flexibility in food and getting creative with it is what makes it fun. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will get and the better you’ll know your flavors. There may be accidents and minor failures; I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said “Well shit. THAT didn’t work.” in the kitchen but practice makes perfect. Plus, you look cool as shit cooking without your nose in a cookbook.