Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Handle the heat

Roman Chicken

Sometimes when I cook — usually when I’m making a big meal for company — I wonder to myself  “could I do this for a living?”

I’m sure that’s a question any enthusiastic amateur chef has pondered at one point or another; for me, it comes at a stage in my life where I wouldn’t say no to a new career path. And what finer thing than to do that which you love?

Well, lots of reasons. Professional cooking is a meat grinder. After seeing this I don’t know why anyone does it. Still, there’s got to be a way to make a living in food that won’t end with one demoralized, drug-addled or dead. But then I’ll have a cooking experience in my own kitchen that's so transcendent, it gets me thinking.

Friday was a big one, folks. From cutting up two whole chickens, to whisking a pot full of polenta, to boiling and sautéing a couple of bunches of rapini, I was the kitchen Tasmanian devil splattered with cornmeal and fueled by Campari Americanos. I love these big meals, the kinetic energy that bounces me from the stove to the cutting board to the sink. The pressure of knowing any mistake will end up in the bin and not on the plates of my guests. Sweat and heat.

And then, afterwards, cleaning up and feeling bone-tired and realizing “I spent that much energy cooking for like 6 people. How in god’s name would I manage 12? Or 100? How does anyone? I would literally die.” So maybe I’m too old, or maybe I’m not good enough to make it as a pro; I don’t know. But man, if you can get that kind of buzz cooking for six, surely it’d be even better for 12 or 100.Or maybe it's best just to savour those moments and meals in your own home when they happen.

Chicken with Pancetta and Olives (via Gourmet)

2 chickens (about 3 1/2 lb each), backbones cut out and each chicken cut into 12 pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup dry white wine
24 oil-cured black olives

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.

Toss chicken with oil, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, red-pepper flakes, and 1 tsp pepper, rubbing mixture into chicken.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, in 1 layer in a 17- by 11-inch 4-sided sheet pan. Scatter garlic and pancetta on top and roast until chicken begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Drizzle wine over chicken and roast 8 minutes more.

Scatter olives over chicken and roast until skin is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes.

  • A few things I’ll try next time to make this less of a production.
  • Skip the buying and cutting up of the chicken and use an assortment of parts instead.
  • Downsize the amount of chicken, but use the same amount of garlic and pancetta.
  • I’d start things on high heat to get the chicken nice and brown for the first 20 minutes or so, then drop it down a bit and then add the pancetta.
  • Brine-cured kalamata olives work nicely too if you don’t like the bitterness of the black ones.

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