Slap yo’ Mama Chicken, Two Ways
Brine chicken twenty-four hours. I cut the salt back a bit from regular brine recipes, add peppercorn, rosemary, and brown sugar. Alton Brown on foodnetwork.com has the ratios for perfect brine.
Pat chicken off well. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a roasting pan. Stuff chicken with thyme sprigs, whole garlic cloves, lemon wedges and onion. Rub butter under and over chicken skin. Plop in pan breast up, legs tied. (Some folks put their veggies under the chicken, I do not. This is personal preference as is direction of chicken.) Surround chicken with Yukon Gold Taters and onion wedges. (Add carrots if desired and if there is room.) Drizzle the whole shebang with olive oil and a little bacon grease if you can handle it. Sprinkle shebang with sea salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Add half a cup of brandy to the bottom. Place in 400 degree oven for the first twenty minutes, then roast until brown. (Roughly an hour to an hour and a half). Browning is critical. See my note at the bottom of the page.
Remove chicken and taters to serving platter. Now, here’s the real magic part, which could get frustrating for an unexperienced cook following a recipe. I have never written down how to make gravy, but I expect there are sources online for this. For me, this is pure craft and therefore I cannot make a “standard” process sheet. It goes something like this:
Tell everyone to get the hell out of the kitchen. They can set the table or some such, but get their butts outa’ there. Turn on something groovy, like Ray Lamontagne or Nina Simone. Get a cheap bottle of brandy, whole cream, dried thyme, salt and pepper, and all purpose flour. Also grab some chicken stock. Sip a bit of brandy from the bottle, feel your core. Ready?
Your number one job from here on out is twofold: create WAY too much gravy (you’re going to need it for the next night) and have a magic kitchen experience. First, make a slurry by plopping about a half cup of the flour in a small bowl then adding just enough chicken stock to dissolve it when it is whisked. Set to the side. Drizzle about a quarter cup (to taste) of brandy into roasting pan. Now turn stove eye on low under pan. Scrape up the tenders over VERY low heat. (Never pour brandy into anything that is screaming hot, ever. Lessen you don’t like your house.) Pour your slurry into the drippings/brandy. Sip more brandy, sing along to music, sway hips. Put your heart into this moment a bit. This is very much like sex done slow and easy: you’ve got to build the heat, ease into it a bit erotic like. All of your attention must be on your task. (See now why the kids had to skadaddle?)
Now, we decide how thick your gravy is going to be. Add a cup of chicken stock, grab a spoon, and give her a taste. Needs salt? Add. Needs pepper? Add. A little thyme? Get to it. Hum, sway, sip brandy. Whisk, build heat to medium. Add chicken stock as needed. Keep up this rhythm and when gravy starts to thicken, cut the heat nearly off. Pour in cream–to desired thickness–I usually use at least a cup if not more. Taste. Finish the way Southerners do it: add a bit of sugar. Start with a teaspoon. Grandma always said: you can put more in, but you can’t take it out. Go easy. Taste. When the whole thing is so good that you could care less if you had chicken to go with it or not, turn it off and pour into a gravy bowl. Give thanks. Eat and be merry.
Save the carcass with excess chicken, any leftover potatoes, and ALL gravy.
The Next Night:
Prepare as above with libations and music. Wine or beer may be substituted for the preparations of the cook, depending on mood. This one is going to be intense.
De-bone the rest of your chicken. Do not miss a single piece, then set aside. Gather potatoes, etc., and slice into small bites. Set aside.
Plop all chicken bones into water with a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a tablespoon of salt and pepper, and boil for one minute. Lower heat and stew for one hour. Drain carcass, save broth. Add to broth either bouillon cubes (about two) or reduction. In a separate pan, sweat a few sliced carrots and celery stalks and a chopped onion in four tablespoons of butter. This will smell like home. When cooked through a bit, add to broth. Add one package of egg noodles. Cook together for about fifteen minutes. TASTE. Add thyme. TASTE. If this stage is delightful to the tongue, the end result will be even better. Grab the chicken, potatoes and leftover gravy and fold into broth. (Be careful here not to break up the taters.) TASTE. Now, here’s where the magic comes in again: you know if it needs salt or a pinch of sugar. Do what you have to do. Add cream until you enjoy the flavor (I tend to be heavy-handed here.) When the taste is so fine you would slap your mama if she tried to take it from you, place lid on the whole thing and just keep nice and warm for about an hour.
Serve with grilled cheese and white wine.
I’d say that chicken gave its life for a damn fine reason.