Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to Roast the Perfect Chicken!

The roasted chicken has always been a family’s trusted comfort meal. At least in my family it was. Yet how comfortable and trusty is it when the majority of the time these birds come out of the oven overcooked, dry, pale or charred, un-seasoned or has the potential to brine our internal organs, and on some occasions rare. For an un-seasoned cook, one may think the only way to know whether or not the chicken is cooked completely is to cut into the meat to peak or take the bird’s temperature with a thermometer. I don’t know about you, but I never saw my mother using a thermometer to check doneness. I’m not convinced she would have know what she was looking for even if she did check. Typically speaking though, not many of the everyday folk have a reliable, accurate meat thermometer. This is one kitchen tool I highly suggest having around. I prefer to use the battery-run meat thermometers because they’re more dependable. You can easily and affordably grab one from a kitchen supply store. I got mine from Cliff’s Variety store on Castro. The prior option, cutting in to the flesh to peak for doneness seizes the cooking all together, leading to a very wet mess as all the internal juices spill onto the cutting board.

One of the most popular meals to prepare in my cooking classes is the chicken. People are always discussing their anxieties about not being able to do it right. I explain that a lot of it does has to do with your oven and how well it’s calibrated, but no matter how wonky your oven may be, you can still pull of the perfect chicken.

Trusting we all have reliable thermometers, let us first discuss the importance of what kind of chicken to buy before we embark on this wonderful journey of poultry. I can’t stress freshness enough. Almost as much as I can’t stress knowing how your chicken was raised. Grade A roasters are best for well, roasting. The meat can only be as good as it was treated, so go free-range and organic. Happy chickens taste better! And depending on how many people you’re feeding, stick with the smallest bird you can find, of course taking into consideration leftovers. If I’m cooking for myself and one other person, I aim for purchasing a bird around 4 pounds. Try Drewes Bro.s Meat on Church and 30th for these small birds. The reason for buying smaller rather than large is because these little guys pack in a punch of flavor and are easier to manage.

*Note: The chicken must be prepped and salted 24 hours before you want to roast it. Make sure to plan ahead accordingly!

So now we know what kind of bird to get, we’re already ahead of the game. The next step is to properly prep the bird. We’re going to rinse it, dry it, and season it. So before your hands becoming contaminated with the raw bird, get everything ready and in front of you. This includes measuring the salt. Judy Rodgers of Zuni CafĂ© has come up with the perfect ratio for salt to pound of bird: ¾ teaspoon of sea salt to every one pound of chicken (kosher salt will be slightly less than ¾ teaspoon). For example, a 4-pound chicken will need 3 teaspoons of salt. Measure out exactly how much salt you will need and put it into a little bowl. Herbs and garlic are other fantastic accompaniments for this rustic meal. My favorite herb to use is fresh thyme along with 6 smashed garlic cloves (other wonderful herbs are mint, basil, parsley, marjoram). So have these things ready on a clean work surface, along with some paper towels, so you’re not fishing through the fridge with chicken hands.

Now you’re ready to work. Always take your new clucker out of the bag when you get it. No need in marinating it in it’s own purged juices (gross). Pull out the offal if included and set it aside for one of your other scrumptious recipes. Rinse the chicken under cold water to rid of the stagnant liquid, and then blot her dry with your paper towels. Really try to get rid of all the excess liquid after rinsing so the salting step can be successful. Lay your bird down on your clean surface. If you’re right handed, dry this hand off to designate it for your salting hand. Start applying the salt at least 12” above the bird to get a more even disbursement. Rotate the chicken with your left hand while salting with your right, turning it over, making sure to get the salt everywhere, including in the creases of the thighs and under the arms. Throw some in the cavity, as well. Once all the salt is spread, use your finger to create a well between the bird’s skin and muscle on each side of the upper breast. Put one clove of smashed garlic in each well along with some leaves of thyme, or your herb of choice. Do this also to the bottom of each breast and the butt of the bird.

