22 February 2010

No Fail Dinner Party #1 ~ Roasted Chicken

At the heart of the dinner party is the meal.  No way around it - it's the "dinner" part of the "party".

So, it helps to have a few aces in your pocket that provide a no-fail menu plan so that you, as a Savvy Host, can dedicate more time and attention to your guests.  Think of it as that one dance move you depend on not to embarrass you ~ or the joke that you can always use to the break the ice ~ or the outfit that you feel great in that always makes the right impression.

Consider this the 1st in a series of "No Fail Dinner Party Menus" offering a useful set of dinner options you can practice and have ready to make your next dinner party a success.  Whether you cook well or not at all, its a plan you can count on, and handle in your sleep.  An easy way to check the dinner part of the party off your worry list.  

A "No Fail" plan takes you through a basic preparation (based on our favorite recipes) - and then through a handful of ways to vary the style.  We'll also include a "No-cook" option for those that don't have the time, skills - or interest! - to cook from scratch.

Let's start with a simple but ever-so-classic entree that is affordable and delicious - Roasted Chicken.

If you're COOKING...
For best results, we recommend starting with an organic, farm-raised or kosher whole chicken.  A little pricier (though we do like the Organic fryers from Costco at ~$12/chicken), but the results are worth it.  We like minimal pre-cooking prep (no brining or marinating), using a high-heat roasting approach.

Brining and marinades mean advance planning, and this may not be what you have time for.  That being said, if you prefer to brine, by all means go ahead as this is really a personal preference.  Just remember it's not best to use a kosher chicken (too much salt).  And, for those that brine or want to learn more about brining, take a quick read of The Basics of Brining from Cooks Illustrated.

While you can work with a whole chicken, we like the convenience of working with a split chicken (purchased in quarters or halves is an option).  In the style of Mario Batali grilling chicken under bricks, we like the results from working with chicken halves or quarters using a high heat approach.  Bonus - no carving mess before serving to guests and much more crispy skin!

Big plus - roasting the way we like to do it requires ZERO babysitting...in the oven, set the timer, and go  to work finishing the salad or sides, setting the table, opening the wine...it's that easy and worry-free.

Here are two recipes we swear by for succulent, juicy chicken with crispy skin each and every time.

RECIPE #1My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken (by Thomas Keller, available at epicurious.com)
  • One 2-3 lb chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh Thyme
After seasoning & trussing (don't be intimidated - this won't be necessary if you opt to work with a split or quartered chicken), Keller roasts the chicken at 450 degrees for 50-60 minutes.  No brining - basting - nothing.

RECIPE #2Best-Ever Roast Chicken (by Susie Middleton, available at finecooking.com)
  • 1 4-lb. roasting chicken, giblets removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oi
This chicken is also roasted for ~ 60 minutes at 450 degrees, but starts with a light EVOO drizzle before hitting the oven. Described as "the classic roast chicken that all cooks should have in their arsenal" it is recommended to start roasting with breast-side down, and then flipped at 30 minutes. 

NO COOK option...
What delicious alternatives are there when you just don't have the time or inclination to cook?  

We've tried the roasted or rotisserie chicken option available at Whole Foods, Costco and other local grocers ~ and truth-be-told, these will work.  They're priced anywhere from $12-$20 per chicken.  Don't hesitate - just try to pick a "recently roasted" bird so that it hasn't been sitting too long drying out under the heat lamps.  Also, suggest you avoid the packages with veggies - they change the flavor.  

You'll save yourself prep/cook time and kitchen mess at home.  We'd recommend working with the least seasoning possible - but go with your gut instinct.

The trick on the pre-cooked version to get back some "crispiness" to the skin - HIGH HEAT.  Turn your oven onto 450 degrees minimum.  Place the whole or halved chicken on a rack with foil (easy clean-up) and pop into the HOT oven for 10-15 minutes.  A great aroma - and some crispy skin - will be the reward for this effort.

Add some style - make it your own...
Pan sauce - looking for a quick & delicious pan sauce?  Look to Williams-Sonoma Demi Glace ($29/10.5oz) to solve that problem.  Great recipes, and easy elegant pan sauces are available with this godsend in Chicken, Veal or Beef.

Roman version - add slices of lemon and garlic under the chicken halves, or interior to the whole chicken before roasting (a favorite of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa).  A few sprigs of thyme take it up a notch.  Consider a sprinkle of peppers if you like the heat. drizzle of balsamic glaze on top of the chicken before serving.

Spanish version - add smoked paprika to the salt & pepper shake before roasting.  We also like a little minced garlic and fresh thyme in the chicken cavity - or slices under the halves or pieces before roasting.

BBQ version - we like a sprinkle of Ancho Chile Powder, or (for a little more heat) Chipotle Chile Powder and/or smoked salt to the chicken before roasting.  Add chopped uncooked bacon inside or under the halves for added flavor.  Serve with a favorite BBQ sauce on the side.

Tuscan version - add garlic under the chicken halves, or interior to the whole chicken before roasting, along with rosemary sprigs and smoked salt.  Consider drizzling balsamic glaze on top of the chicken before serving.

Serving Savoir Faire
We like to present Roasted Chicken "family style" ~ served on a big platter ~ to enhance its basic appeal.  It's hard to know the preferences of your guests in terms of white or dark meat, so family style serving allows them to pick their preference.  Don't forget a large serving fork and spoon - tongs can also work.  

Use a simple straightforward serving style, and your Roasted Chicken will look bountiful and beautiful arranged on serving dish for your guests.

To complete the MEAL
A few of our favorites that you might consider to fill out the dinner menu - 

Oven Steak Fries (recipe from Rachel Ray, available on Food Network)
Old Bay Steak Fries (courtesy of RecipeZaar)
Green Salad (How to Make a Great Green Salad, available on Fine Cooking)
Roasted Asparagus Spears (courtesy of Simply Recipes)
Citrus Parmesan Farro Salad (courtesy of 101 Cookbooks)
Couscous (125 variations of this fun and delicious side from Food Network)
    Take a test drive - and share your success story!


    Anonymous said...

    Another amazing option is Trotters to Go in Chicago on Fullerton. Not the least expensive option in the world, Charlie provides elegant versions of some really nice basics. You could whip up a dinner party just by phoning an order in. I've even ordered an entire Thanksgiving dinner from there, everything precooked, perfectly packaged -- for less than it would have cost to purchase all the ingredients to cook the meal...and no mess. Big fan of Trotter's to Go!

    The Savvy Host said...

    Great suggestion ~ perfect no-fail option!

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