A Bird In The Pan Transcript

Somewhere in suburbia - Dinner time

GUESTS: Husband & Wife

WIFE: Do you think it's done?
What does it say?
WF: [looks at bottom of Magic 8 Ball]  Hmm, "Ask again later."
HB: Well, all right then.

Ask Again Later

AB: [peers into the same oven the WF and HB were looking into] Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

    A famous gastronome once wrote, "We can learn to cook, but must be born to roast."*  Now granted at the time he wrote that, people were still roasting over open pits, but there's still plenty of confusion to go around today. Just ask the owners of this pallid poultry. Simple roast chicken doesn't always translate to easy roast chicken.
    Well, in the next half hour we're going to explore this hallowed hollow we call the oven. We'll pick the right pan to put in it and the right chicken to put in the pa. And in the end, we will emerge with a beautiful juicy flavorful bird in less than a half an hour. Now that's good eats. But then, so is this. Stick around.

Fernbank Science Center - 9:01 am

    A 2 ton knife shop with an attitude, Albertasaurus here was one large, living Theropod. Now like many of his prehistoric pals he did as he pleased. He hung out with friends, ate whatever he could get his jaws around—which was a lot—and made little dinosaurs.

    But now some new paleontological musing suggests that Big Al and his friends didn't really become extinct at all. They just underwent a long-term downsizing the ultimate result of which may have been Gallus Domesticus. A relative newcomer on the animal kingdom block, the chicken as we know it is only about 4 or 5,000 years old and yet he shares many of Big Al's interests, hanging out with friends, eating anything he can get his beak around and making little chickens.

Gallus Domesticus
[Picture courtesy Means Street Productions]

The Farm

              Stranger (Scientist) with Chicken
              Mike Lacy, Poultry Scientist

[Picture courtesy Means Street Productions]

    Once upon a time chickens strutted around family farms a lot like this one. Just about everyone who didn't live in the city kept a chicken or two. Now, these were slow growing but flavorful birds valued more for their eggs, really, than their meat. Of course, in the end, every chicken met it's pot.

HEN: [untranslatable]

    After World War II, farms consolidated into vertically integrated conglomerates and the fate of the chicken passed from folks in overalls to guys in lab coats.

  The result?  As you can see from the cover of this fine scientific journal, today's corporate bird grow twice as big, twice as fast and at about half the cost of the bird of yesteryear making it from egg to plate in weeks rather than months.


    Of course, there are poultry purists who would argue that if today's über-chicken really tasted like chicken then the expression, "tastes like chicken" wouldn't exist because nothing would taste like chicken except, of course, chicken. Now what we really need to sort this all out is a poultry scientist.

AB: Hi, Mike.
MIKE LACY: Hi, Alton.
AB: So, does today's chicken taste different from, say, a chicken 50 years ago?
ML: Well, my grandmother tells me that it does so I certainly wouldn't argue with her. Today's chicken is obviously meatier, juicier, more tender, more consistent than in the past.
AB: So, some of the words we hear a lot, you know, in chicken talk these days, steroids, growth hormones, antibiotics ...
ML: There are no steroids or hormones given to chickens in the United States. It's against the law and besides that the chickens are pretty much growing as fast as they can and hormones really aren't effective.
AB: Organic and Free Range, do they really make a difference?
ML: Free Range birds do tend to be a little bit older so the meat may have a little bit different texture, maybe a little bit different flavor. Birds that are grown on commercial farms have room to walk around. They are essentially free ranging except that they're grown inside of buildings instead of out in the pastures.
AB: Mike, thanks for your time. I know you've got to get back to the farm. Um, you guys wouldn't happen to raise any [taps newspaper] ... uh, no.

Chickens are members of the pheasant family.
There are over 7 billion world wide.

The Grocery

    At most modern markets these days, besides the national brands, you'll also probably see a Free Range bird or two as well as maybe a Kosher bird that's been soaked in a salt brine. Now, most organic and kosher birds are going to look a little pale compared to, say, the national brands. See, skin color is determined by diet. Now some marketing research guru someplace decided that us consumers like our chickens yellow. So, a lot of growers add things like Marigold petals right to the feed, hence yellow skin. It doesn't hurt anything but it doesn't actually add any flavor either.

    Now, when it comes to size I really like broiler fryers. That's a bird in the 3-1/2 to 4 pound range. Now most free range birds hit that mark and they yield just enough for 4 adults to have dinner. If you have more guests look for a roaster which is in the 4 to 5 pound range. And for now, steer clear of stewing hens. They're tasty but they require moist, not dry cooking. So roasting is out.