Your chicken is now ready to be left alone for 24 wonderful satiated hours! Store your creation on a plate with a dry towel over it. This keeps it protected, with out locking in moisture, causing the skin to dry a little so your end result will be a crispier skin, just what we’re shooting for.

24 hours later at the ranch…
Keep in mind the total coking time will be around 45 minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 475°F with the convection on if you have it. Grab an oven-safe sautĂ© pan large enough to hold your bird and place it over a burner on medium-high heat. Yes, we’re cooking in the pan. Getting the pan hot first will keep the chicken from sticking and tearing its wonderful skin we so carefully prepared once we flip it. Add a little oil to the pan, swirling it around to make sure the entire bottom is lightly and evenly oiled. Test the heat with a little flick of water to see if it sizzles. Once it’s hot enough, add the chicken faced breast side up. Now into the oven the whole thing goes. If you’re not sure if your oven is calibrated, check in 5 minutes to hear for what is going on. It should be gleefully sizzling, a sure sign it’s hot enough. If it seems dead in there, turn your oven up in 25° intervals until you can hear it cooking. On the other hand, if it seems to be going crazy and smoking, turn the oven down in 25°intervals. Let it cook for 25 minutes on this side while keeping an eye on the skin making sure it’s browning nicely. After the first 25 minutes, carefully, with a dry towel or mittens, pull the pan out of the oven, placing it on the stove to stabilize it while you turn the chicken over. I grab the cavity of the chicken with tongs and roll my wrist to turn it, being careful not to splash any rendered chicken fat. If you have convection on, turn it off at this point. And… back into the oven. This is giving the chicken time to crisp the back while putting a nice sear on the breast. We only want to keep it on this side for 5-10 minutes so not to overcook the breast. After 5-10 minutes, depending on how hot you think your oven is cooking, one more turn of the chicken, again taking caution for the extremely hot pan and chicken fat.

At this point, it’s a good idea to check the temperature of the bird to get an idea how close or far it is from being done. In my opinion, the perfect and most succulent chicken will be found at a final temperature of 160°F. This is taking into consideration the carry over temperature, which will range from 5-7°. The smaller the chicken, the more it will raise in internal temperature after it has been removed from the heat source. The larger the chicken, the less it will rise. So if my 4-pound bird is reading 154°F, I will place the chicken on a plate or my cutting board and let it rest for 10-12 minutes, allowing it to finalize around 160°F. If it were a 5-6 pound bird, I would leave it in the oven until 156°F. During this process, make sure your oven door is closed to all the heat isn’t escaping.

Based on this information, take a reading of your chicken’s temperature by inserting the meat thermometer into the breast. You can now estimate how much longer it has let to cook. For example, if it’s at 145°F then you will have at least another 7-10 minutes, or if it’s closer to 150°F, you will have another 3 minutes or so. (Again, all these times can vary based on how hot your oven runs.) After taking the reading, place the chicken back in the oven, breast side up to re-crisp the skin, for probably another 5 minutes, depending on your chicken’s temperature.

Once you have reached your temperature goal, taking into consideration your carry-over time, use the tongs to remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a cutting board to rest. It’s very important to allow your chicken to rest for at least 10 minutes. This is the crucial time it takes for the internal temperature to peak, or finish cooking. If you have waited 10 minutes and cut into the meat to find juices flying out, stop cutting and wait another 2 minutes or so. These are the wonderful juices that we worked so hard to create with our 24-hour advance salting!

And Voila! Your chicken is done! If you don’t eat it all in one night you can look forward to amazing chicken sandwiches and salads! (Try your sandwich with garlic aioli!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Slow Food Movement is...

