Saturday, January 16, 2010
It's been a month and a half since I last posted about food. If I believed in New Years Resolutions, not sucking at blogging would be one of mine. I'd expected to do a bunch of cooking while I was back home and write all about it, but that work out so well. That's not to say I didn't eat much: the 10 lbs gained in 10 days is evidence enough. But forgetting the charger for my laptop pretty much ruled out the writing part and the option to step out of the kitchen and leave it to my Mom to whip up delicious favorites (beef stroganoff, oatmeal cinnamon-chip cookies, ribssssss) was the nail in the coffin.
Being home was also a reminder of just how much I like some white people foods. When I cook, it's almost always Asian-inspired dishes, usually Chinese or Japanese with the occasional bit of Thai or Korean. As good as that stuff is, there is something to be said for a big chunk of meat. Ribs. Roast beef. Roasted chicken. That's quality stuff right there.
For Christmas, I got a copy of Ad Hoc, a cookbook about Thomas Keller's restaurant of the same name. He is probably one of the most famous chefs in America at the moment and the central theme to this restaurant is essentially traditional home cooking, particularly American. You wouldn't believe the number of times here in Japan that I have been asked "What is American food anyways? Hamburgers??" It's a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but this book has helped me get a better grasp on it.
Besides being a beautiful book that I would gladly put on my coffee table (if I had one), the recipes in at are not unreasonable for a home cook. That's not to say they're easy or quick, but they are much more doable than most restaurant cookbooks and that's pretty much exactly what I look for when cooking on the weekends.
Most grocery stores in Japan sell meat cut down to fairly small sizes. Probably the largest you'll find in a standard store is a 1.5 lb pork tenderloin. If you want anything bigger, you probably will have to go to a wholesaler that supplies restaurants. I was lucky enough to find a place that had whole chickens at a decent price (though $4/lb for a roasting chicken is many times more than what it would run you in the US), so I grabbed a 2.5 lb bird to cook for me and Yuki.
Roasting a chicken is often cited as one of those key cooking basics that everyone should be able to do. It's quite simple really and doesn't involve much more than sticking the sucker in the oven and pulling it out when the time rings. But I've never actually tried doing it before, so it seemed like something I should have a go at.
I roughly used the recipe in Ad Hoc as a guideline, but since it called for a 4 lb chicken I had to ad lib things a bit. I put a half dozen cloves of smashed up garlic inside the chicken along with several sprigs of thyme and a sprig of rosemary and trussed up the legs to seal them in, then rubbed the outside of the bird with oil before giving it a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper. From there I set it on a bad of potatoes, carrots, onions and leeks, which absorbed all of the delicious chicken juices that leaked out as it cooked. A few pads of butter were put on top for the purpose of, I would assume, crisping up the skin.
Ovens are quite rare in Japan, especially as most kitchens are quite small. Instead, many microwaves have an oven function as well. The chicken just barely fit into Yuki's and had to be covered with foil to keep the skin from burning. Unfortunately, this also prevented the skin from getting particularly crispy either. Though the skin was nothing to brag about, the meat itself was ridiculously juicy. I let the chicken rest for half an hour after taking out of the oven, but it was still overflowing with clear juicy chicken goodness when I cut it up.
Roasting just about anything is a time consuming process. This being my first time dealing with a whole chicken before, it was even more time consuming. Instead of the ~1.5 hrs it was expected to take, it was probably more like 2.5 hrs from the time I started chopping up veggies to the time dinner was on the table. Still, it was quite a good dinner and something I think I could get down pat with just a couple more tries, so it will probably showing up on the menu again in the not-so-distant future.