Broiler Fryer
3 1/2 - 4 lbs

4 - 5 lbs

Stew Hens
Require Moist Cooking

The Kitchen

GUEST: Dr. Penny Adcock, Epidemiologist

    As you can see, I've made some, well, modifications to my refrigerator. Say hello to Doctor Penny Adcock of the Center for Disease Control.

AB: What's up, Doc.?
PENNY ADCOCK: Oh, it's about 34°, humidity about 75% and holding. Perfect temperature for a home refrigerator.

AB: Uh, got some raw chicken for you.
PA: Well, you can start by putting it in a bowl or a tray and putting it on the bottom shelf.

Contained on Bottom Shelf

AB: Anything else?
PA: Well, you always want to cook or freeze raw poultry no later than the "Use By" date on the package. And you should never refreeze raw poultry after you've already thawed it. Always cook to an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the bacteria.
AB: Won't 7 minutes at 140 do the same thing?
PA: Sure, that'll do the same thing but chicken cooked at 140° just tastes nasty.

Cook or Freeze by
"Use By" Date

Never Re-Freeze Raw Chicken

Cook to 170°

AB: Well put. So, why is poultry so susceptible to bacteria?
PA: Well, chicken is less acidic than red meat and that high PH provides the perfect environment for microbes to grow.
AB: Is undercooking the biggest culprit or is it ...
PA: Cross contamination. You betcha. By the way, you're letting a lot of cold air out of here.
AB: Sorry.

    Hear now, the truth. If you cut raw chicken on this cutting board with this knife and these hands on this counter, well guess what. It won't matter if you cook that chicken in there to an internal temperature to make Pompeii blush. It's your responsibility to wash everything—the board, your hands, the knife, everything—with hot soapy water before you touch, well, any other food stuffs in this kitchen. And if you don't, you could be cruising for a 6 day, 7 night all expenses paid trip to your bathroom. Now, I'm not kidding.
    Now around here, we even keep a cutting board specially for raw poultry. No confusion, no accidents. From time to time, I even like to wipe down the counters with water that's laced with just a little bit of bleach. Commercial disinfectants do the same, too, and you know, they're a lot cheap than a house call.

The single most powerful weapon against food borne illness: Hand Washing

Bed Bath & Beyond - 2:15 pm

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

    It would be easy to dismiss the roasting pan as mere oven bucket, but your chicken as well as future lasagnas, enchiladas, soups, stews, cobblers and roasts would thank you to think again.

AB: Hello, W. How's this?
 W: That is a baking pan.
AB: A baking pan.
 W: Your chicken would be better off roasting in a hub cap off your father's Oldsmobile.
AB: Dad drives a Cadillac, actually.
 W: Right. The right roasting pan evenly distributes, absorbs and reflects heat and can even straddle two burners for quick browning and sauce reduction.
AB: Sauce reduction.
 W: The specifications are simple even for you, AB. First, heavy is good.
AB: Heavy.
 W: Second, upright sturdy handles are good.
AB: Upright.
 W: You can hold on to these with mitts. Third, polished surfaces are good.
AB: Polished.
 W: It reflects heat and holds on to pan drippings, something non-stick surfaces can not do.
AB: I see.
 W: I doubt that. This pan is large enough for a rib roast but not too big for lasagna. Has flared edges for easy foil crimping. In short, everything you could want in a roasting pan.
AB: Not exactly cheap.
 W: This is one device that I do not advise you skimping on.
AB: Very well.
 W: AB. Do not run away with my mitts.
AB: Oh, have your old mitts. I don't want them anymore.

The Kitchen

    Okay, everybody, repeat after me: "Organization will set me free."  I don't mean to sound like a motivational speaker but it's true, especially if you're planning to be in close contact with raw chicken or meat or other possible sources of cross contamination.

Organization Will Set Me Free

    Get in the habit or prepping and gathering everything you need before you get your hands in the food. Now, around here we like to measure our ingredients into custard cups set them on a tray or sheet pan along with any tools you might need.

Cutting Board

    Now the French call this concept mise en place, "put in it's place," and next to a sharp, eight inch chef's knife, it is your best friend.

Mise en Place

    Now, the way we see it, roast chicken should taste like, well, chicken so we keep the seasonings simple. Some lemon zest, some garlic, olive oil, parsley, a little salt and pepper ... salt and pepper. I hate that. I mean there's more to pepper than playing Ying to salt's Yang or is it Yang to salt's ... well, you know.

Black, white & green peppercorns are the same berry.
Only the ripeness and processing are different.