... definitely becoming more of a common term when describing the restaurants of San Francisco. Some of you may be asking what is it? And why are more and more restaurants signing up to a be a part of it? Basically, it's because these establishments care about us. No, really. Slow Food Movement is a non-profit, member-supported organization. The members are integrating agriculture science and gastronomy in order to educate all of those along the food line and keep them up to date on the most recent findings. From the farm machinery, to the soil, to the food, the workers, and so on. All the way to the market where we, the consumers, hand our trust over to them to feed ourselves and families. It's actually been around since 1989, founded by an Italian, Carlo Petrini, with his campaign against the fast food chain, starting with McDonald's.

Now that we have more of an understanding to what it is, think about the 75 restaurants in San Francisco alone who are associated in this movement. You can consider all of those establishments as educated in food as the farmers. And for someone like myself, knowledge about the food I'm eating is as important as what it taste like. I have this great book, "The Slow Food Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area - Restaurants, Markets, Bars" by Sylvan Brackett, Wendy Downing and Sue Moore. It's a guide for those of you out there who demand better in their lives, such as fresh, seasonal, and locally grown food. Not only is this book a reference for Slow Foodies in San Francisco, but it's also a great source to just help remember the numerous eateries and forgotten jewels of the bay area. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) since it was published, more restaurants have joined so you won't be able to find every current restaurant listed in the book.

Through some searching, though, I found the most up to date list on
Savory San Francisco to help you keep up with the expanding number of newly added. When you're visiting these places, consider it a treat for your body and rest assured it's some of the happiest food you will find. Also, make sure to check out Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe) as she shares in her in site to this movement in her video. It's under the long list of restaurants below.

SF Slow Food

(I think I saw myself somewhere in the back of the kitchen in this video) ;)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

SF Chronicle Article, Chef Liz Bills

San Francisco Chronicle
This article is from the San Francisco Chronicle on February 21, 2007. If you want to check out the whole piece online, go here.

SEDUCED BY SUGO / Long-cooked Italian sauces captivate chefs and diners
Liz Bills stirs a pot of her Nine-Hour Bolognese at Nopa restaurant in San Francisco. It's served over creamy polenta on Sundays. Chronicle photo by Craig Lee
Click to view

Though the word "bolognese" also has become a generic term for meat sauce, it has a much stricter definition within Italy, where the quintessential ragu, or ragu alla bolognese, comes from Bologna and its surrounding region, Emilia-Romagna. But even there, recipes vary greatly. Most do not have much in the way of tomatoes -- usually only a little tomato paste or puree -- and include milk or cream.

Regional differences often come down to the availability of agricultural products. Northern Italy has more access to meat, while the less prosperous south relies more on vegetables. This partly explains why a Neapolitan ragu contains more tomatoes and less meat than a bolognese, says Chronicle contributor Joyce Goldstein, author of "Italian Slow and Savory" (Chronicle Books, 2004).

At Nopa restaurant in San Francisco, cook Liz Bills developed a recipe for Nine-Hour Bolognese as a way to use up high-quality scraps of meat, both cooked and raw. The restaurant serves the sauce over creamy polenta on Sundays.

"One day we may sell out of our beef entree, and the next day hardly sell any at all," she says. "So my solution to utilize most, if not all, of our meat products was to produce this dish and cut down on waste."

Lengthy process

Bills will use lamb, pork, beef and pancetta or all of the above in the sauce, and she recommends doing the same at home with whatever you have in the refrigerator, be it leftover pork chops or a little hamburger meat.

The reason the sauce takes so long to cook is that Bills first adds milk to the sauteed vegetables and meat, and allows it to evaporate very slowly, up to three hours. She then adds wine and repeats this lengthy evaporation process, before adding the tomatoes. At this point, she lowers the heat even more for an additional three hours of gentle simmering.

The grand total is more like 10 hours, if you include all the chopping and sauteing that goes on in the beginning. But home cooks making smaller batches will find it takes less time to evaporate the milk and wine than it does in Nopa's industrial-size pots.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Choose a Knife Best For You:

(Check out the bottom to see a chart of knives and their details)

There are so many knives out there!! I mean, butcher knives, Japanese knives, chef’s knives (French knife), paring, slicing, filet, boning, bread, utility, steak… And not only for every purpose, but each knife also gives you the options of material, size, and composition. How is the everyday person with no culinary training supposed to know what to have in their kitchen? Easy. One of everything. Kidding, but if we all could, wouldn’t it be amazing? A tool for every purpose! Knives have been in our “kitchens” since Stone Age. My, how they’ve come a long way. At least now they have handles. But then what kind of handle to get?!

