Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Simple Ingredients, Unconventional Preparation

Some of the best meals can come from unconventional cooking and seasoning methods. The other night, I had some good ingredients for dinner, but I was a bit stuck on how to cook them. I bought a whole chicken, some brussel sprouts, a sweet potato, and an eggplant. I couldn't decide on how to prepare all of the elements of the dinner, so I decided to use some unexpected cooking methods and the result was delicious.

For the chicken, I washed and dried it thoroughly. I then removed the backbone by cutting on either side of the backbone on the bottom of the bird with poultry shears. Poultry shears cut easily through bone and flesh and are a lot safer to use than a knife when butchering a chicken. By removing the backbone, the chicken cooks quicker in the oven and it is much easier to cut up once its cooked. On top of that, the chicken looks as if it is reclining on the roasting pan.

For the seasoning, I wanted to do something unconventional, so I mixed about 2 tablespoons of honey with a teaspoon of allspice, a teaspoon of cayenne and the juice from a quarter of a lemon. I mixed this honey glaze with a fork until it was smooth and the spices were incorporated.

I then pulled the chicken skin up from the flesh and spooned the honey mixed under the skin. Chicken skin will easily pull off of the meat and create a pocket for seasoning or sauces that will really seap into the meat while cooking. Putting flavor directly on the meat and under the skin is a really fun way to make a chicken more interesting than just spooning or glazing the outside. I put a spoonful of the glaze on each breast and each leg, and then I pressed the outside of the skin to distribute the glaze as evenly as possible. Once the meat was glazed, I coated the skin and put the chicken in the oven at 425. I roasted it for 50 minutes until the skin was golden brown.

For the sweet potato, I decided to make roasted chips. I sliced the potato into very thin discs, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and laid them out on a baking sheet.

Sweet potatoes are a really nice starch to use instead of classic white potatoes. They have a very distinct flavor, and they don't need much seasoning as they are naturally sweet. They're also a very healthy alternative to classic potatoes.

I put the sweet potatoes in the oven along with the chicken at 425, and cooked them for 45 minutes until they started to brown on top and were soft throughout.

As you may have noticed from my other posts, I love brussel sprouts. I normally roast them with salt and pepper, but being that the theme of this meal was to cook unconventionally, I decided to fry the sprouts. I cut off the bottom stem and halved the sprouts. I then steamed them for about 5 minutes until they were bright green and somewhat soft. I then set them aside to cool and dry off.

As they were cooling, I heated canola oil in a medium saucepan to medium high. I then dropped the sprouts into the oil (careful to avoid the popping oil from the water remaining on the steamed sprouts.) Once they were brown and cooked, I removed them and let them sit in paper towel to absorb the oil. After the oil was absorbed, I tossed the sprouts with salt and lemon juice.

I cooked the eggplant by putting it in the oven whole and roasting it for 45 minutes. This is an extremely simple way to cook eggplant and is very delicious. Roasting the whole eggplant and then cutting it is a great way to make eggplant dip without getting your hands dirty.

Once it was done, I sliced it lengthwise and twice across to let out the steam. I then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, a little bit of black truffle oil, and some lemon juice. I mixed it up with a fork, and because it was fully roasted, it was easy to mash up.

Once the chicken was golden brown, I removed it from the oven and let it settle for about 10 minutes. with any meat, you want to let it sit for 10-15 minutes so it can cool slightly and so the juices can settle evenly throughout the meat. I carved up the meat after letting it sit, and because I had removed the backbone, the chicken was extremely easy to carve as all of the limbs were laid out and the breasts were easily removed from the bones whole.

The meal was delicious. The chicken meat was sweet and moist from the honey rub, and the skin was salty and crisp. I ended up eating too much of it because it was so delicious. The sweet potatoes were excellent as well. They were evenly cooked and soft without being mushy. The natural sweetness of the potato worked well with the salt, pepper, and olive oil seasoning. The brussel sprouts were delicious. Crispy, nicely browned, with the faint natural bitterness of the sprout coming through with the acidity of the lemon juice. Finally, the eggplant was very nice. Because it was a smaller eggplant, we didn't get much of the meat because it cooks down so much during roasting, but it was simple and tasty and would be really good as a spread on some nice toasted bread. The whole meal turned out really well, and I was glad that I was able to take a few simple ingredients and really make them unique.

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