Cooking Chicken Just Right with Chris Kimball

Chris Kimball and Renee Montagne in the kitchen. i i

hide captionWhile cooking pan-roasted chicken breasts, Chris Kimball points out to Renee Montagne one of the most important tools in the kitchen: a digital thermometer.

Ben Bergman/NPR
Chris Kimball and Renee Montagne in the kitchen.

While cooking pan-roasted chicken breasts, Chris Kimball points out to Renee Montagne one of the most important tools in the kitchen: a digital thermometer.

Ben Bergman/NPR

Americans eat more chicken than any other kind of meat — on average 87 pounds a year per person. But they often do a terrible job of preparing it.

"Most of the time, people are over-cooking it," says Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen on PBS. We're a nation eating "bad, overcooked chicken," he says — but it doesn't have to be that way.

Kimball has tested hundreds of recipes for his new cookbook, The Best Chicken Recipes, devoted exclusively to the bird.

The key to a good chicken dish begins with selecting the chicken, he says.

Visiting the poultry section of a Santa Monica, Calif., supermarket, Kimball says store-bought chickens generally are "grown to have small legs and large breasts — everyone likes white meat. So this is just average chicken."

For an above-average bird, Kimball recommends searching out a kosher brand. That's because they're individually slaughtered by hand, their salt flavor helps the meat retain water for a juicier taste, and the salt tends to make chicken more tender.

He says bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts are more flavorful than the boneless, skinless kind.

Before you get started, Kimball says, don't be afraid to make mistakes — he says that's the best way to learn.

"Making bad food is the beginning of becoming a good cook," he says.

With the chicken and a digital thermometer in hand, Kimball walks Renee Montagne through preparing one of the recipes, for pan-roasted chicken breasts with vermouth, leek and tarragon pan sauce.

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts

Pan-roasted chicken breasts cooking, before the sauce is added. i i

hide captionPan-roasted chicken breasts cooking, before the sauce is added.

Ben Bergman/NPR
Pan-roasted chicken breasts cooking, before the sauce is added.

Pan-roasted chicken breasts cooking, before the sauce is added.

Ben Bergman/NPR
'The Best Chicken Recipes'

 

Serves 4

Remember to preheat your oven before assembling your ingredients. If the split breasts are of different sizes, check the smaller ones a few minutes early to see if they are cooking more quickly, and remove them from the oven if they are done. If you like, serve the chicken with a pan sauce.

4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each), trimmed

Salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in an oven-safe 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook until deep golden, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook until golden on the second side, about 3 minutes longer.

3. Flip the chicken skin-side down and place the skillet in the oven. Roast until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 18 minutes.

4. Using a potholder or oven mitt, remove the skillet from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a plate, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for at least 5 minutes (or while making a pan sauce) before serving.

From The Best Chicken Recipes. Copyright © 2008 by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Vermouth, Leek and Tarragon Pan Sauce

 

Makes enough for 4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken cutlets

2 teaspoons vegetable oil (if needed)

1 medium leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4 inch thick, and rinsed thoroughly

1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves

1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard

Salt and ground black pepper

1. After removing the chicken from the skillet, add the oil (if needed) and the leek and cook over medium-high heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.

2. Stir in the broth and vermouth, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce measures 3/4 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices, return to a simmer, and cook for 30 seconds.

3. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, tarragon, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

From The Best Chicken Recipes. Copyright © 2008 by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Rosemary-Garlic Roast Chicken with Jus

Rosemary-garlic roast chicken. i i

hide captionRosemary-garlic roast chicken.

America's Test Kitchen
Rosemary-garlic roast chicken.

Rosemary-garlic roast chicken.

America's Test Kitchen

 

Serves 2 to 3

We recommend using a V-rack to roast the chicken. If you don't have a V-rack, set the bird on a regular roasting rack and use balls of aluminum foil to keep the roasting chicken propped up on its side. If using a kosher bird, skip the brining process.

CHICKEN AND BRINE

1/2 cup table salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons) plus 10 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled

Ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

JUS

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine

2 bay leaves

1 fresh rosemary sprig

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces and chilled

Salt and ground black pepper

1. For the chicken and brine: Dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 quarts cold water in a large container. Submerge the chicken in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Mix the rosemary, minced garlic, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper into the softened butter in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a roasting pan on the rack, and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a V-rack with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels.

3. Use your fingers to gently loosen the center portion of skin covering each side of the breast. Place half of the butter mixture (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) under the skin, directly on the meat in the center of each side. Gently press on the skin to distribute the butter mixture over the meat. Tuck the wings behind the back. Rub the skin with the oil, season with pepper, and place the chicken, wing-side up, on the prepared V-rack. Place the V-rack in the preheated roasting pan and roast for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and, using 2 large wads of paper towels, rotate the chicken so that the opposite wing side is facing up. Scatter the unpeeled garlic in the bottom of the roasting pan. Return the roasting pan to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.

5. Using 2 large wads of paper towels, rotate the chicken so that the breast side is facing up. Add the chicken broth and continue to roast until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Tip the chicken to let the juices flow from the cavity into the roasting pan, then transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest while making the jus. Remove the garlic cloves from the roasting pan and peel. Place the garlic in a small bowl and mash to a paste with a fork; set aside.

6. For the jus: While the chicken rests, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits in the roasting pan. Pour the cooking juices into a fat separator and set aside to settle, about 3 minutes. Pour the defatted juices into a medium saucepan, stir in the broth, vermouth, bay leaves, and rosemary sprig, and simmer over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain the sauce and return it to the saucepan, discarding the solids. Off the heat, whisk in the reserved garlic paste and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside to keep warm until serving.

From The Best Chicken Recipes. Copyright © 2008 by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated.

French-Style Chicken in a Pot

French-style chicken in a pot. i i

hide captionFrench-style chicken in a pot.

America's Test Kitchen
French-style chicken in a pot.

French-style chicken in a pot.

America's Test Kitchen

 

Serves 4

We developed this recipe to work with a 5- to 8-quart Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. If you choose not to serve the skin with the chicken, simply remove it before carving. The amount of jus will vary depending on the size of the chicken; for every 1/4 cup jus, season it with about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice.

1 (4 1/2- to 5-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded

Salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)

1 small celery rib, chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)

6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed

2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)

1/2 to 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with the salt and pepper. Tuck the wings behind the back.

2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, breast-side down; scatter the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and rosemary (if using) around the chicken. Cook until the breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using 2 large wads of paper towels, flip the chicken breast-side up and cook until the chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat; place a large sheet of foil over the pot and cover tightly with the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven and bake until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 11/2 hours.

4. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the chicken juices from the pot through a fine-mesh strainer into a fat separator, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Allow the liquid to settle for about 5 minutes, then pour into a small saucepan and set over low heat.

5. Carve the chicken, adding any accumulated juices to the saucepan. Stir the lemon juice into the jus to taste. Serve the chicken, passing the jus separately at the table.

From The Best Chicken Recipes. Copyright © 2008 by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Books Featured In This Story

The Best Chicken Recipes
The Best Chicken Recipes

A Best Recipe Classic

by Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Hardcover, 422 pages | purchase

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