Let us start this discussion with the most common styles of knives out there, their purposes, and which one (two, three…) you should have in your kitchen. Below we will talk about the importance of different materials.
  • Boning knife: This knife used to remove bones from the flesh of meat like poultry, fish, and ham. It is a shorter knife with a somewhat flexible, curved blade.
  • Bread knife: No, this knife is not the all-purpose knife that I know many people like to think. I’ve seen it used for cutting tomatoes, cheese, vegetables, etc. I’m sure the reason for this is because they never appear to go dull, but this is because they rip and tear food. This is a longer knife, about ten inches long, which is good for sawing through bread crusts without dulling the blade, and cutting the bread without crushing it.
  • Paring knife: This knife has a short, sharp blade, used for peeling fruits, or making decorative garnishes out of fruits and vegetables.
  • Filet knife: A filet knife has a flexible, longer curved blade, and it is used for cutting meats and fish into thin filets.
  • Utility knife: A utility knife is somewhat smaller than a chef knife, about five to eight inches long. It’s used for cutting meats and cheeses.
  • Steak knife: These will usually come in a set. They’re perfect for cutting tough foods into manageable bites. They have short, often serrated, blades, and should only be used on the table.
  • Chef’s knife (French knife): This is the most common knife found in all kitchens. Not only because it’s been around the longest, but also because of its versatility and use for everyday tasks like slicing, chopping, and mincing many different kinds of foods. Santoku knives, which are a style of chef’s knives, feature scalloped edges, which are perfect for slicing foods that are softer, such as tomatoes, bread, and cakes.

A knife is your single most important and utilized kitchen tool. A sharp, well-kept, personally fitted knife, will keep you and your food safe. You’ll be slicing and carving, rather than smashing and tearing.
Next time you’re in a kitchen supply store, or online, you’ll know what the purpose of every knife is, but now to discuss what materials and composition you should be aware of.

The knife is composed of a blade, handle, and a tang:

  • Blades to consider are the conventional v-shaped blade that is sharpened from both angles, and the Japanese style blade that is only sharpened from one angle. V-shaped blades are more of a world standard because it was originally used in more countries and the realigning of the blade is an easier way to manage a constant sharpness. The Japanese style blade is very sharp, as well, but will stay sharp longer. This is ideal for cooks who do not want to regularly re-center the blade. This blade will need to be sharpened more to maintain ideal sharpness as a result.
  • The handle can be composed out of the same material as the blade, wood, or a hard, durable plastic. It’s important when shopping for knives that you pick one up and think about how it feels in your hand. The only difference in your options is your own opinion. Where the blade thickens to meet the handle is the shoulder. This keeps the knife from jamming into the bone of a chicken while cutting.
  • The tang is known as a blade's extension into the handle. It’s important to choose a knife that has a full tang, meaning the steel of the blade runs all the way through the handle of the knife. A full tang ensures strength, weight and balance. Most knives that have a full tang make it visible by fastening the handle on either side of the steel, leaving the steel visible on the top and bottom of the handle. Without a tang, the knife’s blade is only fasted on to the handle, keeping the majority of the weight in the front of the knife, and can potentially come unfastened.
Now, lets look at three basic materials used for making kitchen knives: steel, titanium, and ceramic.
  • Carbon Steel has been used for many years. These guys are tough and take less effort to acquire a better edge. However, these blades discolor when they come in contact with foods that are high in acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruit. They must be given special care to avoid discoloration and rusting. You should wash and dry them thoroughly after use.
  • Unlike carbon steel, Stainless Steel blades do not discolor or rust. However, they are such a hard material, that even though they keep their edge longer, they don’t take sharpening well once they do go dull.
  • High Carbon Stainless Steel knives offer a combination of the best attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel blades. They have the toughness and ability to hold an edge and, like stainless steel blades, they do not discolor when coming in contact with acidic foods.
  • Titanium blades are made from a mold of titanium and carbides. When compared to steel, titanium is lighter, more wear resistant, and holds its edge longer. The titanium blade is more flexible working best for tasks like boning and filleting.
  • Ceramic blades are made of zirconium and aluminum oxide. Although they are much more delicate than steel knives, they tend to hold their edge up to 10 times longer! However, once the blades have dulled, they have to be sharpened by a professional sharpener.
So now that we know knives much more intimately, below is a chart I found on knives and what they’re made of from Kitchen Knife Buying Guide. These are the most common knife manufacturers you will find at your local kitchen supply store. This will make it easier for you to be prepared before your knife shopping and hopefully will help clear up any confusion I’ve created with my purge of information!

