KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Cook by the Book: The New California Cook
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Cook by the Book: The New California Cook

Roast chicken is the Holy Grail of cooking. Cooks everywhere are on the eternal quest for that crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, perfect bird. There are those who swear by Judy Rodgers' Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, others prefer Thomas Kellers' "Mon Poulet Rôti" or Mark Bittman's method. While I do have a favorite roast chicken recipe, I am always curious to see how others get the job done. So it was the Crispy Roast Chicken recipe in The New California Cook (Chronicle Books, 392 pages, $22.95) that convinced me to give the book a try.

I will admit, upon first glance, this book did not thrill me. Sidebars on appreciating avocados? How to use balsamic vinegar? Risotto tips? Is this 2006 or 1986? Despite claims that this version has been revamped, many of the recipes seem just a bit tired. Broiled Orange Roughy with Salsa Glaze, Rack of Lamb with Mint Crust, Two Mushroom Barley Risotto and Tricolor Vegetable Saute sound frighteningly like what was served at my college cafeteria. So, enough about the book, how was the chicken I hear you asking. First let's check out the recipe:

Crispy Roast Chicken
serves 4

2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

One 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 pound fryer, rinsed and patted dry
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups Chicken Stock

1. To make the marinade, whisk together the ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Taste for seasoning. Um what is the marinade supposed to taste like?

2. Place the chicken in a large, nonaluminum mixing bowl. Why? Starting around the main body cavity, carefully slip your hand under the skin, being sure not to tear it. (you may need to use gloves if you have long fingernails.) Pat the marinade under the skin and all over the bird on both sides on top of the skin. Huh? I know what this means but it's poorly written. Cover the chicken and marinate for at least a few minutes and up to 8 hours in the refrigerator. Really? A few minutes? When is that ever enough time to marinate a chicken? Shrimp maybe but not chicken.

3. Preheat the oven to 425 degree. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan or on a vertical roaster. I have a vertical roaster, but assuming most people don't, I used my roasting rack. Sprinkle the onions an carrots in the bottom of the pan and add one cup of stock. Excuse me, but shouldn't the vegetables go in first? Otherwise they sit on top of the rack, not the bottom of the pan. Roast the chicken for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a knife. I hate this kind of instruction. I want the chicken to be juicy, why pierce it with a knife when I could just use a thermometer? Halfway through the cooking, add the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock to keep the bottom of the pan from scorching. Well that information ought to have come before you are taking the bird out of the oven! Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. Carve the chicken and arrange on a serving platter. Scrape up the juices and vegetables and pour them over the chicken pieces And ruin the crispy skin? Noooo! Serve immediately.

I followed the instructions as closely as possible. First off, I marinated the bird for about an hour. I can't speak for the chicken, but let me say my hands smelled lovely from the marinade. Surprisingly sweet and delicious. I'm almost positive it had nothing to do with my hand soap. As for the chicken, after about 20 minute the wing tips started getting so dark I covered them in foil to prevent them from burning. Because there are eight grams of sugar in the marinade (from the balsamic vinegar) roasting at 425 degrees is asking for trouble. At 30 minutes the skin was already very brown so I repeated my foil treatment.

I checked the temperature with a thermometer at 45 minutes and it was 143 degrees. Not done. At one hour the temperature was 168 degrees. Still not done. My bird was 3-3/4 pounds, I can only imagine how long a 4-1/2 pound bird would take. After an hour and thirteen minutes the bird was done (180 degrees).The vegetables the author so eagerly wants you to enjoy were both soggy and shriveled. The juice in the pan so sweet from carrots I threw it away.

I think I can usually tell when a recipe is good and when it's a stinker just by reading it, but every so often I follow the instructions to see how it turns out anyway. The verdict?

Instructions: Confusing

Cooking time: Longer than indicated

Appearance: Poor. The chicken was too dark on top, too pale on the bottom.

