This is a story about electoral cycles and local politicking. More importantly, it’s a story about a fancy chicken.
Just over a month ago, we saw a lot of construction works going on in the little square near where we live, and assumed that they were resurfacing the pavements. Turns out that they were actually implanting permanent market stalls, because local elections are coming, and the politicians want the fact that they Build Stuff For The Community to be uppermost in everyone’s mind. (There are brand-new flowerbeds by the tram stop where Zucchini’s not-really-a-grandmother lives.)
Just under a month ago, the FARMARSKE TRH signs went up. Splendid, I found myself thinking. Just what we need, a farmers’ market that sucks. Another outlet for horribly overpriced sausages and the sort of earnestly-organic cheese that always looks like it’s going to be more interesting than it really is. But seeing as I have to pass through there on the way to work, might as well check it out when it opens on Wednesday. And hey, there’s going to be a gala opening with dechovka music (this is essentially Bavarian oompah music translated into Czech, although Czechs will not thank you for saying so) and fairytale puppets. Hell, might as well bring Zucchini too. Zucchini is a sucker for food markets, and it should entertain him at least.
(yeah, you see where this is going, don’t you?)
“Oh Aubergine, Best Beloved and guiding light of my existence, could you be an absolute dear and take this whole chicken, flat of enormous eggs [all double-yolked] and bushel of salad back to the flat so I’m not late for my important meeting today?”
Yeah. Between the pretty decent vegetable stalls, the posh-mushroom stall, the apples-that-taste-like-apples guy, the live fish people, and of course the Chicken Lady, our farmers’ market entirely failed to suck.
There are no pictures of the Chicken Lady, because it always seems rude to take pictures of people who are working. She’s a small woman who runs a small chicken farm and has a huge grin. The huge grin probably has something to do with the fact that every time she shows up at the market, she sells everything she’s got. On the second market day, the Sunday after, we showed up half an hour after she’d opened and everything was gone. Apparently one person bought up her entire stock of eggs.
So we had this fine chicken, a chicken far too nice (and too expensive) for any treatment other than roasting a la mode d’Anthony Bourdain (and just buy his book dammit, because his description of how to roast a chicken is a lot more amusing than mine). Oven up to 190C.
Hello, Mr. Chicken.
No pictures of the next steps, because it would mean holding Zucchini’s camera with raw-chickeny hands.
Off with his neck! Off with his wing-tips! Out with his giblets! Put them somewhere safe. Wash him inside with cold water, and let him dry.
In with the cracked black pepper and salt, a bunch of thyme and rosemary, half a lemon and half a peeled onion.
In with the herb butter under the breast skin, a tablespoon on each side. (My herb butter: chop the herbs you have around and squish up with the amount of butter called for in the recipe. Mr. Bourdain’s herb butter is a little more involved.)
On with the trussing string. Round one drumstick, round the other, tied up nice and tight so the legs are raised over the breast meat. The second time you do this, you will know that it’s easier and more hygienic to sever the string before doing the trussing.
On with more of that salt and pepper, rubbed all over the skin.
Giblets and neck in the roasting pan with the other half of the onion. Mr. Chicken on top of them. (Wing-tips set aside to go into the stock you’re going to make with his skeleton.) Half a cup of cheap white wine into the roasting pan (if it’s good white wine you should be drinking the stuff). Into the oven with Mr. Chicken for 30 minutes, basting whenever you remember. If your oven is anything like mine, Mr. Chicken should be shifted around every time you baste so he can cook evenly. After 25 minutes, crank the oven up to 220C (says Mr. Bourdain) or as high as it goes (Mr. Chicken was a big chicken!) and cook for another 25 minutes. Make an enormous salad (not pictured). Take Mr. Chicken out and stick him on a plate ready for carving.
(If you don’t like gravy, omit this part and just rest your chicken for 15 minutes before carving. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.)
Put the roasting pan on the stovetop, pour in a cup of that cheap white wine and turn the heat on, scraping away at all the crusty bits. A Pyrex or earthenware roasting pan will almost certainly not explode provided you keep the heat down very low. It does add a little extra frisson of excitement though.
Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a milk pan and boil until reduced to half the volume. Remove the giblets and onion, and set aside as the cook’s prerogative. If you are a total butter-ho like Mr. Bourdain, this is the point when you can whisk a tablespoon of softened butter into the gravy. I’m not altogether sure it’s necessary.
Open some white wine that’s at least one notch better than the wine you gave Mr. Chicken, and drink a toast to electoral cycles, local politicking and the Chicken Lady.