Two for tuesday: Compound butter and a roast chicken that will blow your socks off.
This blog is a [belated] part of the two-for-tuesday blog carnival.
I’m into local herbs. I mean, I’m sure you’re gathering that from my poetical waxings about what’s in bloom, and the pictures I take of the herbs in my garden, and stuff like that. It’s more than a trendy thing, or an ethical thing, or a using unnecessary petroleum-for-transport thing… for me, it’s plain logical.
I have this secret fantasy. It has something to do with the local food movement, but it runs even deeper than that.
When I think about famous regional cooking– Provencal cooking, Italian food, Spanish food, Greek food, Thai food– I think about the cultures that they came from too. Italian food didn’t come about because a bunch of chefs sat around trying to come up with a repertoire of things that would taste good, the Italian people just used what they had, and what grew abundantly. When you think about any food culture, it emerged in that way*. This country is so young, and such a mish-mash of different cultures, that it only makes sense that we spend most of our time reminiscing about the cuisines of other countries. And while there ARE things that are considered to be ‘American’ foods– fried chicken, hamburgers and fries, coca cola, things like that– it saddens a bit to see that this is all we are seen as. In some ways I see it like a gorgeous woman with a rediculously high IQ, who wears nothing but bikinis so people don’t even think to look past her looks.
Before the insurgence of immigrants there was a culture here that was based on the land. A real culture. I’m not saying that we should appropriate Native American cultures, but that in my opinion, a culture arises from the land it’s born on, and in my fantasy, American culture evolves to be its own, with its own cuisine that is more than a trendy local-food movement, but is also good old home cooking using what the land gives us.
I LOVE basil, parsley, mint and thyme. I have them growing in my garden, in fact. But there are also a ton of herbs that grow around here that just aren’t used because they don’t grow all over the world. I’m sure the same goes for you in your area, wherever you are. Out here in Southern California, we have a TON of different sages, some wormwoods, local mushrooms, local berries. The list is pretty long. I don’t even know a quarter of it. Most of the US have things like bee-balm and poke-weed and goldenrod and different sages and mustard greens and all kinds of delicious things that you won’t find in cook books.
One of the best ways I’ve found to use local herbs, is a compound butter that I then stuff under the skin of a chicken. It’s pretty decadent, considering how expensive butter is, but then the fat that’s left over can be used for cooking for a couple of weeks after, which, in my opinion, is worth it.
Local herb compound butter.
1 stick butter at room temperature
1 small bowl of local herbs (I used 3 different kinds of sages, lavender, lemon verbena and oregano from my garden)… if you live anywhere East of here, the bee-balm should be out soon, and would make an AMAZING compound butter…
Chop the herbs quite finely. In a bowl, with a spatula, mash the herbs into the butter until they are well incorporated. Put the butter, in a big mass, in the centre of a piece of saran-wrap, then roll into a tube-like shape.
Can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. To use, just chop a piece off the end.
Roast Chicken stuffed with local herb compound butter.
Of all the ways that I’ve tried integrating local herbs into cooking, meat dishes are by far the most popular. It makes sense, if you think about it– all these strong sages and other aromatics DO tend to go much better with meat. And this, well it’s a winner. I use a whole chicken, just because I’m lazy and I can’t be bothered cutting it up into portions. If I were serving a big group, I’d likely buy chicken portions, and do it the same way.
red chile flakes
herbed compound butter (about 5 TB, at room temperature)
I usually start this process in the morning– pull the chicken out of the fridge, place in a big metal bowl, and cover with salt. It has the same effect as brining, but leaves the skin so much crispier that I’ll never brine again. When I’m ready to cook the chicken, with a wet rag, I wipe the salt off, and preheat the oven to 550.
Reaching into the chicken from the head-side, start to pull the skin away from the meat. You should be able to get around most of the chicken that way– legs included. Then, taking the butter in your hand, start to stuff it under the skin, spreading it over the meat. It might not get to be a perfectly even layer– mine often looks like it has a bunch of clumps of butter through it. Keep in mind that it will cook, and melt, and not be a problem.
In the above picture, I actually ripped the skin by accident, and just skewered it together with a bamboo skewer for the cooking.
Once the chicken skin is stuffed, cover the bird with red chile flakes and pepper and put it, uncovered in the oven at 550 for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 400 for another 20 minutes, then to 350 until the bird is cooked through. If you cut into the space between the leg and the breast, the juices should run clear, not red.
Allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.
*Maybe with the exception of fancy French cooking. I don’t know enough about it to be sure though.