Taste: Ok. It wasn't the slightest bit crispy nor was it juicy. It was flavorful and moist. But not the best roast chicken I've ever cooked. Not by a long shot. I think I'll stick with Nigella's version, thank you very much.


Anonymous Kim said...

Our family's favorite recipe is Paul Bertolli's, with a rub of salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and lightly cracked fennel seeds, and fresh thyme sprigs inside. We do a southwestern style with a rub with cumin and chipotle or ancho chile powder, and oregano inside the bird. The bird is roasted breast-down, so no crispy skin on the breast, but you get crispy skin on the back (the chef usually get it while the bird is resting!)

7/21/2006 2:57 PM

Anonymous Lemondrop said...

What college did Amy attend that served those delicious sounding recipes? My daughter will want to apply there as she loves every one of the dishes mentioned!!!!

7/23/2006 11:20 AM

Anonymous Corlis said...

I couldn't believe your review, Amy, of Diane Rossen Worthington's crispy roast chicken in THE NEW CALIFORNIA COOK. I have been cooking out of her books for years, and thus was inspired to buy the updated edition, thrilled to see that fabulous chicken dish was still among the "classics."

I don't understand what could have happened when you were cooking the bird. I've been making this dish to absolute RAVES for years. When I read your blog a couple of days ago, I saw that you had readers that agreed with me, that the recipe--and Ms. Worthington's book--are terrific. Now even those comments have been censored.

Amy, what's up with this? Perhaps you just had a bad day in the kitchen. It happens to all good cooks, but your scathing attitude in print toward this recaognized professional, and your subsequent deletion of any opinion other than yours now makes me question the integrity of YOUR work.

The Crispy Chicken recipe is always crisp, moist, and a crowd pleaser. At least it's been that way coming out of MY kitchen. Why be so hostile about it all? Calling her recipe a "stinker" couldn't be farther from the truth. Be fair, Amy. Unless you test the recipe a few times and check out your oven temperature, you owe Ms. Worthington a major apology. Truly.


7/24/2006 12:00 PM

Blogger wendygee said...

Some comments were deleted from this post due to the fact that they violated KQED's comment guidelines.
Differences of opinion are welcome but making personal attacks again Bay Area Bites bloggers will result in comment removal.
"Personal attacks, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive or derogatory content, and harassment or threats against other participants of the discussion board, in the blog comments area or featured speakers on the site will not be tolerated. This includes libel or unsubstantiated accusations against another."

7/24/2006 12:19 PM

Anonymous Mary said...

Diane Rossen Worthington's crispy roast chicken is one of the best dishes I've ever prepared or eaten. I have been successfully preparing this recipe for years, to the point where I get requests for it from returning dinner party guests. It's truly delicious, and I follow the clear directions exactly. It achieves the roast chicken ideal:juicy on the inside, tender, and crispy on the outside, with a delicious flavor. Perhaps Amy had a bad day; It does happen to the best of us. I think it only fair to point out to readers that this is one recipe that can't be missed. It would be a shame to misrepresent as a flop a recipe that has been and continues to be a supreme success. Diane Rossen Worthington has a very subtle gift. Her recipes are both elegant and simple to prepare. I am a major fan and strongly recommend this book to others.

7/24/2006 2:56 PM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

I totally agree with your complaints on the recipe, particularly the obviously awkward writing. Speaking as a cookbook editor, that kind of crap is intolerable for the exact reason you posted about -- it's confusing to the home cook.

Given how addicted I am to cookbooks, I'm glad to know this is one I don't have to find room for on my already stuffed shelves. Thanks for the warning, Amy!

7/24/2006 3:04 PM

Anonymous rachel said...

I think it is interesting how just before stephanie's insulting remark, "this kind of crap" was posted there was another post from wendygee saying that some comments had been removed because they were personal attacks, etc. If anything is a personal attack it is what Stephanie has said about Diane's book and very crispy roast chicken (which I adore). Maybe the editor of this blog should consider what comments are really personal attacks and which ones are not. Is it simply okay to insult the author and not amy, the blogger? let me know the rules as I am confused by this disregard for consistency in your policy.

