By Lisa Weiss
When most of us think about cooking a whole chicken, what comes to mind is pulling a golden, crisp skinned bird out of the oven. But as a cook who has become somewhat bored with roast chicken (and on more than one occasion been disappointed by a dried-out bird), I wanted to explore some other options. So I asked three chefs if they would share a favorite recipe for whole chicken-one that’s tender, moist, full of flavor, and not roasted.
Pam Mazzola of Prospect restaurant in San Francisco shared her pot-roasted chicken with spring vegetables, an elegant adaptation of a dish her grandmother used to make. Barbara Lynch offered her recipe for a whole chicken wrapped in buttery pastry dough, the same bird she sells “to go” from her Butcher Shop restaurant in Boston for customers to take, bake, and devour at home. And renowned Italian chef Lidia Bastianich introduced me to one of her family’s favorite meals: a simple one-pot dish of perfectly poached chicken and vegetables that’s served with a piquant and colorful salsa.
I was impressed by just how tender the meat, both dark and white, cooked up for all three birds. I also loved that the recipes are forgiving. Unlike a roast chicken, which can quickly overcook in a hot oven, these birds offer more flexibility in the cooking time. And since these recipes all use various moist-heat cooking methods, there’s little risk of the meat drying out.
I thought I might yearn for the crisp skin of a perfectly roasted chicken, which none of these techniques can deliver. Instead, I was so happy with the supple meat and vegetables from all three dishes that I didn’t miss it a bit.
|The chef: Barbara Lynch||Pastry-Wrapped Chicken with Vegetable Stuffing|
Barbara envelopes a whole bird in a buttery dough to form a crust (not unlike a salt crust) that allows the chicken to gently steam in its own juice, which is made even more flavorful thanks to an aromatic stuffing of rosemary, carrot, onion, and celery. Best of all, the dough bakes up buttery and flaky yet sturdy. It’s scrumptious broken into pieces and eaten along with the chicken and vegetables.
|1. Wrap the chicken as you would a present: Put it on the dough breast side down and bring up each side of the dough, overlapping it. If there is a lot of overlap, trim some away, then pinch the seams to seal.||2. Turn the wrapped bird over so the seams are on the bottom and the breast side is up. Brush with egg wash to help create a beautiful golden-brown crust and sprinkle with salt to bring out the dough’s buttery flavor.|
3. Carve as you would a roast chicken, slicing into the breast and pulling away the meat and crust. The legs should easily pull away, too. And don’t forget to spoon out and serve the tasty vegetable stuffing. See a video extra on how to carve the chicken (coming soon).
About Barbara Lynch: One of Boston’s-and America’s-most highly regarded chefs, Barbara oversees a number of enterprises, including her flagship No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, Sportello, and her newest restaurant, Menton, Boston’s only Relais & Châteaux restaurant. She is also the author of the cookbook Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition.
|The chef: Lidia Bastianich||Poached Chicken with Salsa Rustica|
Lidia submerges a whole chicken in a broth full of earthy and fragrant ingredients, including porcini, celery root, and fennel. She adds even more flavor by stuffing the chicken with lemon and garlic before wrapping it in cheesecloth, which keeps the aromatics inside the bird and makes handling it easier. She serves the chicken with a bright salsa made with such bold ingredients as capers, red onion, and fresh herbs, which provides the juicy yet pale chicken with a little color and a big kick of flavor.
|1. Tie the chicken up in cheesecloth so it can absorb the flavors of the broth and be easily retrieved after it’s been poached to fall-apart tenderness.||2. You’ll serve some of the rich broth with the chicken, but the rest can be used for soup (see left) or saved for use in other recipes.|
About Lidia Bastianich: An icon on the national food scene, Lidia has long encouraged American cooks to embrace the values of Italian home cooking through her many books, television appearances, and her website, lidiasitaly.com. She is the chef/owner of four acclaimed New York City restaurants: Felidia, Becco, Esca, and Del Posto, as well as Lidia’s Pittsburgh, and Lidia’s Kansas City.
|The chef: Pam Mazzola||Pot-Roasted Chicken with Spring Vegetables|
Pam browns the chicken and then slowly cooks it along with aromatic vegetables, broth, and wine. The low heat tenderizes the chicken by slowly and gently breaking down the fibers in the meat, while the liquid in the pot helps keep it juicy. Unlike her grandmother, who made a similar recipe by just putting everything in the pot to start, Pam browns the bird and sautés the vegetables separately, which creates a depth of flavor and richness that belies the dish’s homey nature.
|1. Browning the chicken before braising adds flavor and makes it look good, too. Sear it well on each side, turning it with a sturdy pair of tongs.||2. The vegetables, which are browned separately, are added to the pot after the chicken has cooked for a while in broth and wine. Use a spoon to distribute them evenly.|
3. The braising liquid, strained and then boiled to intensify flavors, makes a light sauce for the tender chicken and vegetables.
About Pam Mazzola: Pam is the executive chef/co-owner with Nancy Oakes of Prospect restaurant in San Francisco. She is known for her comforting yet sophisticated take on California cuisine. Pam also worked with Nancy on Boulevard: The Cookbook.
Food photos by Scott Phillips. Lynch photo by Mike Toth. Bastianich photo by Diana DeLucia. Mazzola photo by Jeannie O’Connor.