    I am the first to admit I'll reach for an electric coffee grinder in a flash when it comes to milling most spices. But when it comes to peppercorns or pastes like tapenade or pesto or our stuffing today, which is technically a gremolata**, well, it's just not right to use anything but a mortar and pestle. I mean, for one thing you're not going to end up with big, old hunkin' chunks of peppercorn floating around in dust. And also with the mill you usually leave the flavorful oils, well, inside the work bowl.

    So, I started with about a teaspoon and a half of peppercorns. Now once you get it down to just a medium grind go ahead and add about 3 garlic cloves worth of garlic with a little bit of kosher salt. Now work that for just a few seconds. You don't want to beat the moisture all the way out of the garlic. You just want to loosen it up a little bit.
    As soon as you see the water kind of rise out of it, go ahead and add about a lemon's worth of zest. Now, same thing. Now same thing here, you don't want to beat it to death. Just work it until you start to smell lemons and when you do, hit it with a little bit of parsley. Just a pinch. Work for another couple of seconds and then we're going to bring it to a paste consistency with just, I don't know, with 2 maybe 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Again, we're not trying to make soup but make a paste we can work with under the chicken skin.

1 1/2 tsp. Peppercorn

3 Cloves Garlic

Pinch Kosher Salt

Zest of 1 Lemon

1 tsp Parsley

2-3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Now, we may have found the perfect pan, but a roast needs to sit up out of the pan or else it will just lay there in it's juices and boil. Now for that, we could use a rack. But racks are, well ... besides being clumsy, food sticks to them and trust me, these things are hard to clean. But above all they bring no flavor whatsoever to the pan drippings.
    But, aromatic vegetables do which is why I float all my chickens on only the finest—or maybe a little past their prime—carrots, celery and onions. Time to face the bird.
    The secret to roast chicken is sun bathing. Sun bathing. Now when you go to the beach, you don't curl up into a little ball. You stretch out so the sun's radiation can broil you. That is what it is, you know, broiling. Well, the same hold's true for a chicken. The flatter and more uniform you can get it the faster and hotter you can cook it and that is what produces juicy meat and crisp brown skin. So, instead of trussing the bird we butterfly.
    Flip your bird backside up and with a pair of kitchen shears—no, not regular scissors—cut the ribs down one side of the backbone and then on the other. Save the backbone. It will be great for the jus. Now, open the chicken up like a book and take out the keel bone that separates the two sides of the breast. Just slice through that thin membrane with a tip of a pairing knife and crack them open, reach in with a finger on either side the bone and just leaver it out. Now the breast will lay flat.
    Turning bird back over and spread him out like a butterfly. Now, just loosen the skin starting in from the neck. Just wiggle your fingers in. It'll lift right off. Just try not to tear it. There. Now to get to the dark meat, just lift the skin at the edge. Don't worry too much about getting all the way down into the leg. There's not a lot to season there anyway. Now, use a teaspoon and deliver the stuffing to each of the quarters and try to spread it out a little bit as you go. Perfect.
    So, why season under the skin?  Well, two reasons. One, skin is designed to keep what's out, out and what's in, in. So it stands to reason if you want to flavor the meat you got to get under the skin. Two, things like lemon zest, garlic, pepper all taste really bad when they burn and burn they will when exposed to all this direct heat. And, they get in the way of the skin browning.
    Now, take a moment for a quick, pre-oven rub down. A little olive oil. Massage will be relaxing for both bird and cook alike. And besides, getting the oil down into all these nooks and crannies will make sure this bird browns up nice. Brown means crisp and crisp means good. So, before we go in the pan we're going to put just a little bit of salt on the flesh side, maybe half a teaspoon or so. And then in the pan breast side up.
    Now, before you do anything, before you touch the oven door, the timer, your coffee mug, your dog, wash these nasty chicken hands. Lots of hot water, lots of soap. Believe it or not, next to cut and paste this may be the most valuable thing they taught you in nursery school.

    Now, about 8 inches from heat to food is a good distance for a chicken this size. Any closer than that and our bird will end up looking like one of those pictures the state troopers made you look at in Driver's Ed. class.


    Now, I'd love to tell you to turn the bird in 10 minutes, in 15 minutes, but the truth is every broiler is different, every chicken is different. So, give it about 10 minutes and then take a look. Oh, and since most broilers turn off when the oven gets to a certain temperature, leave the door in the first open position.