7/24/2006 6:36 PM

Blogger wendygee said...

I am the producer of Bay Area Bites and Stephanie's "crap" is referring to the writing of the recipe not the cookbook author herself...Amy's criticisms are also referring to the recipe not the author as a person...the comments that were removed from this post included direct insults to Amy as an individual.

7/24/2006 7:27 PM

Blogger Jan said...

Jan said...

I am perplexed by the comments of both the cookbook reviewer and some of the bloggers. First of all, I find the author's sarcasm and hostility unpleasant and unnecessary. Comments such as "that kind of crap is intolerable" are woefully inappropriate. If these comments were allowed to stay, one can only imagine what was removed.

We are speaking about food and recipes here, which are supposed to bring pleasure. A recipe is merely a guide. No two stoves are alike, no two chickens are alike, no two pots and racks with their individual conductivity properties are alike. How long was the chicken left at room temperature before cooking and what temperature was the room temperature? Cooks must know the vagaries of their own equipment and vary and interpret a recipe to suit their own conditions. That's why a well-written recipe includes comments to help the cook recognize doneness.

Unlike many of the bloggers, I have never tasted this chicken, butI do, however, have a few comments for the tester.

Most importantly, the tester's chicken could never come out crispy because she covered it with foil, thereby steaming the meat and softening the skin. Why she did this is puzzling because later she complains about the skin being pale in places. It sounds as if she placed it on the wrong rack in her oven and should have just turned it over halfway, something I always have to do to get even browning in my oven.

As far as doneness goes, the author tells you, most correctly, how to recognize doneness by checking the juices. A chicken cooked to 180 degrees is dried out and unappealing. This was not the author's instruction. The tester chose to do it how she wanted to and it's her perogative if she likes well-done chicken (in the recipe is a guide department). She is lucky, however, that the chicken was marinated and cooked on a high temperature so that it was still juicy. A chicken should be removed when the breast reads 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. It will rise to 160 degrees while it sits.

Speaking of thermometers, not everyone has a reliable instant- read thermometer. And it will make as big--or bigger--a hole than a knife.

I would like to add that "Taste for seasoning" is standard recipe terminology for determining whether there is enough salt and pepper and perhaps other ingredients, such as the mustard in this case. It is an opportunity for the cook to tweak the recipe to personal taste. This is another instance where a recipe becomes a guide.

I think that all writers, authors, and recipe developers (I am one for the record) are made better by constructive informed criticism but to excoriate a recipe because the reviewer doesn't understand cooking basics and why her chicken didn't come out is unprofessional and destructive of someone's hard work. To me, this review borders on the slanderous. Actually, it crosses over.

7/26/2006 9:51 AM

Blogger Jan said...

I omitted the most important point of all from my comments. Professionally testing a recipe requires that the tester precisely follow an author's instructions. Amy did not follow the author's instructions and can only be considered commenting on her own cooking, not the author's original recipe. If she is going to post her results publicly, she owes the author a retest that follows the author's exact instructions. She will probably find that she has a delicious crispy chicken. Using a recipe as a guideline is for the cook, not for the cookbook/recipe reviewer.

7/26/2006 10:29 AM

Blogger Amy Sherman said...

Jan--thanks for your comments but a few corrections. I DID precisely follow the instructions. What gave you the idea that I didn't?

I wrote that I covered the wing tips in foil because they were in danger of burning, not the whole chicken. There is no way the chicken was steamed.

I believe a recipe is not a guideline as you suggest, but a set of instructions that should work as stated. This one didn't.

The FDA guidelines are to cook a whole chicken until it reaches 180 degrees, not 155. I do this every time and my chicken is not dried out. Nor for that matter was this chicken, it just wasn't very juicy or crispy.

I find it interesting that for someone who claims to never have tried this recipe you seem convinced that the recipe is a successful one.

8/01/2006 2:30 PM


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