Knife Comparison Chart

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Top 11 Reasons to Buy Local

Everywhere we go food shopping these days we keep hearing about the importance of buying local foods. There are some obvious reasons an average everyday shopper can speculate to why, but what are really some of the reasons? I came across a cool site, Local Foods SF, where they stated their top reasons along with other important terms about farming.

1. Locally grown food tastes better. Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. Produce flown or trucked in from other locations are quite understandably, much older. Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles.

2. Local produce is better for you. A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned soon after harvest is actually more nutritious than some "fresh" produce that has been on the truck or supermarket shelf for a week. Locally grown food, purchased soon after harvest, retains its nutrients.

3. Local food does not require excessive use of our fossil fuels. Something as simple as buying tomatoes off season from Mexico is requiring an absurd amount of gasoline just to get it here. Shipping food across the country uses 17 times as much fossil fuel and emits 5 to 17 times as much carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas causing global warming) as distributing food within a local system.

4. Local food preserves genetic diversity. In the modern industrial agricultural system, varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment; for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping; and for an ability to have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown. Local farms, in contrast, grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colors, and the best flavors. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, because they taste good. These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection; they may someday provide the genes needed to create varieties that will thrive in a changing climate.
This is Broccoli Romanesco grown on our farm in Hollister, CA.

5. Local food is GMO-free. Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could. A June 2001 survey by ABC News showed that 93% of Americans want labels on genetically modified food - most so that they can avoid it. If you are opposed to eating bioengineered food, you can rest assured that locally grown produce was bred the old-fashioned way, as nature intended.

6. Local food supports local farm families. With fewer than 1 million Americans now claiming farming as their primary occupation, farmers are a vanishing breed. And no wonder - commodity prices are at historic lows, often below the cost of production. The farmer now gets less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food - which means farm families can afford to stay on the farm, doing the work they love.

7. Local food builds community. When you buy direct from the farmer, you are re-establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower. Knowing the farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the weather, and the miracle of raising food.

8. Local food preserves open space. As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. You have probably enjoyed driving out into the country and appreciated the lush fields of crops, the meadows full of wildflowers, the picturesque red barns. That landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

9. Local food keeps your taxes in check. Farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas suburban development costs more than it generates in taxes, according to several studies. On average, for every $1 in revenue raised by residential development, governments must spend $1.17 on services, thus requiring higher taxes of all taxpayers. For each dollar of revenue raised by farm, forest, or open space, governments spend 34 cents on services.

10. Local food supports a clean environment and benefits wildlife. A well-managed family farm is a place where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops to prevent erosion and replace nutrients used by their crops. Cover crops also capture carbon emissions and help combat global warming. According to some estimates, farmers who practice conservation tillage could sequester 12-14% of the carbon emitted by vehicles and industry.

11. Local food is about the future. By supporting local farmers today, you can help ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful, and abundant food. Buy local food. Sustain local farms.