The Kitchen

    Ten minutes has gone by ... well, in our world at least ... and it is time to check the bird. Now, we've got some really nice color there. This looks great. Now, I'm happy with this so I'm going to go ahead and give it The Turn. Paper towels. Just grab the ends of the legs. Flip them over. That's it. Back under the broiler for about another 10 to 12 minutes.
    Let's see. Oh yeah. That's a good ... oh. Has 10 minutes gone by already?  Whew. And I just had time to get this crudités [kroo-de-TAY] platter together. Heh, right. Ha, ha. Time to tempt fate.
    Now, do this a few times and you'll learn exactly what done looks and feels like. Now, since light and dark meat cook a little differently, I check both. So, shoot for the thickest part of the breast about an inch from the wing. Not quite 165 but the meat feels good and the juices run clear. I think it's a go.

    Now, check the middle of the thigh on the opposite side. 167. Juice is clear. This bird is cooked.


    Now like any roast, this bird needs to rest a few minutes so the juices have time to redistribute through the meat. It's going to loose a little juice so put it in a deep bowl and cover loosely with foil. Now, we've just got time for the jus.

Gravy, is a Jus thickened with flour.

    Now, these vegetables have served us well but they're not done yet. Before we make our jus, though, we want to get some of the extra fat off of the pan. Just tilt it up and let everything kind of pool in the bottom and then use either a wide spoon or a bulb baster, which is my favorite, and just kind of suck it up right off of there. But whatever you do, do not throw this away. Mixed with a little red vinegar and mustard it will make a terrific vinaigrette for a side salad.
    Now, the pan is still really rocket hot so let's give it a boost and go ahead and crank this up over two burners and get it as hot as we can as fast as we can. Now, one of the first things we're going to do is deglaze the pan which is going to loosen up all of this really great stuck-on stuff at the bottom of the pan. It's where the real flavor is. We're going to let the pan just get a little bit hotter and we're going to hit it with some wine.

    I like to use red wine for chicken. And it's not very traditional but I like it. And I'm going to add enough wine to just cover the bottom of the pan. Now that's going to come to a boil really quickly so we're just going to kind of scrape around. I kind of use one of the pieces of carrot or celery to rub with.  

Red Wine to Cover

    Now, wine is going to add a brightness to the sauce, I don't know, a kind of front seat flavor. But we also need something in the background, some body, and we can't get that from wine. Where we get that is from stock or broth, something that's got some meatiness to it or even some gelatin which would thicken the sauce and give it body. So I'm going to use sodium-free chicken broth. Now, you could use regular chicken broth but by the time this reduced it would, I don't know, taste like the Dead Sea, a little too salty. So I'm just going to add maybe a cup of broth. Give this a good stir and let it reduce.

1 Cup Low Sodium
Chicken Broth

    But now is also a really good time to add any aromatics we've got around like herbs or something to give kind of a final punch of flavor. Now it just so happens that we've got some of the stuffing left over. Since it's all aromatic, lemon, parsley, garlic, it's a perfect add-on. It will echo the flavor we've already got in the chicken which is exactly what we want a jus to do.

1 Tbsp Stuffing

    Now, I'm going to leave this alone for 2 minutes or until it's reduced by half.
    All you have to do is strain out the vegetables and you've got a good cup of intensely flavored jus. It's more than enough for this chicken, enough for three chickens, really.
    Now, carving time is when butterfly bird really shines. Watch this. Leg quarter, nothing but skin. Now since we've taken out the keel bone that goes between the two breasts, they're going to separate like a breeze.
    Now, if you want to serve quarters, and I often do because it's pretty on a plate, you might want to make some thin incisions right through the breast. That's going to give the jus some place to go besides just running the plate. About 3 or 4 cuts will do nicely. And just right on to the plate. And you don't need more than one spoonful of the jus. It really is strong. Just right across the bird like that.
    Now I've got to tell you. I am not Mr. Garnish. If it doesn't bring flavor to the meal I don't think it belongs on the plate. But, since we've already got kind of a lemon motif going with the zest, I'll break down and go one, single lemon wheel. There. Dinner time.

The Kitchen

    Now this whole butterflying business works great on the grill, too. The paste that we rubbed under the skin could have been cumin, rosemary and crushed olives or curry paste or even homemade mayonnaise. It's an extremely versatile method especially for those of us who sometimes take the extra skin off to avoid the fat.
    We hope you've learned a thing of two about the culinary chameleon we call chicken. Join us next time on Good Eats and in the mean time, don't cry foul. Heh.

    Visit us on the web at www.foodtv.com.

*Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), French politician and lawyer, but most remembered as a fervent epicure.

**gremolata; gremolada
Definition: [greh-moh-LAH-tah] A garnish made of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic. It's sprinkled over osso buco and other dishes to add a fresh, sprightly flavor.
--Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron's Educational Series, from The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010