9 August 2012

Farewell, fabulous roast chicken

Today I planned to tell you exactly how I make the most flavoursome, moist roast chicken with crispy golden skin.

I even took a photo of it for you.

Note the tenderness. Its ankles are missing because the bone fell out! And yet, such crisp skin!

But then it struck me: what is the plastic oven bag I use to produce it made of and does any of it go into the chicken?

And is the painful truth that I am ignoring the fact that I generally stay away from disposable things, especially plastic, and if I do use it I try to reuse it over and over again? This is the opposite ethos of oven bags! But the chicken tastes so good, and I don't want a fatty smokey oven. And cleaning it's no fun.

So I rang Pams and asked what the oven bags are made of (polyethylene teraphthalate, said the lady) and then I searched on whether this leaches anything into food. The official word is that it is safe. The NZ Food Standards Authority website says that packaging must legally not taint food. Then only a few sentences later it says that plastics do leach stuff into food, but that's fine as long as it is only tiny amounts.So I abandon the authorities, and go to the scientists (who are generally years ahead of authorities in my experience). A strong science background helps with such searches. And it turns our that it does leach stuff into food, especially at high temperatures. Two types of 'stuff', actually, antimony and pthalates, both of which are oestrogenic.

Sigh. Maybe it doesn't matter. Cow's milk has a lot of female cow hormones in it, especially as these days the milking cows are usually pregnant.

I will however be experimenting with braising a chicken next time, then maybe baking it briefly at the end to crispen the skin (I know, the skin's fatty and not very healthy, but I do love it).

If you are interested, here's my 'old' method.

- Put about 1/3 cup white flour and some salt and pepper in an oven bag. Shake to distribute reasonably evenly.
- Butterfly the chicken by cutting all the way down beside its backbone. You will be cutting through its ribs on one side of the spine. Then force it open and lie it on its slit-open back.
- Put it in the oven bag and tie up the bag. Again, shake well so that the flour sticks all over the chicken. Make a couple of slits in the side of the bag facing the front of the bird.
- Place in a roasting dish breast-side up. (I believe Jamie Oliver does it breast-down first: he will not rival this for tenderness, however)
- Roast long and slow: about three hours at 160oC (I know this is not what the instructions usually say, but trust me).
- After 1.5-2 hours, remove from the oven, hold the oven bag over a bowl and cut off a corner so all the accumulated fat runs out into the bowl. Return chicken to oven until it's browned.
- Keep the stuff in the bowl and place in fridge once cool. Discard the fat on top. Underneath is a lean stock (congealed, yes, but ignore that) that will make your casseroles burst with flavour.

I don't like to eat packed-in-like-sardines, living-in-layer-of-own poo broiler chickens. I buy free range birds, but I keep an eye out for specials and mark downs and stock up the freezer. Too pricey otherwise.

LATER UPDATE: I now make even better roast chicken, without an oven bag. First I butterfly the chicken and dust it with white rice flour, salt and pepper. Normal flour would do, but rice flour makes it crispier. Then I put in in a roasting dish with a lid and bake it covered at 165oC for about an hour and a half. Then I baste the bird with the juices, and drain off the remaining juice (and keep it until it goes cold, when I skim off the fat and use the firmed-up stock underneath for something delicious like gravy). Then I put the chicken back into the oven, uncovered, for another hour or so or until it looks golden enough.

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