Cynthia Graubart’s contribution to the Savor the South cookbook collection published by the University of North Carolina Press is a book on that delicious Sunday specialty, the chicken. Most famous for in the south its appearance as fried, in pieces, chicken is also well known in stews, bogs, roasted (whole and in pieces) and in soup.
As with the rest of the books in this series, the editor selected the author for her knowledge of the South as well as her aptitude in the kitchen and broad knowledge of the ingredient’s use in the South and all over the world. Graubart grew up eating chicken on Sundays at her grandmother’s house and in local restaurants in Florida, where her family lived. Author Graubart takes us on a trip through the culinary history of the beloved bird and its role in the culture of the south and the southern table, She then proceeds to offer recipes that give us a literal true taste of that tasty past and several modern takes on preparations that honor this fine culinary specimen. Graubart is the author of other cookbooks including of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (with Natalie Dupree) and Slow Cooking for Two among other efforts.
She starts out the book with chicken basics—what to look for when buying a bird or parts of a bird in local supermarket. Then she provides a guide to help de-mystify chicken terminology—free range, farm raised, organic, no hormones added and other taglines added to chicken ads and packages to induce us to purchase particular brands. She also offers suggestions on how to store, freeze and defrost chicken and what it means when a package says it is “air chilled.”
As with other books in this series, the included fifty or so recipes also offer a sampling of poultry prize recipes from other parts of the country and the world, including such delicacies as chicken chili, Jewish chicken soup, complete with matzo balls and more. Among the many southern-inspired chicken offerings, of course, she includes recipes for fried and roast chicken.
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Although she offers us seven different ways to make that most iconic dish, southern fried chicken, her philosophy of cooking, using good ingredients, simply prepared focuses on the roast chicken.
Graubart says, “A sign of a great cook is his or her ability to roast a chicken. It seems so easy—just pop the bird in a pan and stick it in the oven, but just taking a few steps in between will produce a moist and tender bird, fit for a Sunday mealtime centerpiece.”
She suggests (and gives directions for brining the chicken, noting that this technique is a cook’s insurance that the bird will remain moist. She tells us to sealing the skin by coating it in butter before roasting to achieve a golden, crispy skin on the finished roast chicken. She offers the tips, “Sliding butter under the skin keeps the breast tender and flavorful. Turning the bird during roasting helps keep the breast from drying out before the legs and thighs are fully cooked.” Her recipe and its tips are a delicious “textbook” for mastering the art of roasting chicken. You can try it for yourself since we have reprinted it below. I found this to be yet “worth keeping” in the series and look forward to the next.
At A Glance
Title | Chicken…A Savor the South Cookbook
Author | Cynthia Graubart
Publisher | University of North Carolina Press
Price | $20
Perfect Roast Chicken
Reprinted with publisher permission from Chicken: a Savor the South Cookbook by Cynthia Graubart © 2016, University of North Carolina Press.
Note from Graubart:"Consider mixing herbs and spices into the softened butter before placing it under the skin. The fat transfers the flavors into the breast meat more intensely than when the flavorings are added to the brine. Use one teaspoon finely chopped herbs per tablespoon of butter. Try thyme, rosemary, parsley, garlic, curry or chili powder, or minced ginger."
Makes 4–6 servings
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken
Canola oil or cooking spray
3 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1–2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 quarts of water in a pot or tub large enough to submerge the whole chicken under the water. Add the chicken and refrigerate for 1–4 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°. Place an oiled (or sprayed) v-shaped rack in a large roasting pan. Remove the bird from the brine to a colander placed in the sink, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and move to a cutting board. Using your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the breast meat. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the softened butter under the skin of one side of the breast. Spread the butter over the breast by massaging it through the skin. Repeat with the other side of the breast. Rub the skin of the entire bird with the remaining butter and season with pepper. Cut both ends off the lemon and then cut the lemon in half horizontally. Insert the lemon halves and rosemary in the cavity of the chicken.
Move the chicken to the oiled rack, placing it on its side (one wing facing up). Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roast for 15 minutes. Using long tongs or wadded paper towels, rotate the chicken in the rack to the other side so that the other wing is facing up. Roast for 15 minutes. Rotate the chicken again so that the breast is now facing up and continue roasting for 20–25 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175° on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 10–15 minutes, then carve and serve.