Source: Berkshire, The Edge
I decided to roast two chickens, which provided us with most of the main courses for our lunch and dinners over the next three or four days. The other advantage was this savings allowed us to enjoy more pints of Guinness at the local
pub.BY BOB LUHMANN
About 12 years ago, not long after Lois took me in and saved a wretch like me, we made our first trip as a couple to the cottage I’d inherited in County Donegal, Ireland. That year, the dollar to euro exchange rate was a gruesome $1.65 or so. Irish petrol being consistently three times higher than here, on top of the terrible exchange rate, limited the length of our car trips exploring that beautiful island, so we took more than our usual long walks to be found in the immediate area.
This was hardly a hardship, as the surrounding area has some of the most starkly dramatic scenery to be found anywhere. This was confirmed by National Geographic Traveller awarding Donegal, and specifically the area in Donegal along The Wild Atlantic Way where we happen to be located, as number one on their “Cool List” in 2017. While we love this most remote county of Ireland, I’m not sure all of Ireland would term it “cool.” In fact, there was a time when I was searching for my rental car at Dublin Airport, and a man who worked there asked if he could help. Since most of Ireland needs to know where you came from, where you’re going, and any other bits of personal information you’re willing to offer and I’m essentially an open book, we struck up a conversation. When I told him, we were headed to Donegal, he replied cheerily, “Oh! You mean the arsehole of nowhere?”
It was my mother who pointed out to me early on while discovering Ireland, that when first meeting someone from Ireland they’re exceptionally good at finding out everything they can about you, but give up little information about themselves until they’ve got to know you better. Not to diminish the fact that the people of Ireland are typically genuinely friendly, extremely helpful, and generous to a fault, it was interesting how often I found that characteristic to be true. I attribute this to centuries of harsh British rule, when survival often meant keeping as low a profile as possible while being hyperaware of strangers and their business.
At any rate, a big thank you to my parents, Dave and Katie Luhmann, for being ahead of the cool, and we will be back as soon as it becomes safe to travel again. Also, thanks to them, it gave us comfort to know the cottage was there as a safe haven if Trump had been reelected.
For Irish music fans, Donegal may be best known as the birthplace of Enya and the groups Altan and Clannad, but there’s so much more. Most of Donegal is designated as a Gaeltacht region, which are officially designated areas of the country where Irish Gaelic is primarily spoken and so much of Irish culture is preserved, including traditional Irish folk music, or trad as it’s called locally. During non-COVID times, there’s a pub hosting a trad music session, simply referred to as a session, somewhere within driving distance from anywhere in Donegal, which is not uncommon anywhere in Ireland. These are generally loosely organized sessions in which musicians gather and play trad music in a corner of a pub, however I’ve heard songs such as “The Tennessee Waltz” played, as well.
Traditional Irish music is also played live for social céilí dances, where a form of Irish folk dancing takes place. In our area of Donegal, céilí dancing can be found on most nights somewhere, but because of the space requirements for céilís, they are found in large pubs or community halls. At the risk of being severely admonished by my merciless Irish friends, I’ll take a crack at describing céilí dancing as I understand and observed it. The Irish folk dancing at céilís has similarities to our square dancing, which, of course, to put a circle on that square, has roots in the folk dances found at céilís. Two big differences are céilí dancing is more intricate than typical square dancing and there’s rarely a caller. It was fascinating watching my first céilí, as I couldn’t comprehend how everyone knew what to do, especially since the dances are so intricate and generally fast paced. I found it much too dangerous for all involved for a dancing bear like me to participate.
The music played at céilí dances is predominantly Irish folk music involving jigs, reels, and hornpipes, but because it’s dance music for a formalized style of dance, it’s much more structured and has somewhat different roots than the more improvisational trad music. In Donegal céilís, which are the only ones I know, you’ll often hear a good dose of waltzes and American country music, with its roots in Irish/Scottish folk music. Much of Donegal of a certain age is mad for American country music, with New York, Boston, and Nashville being three of the most popular East Coast destinations when visiting America. I still remember on my first trip to Ireland in 1973; I turned on the radio after I checked into my Dublin hotel to hear what Irish music sounded like and was surprised to hear a tremendous amount of American country-pop music. The first song I heard was “Paper Roses” by Marie Osmond, which I would hear ad nauseum during that first trip.
While speaking of Irish music, it should also be noted that the classic spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” sung so brilliantly by so many artists and at church services across the land, including so poignantly by President Barack Obama in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney in 2015, has its roots in Donegal. It was originally written as a hymn by the Anglican clergyman John Newton, in 1773, inspired by his having been involved in a violent life-threatening storm off the coast of Donegal while captain of a slave ship in 1748. It was during that storm he called out to God for mercy despite having no particular religious conviction at the time. Surviving that storm and finding sanctuary in Donegal after his call for God’s mercy began his spiritual conversion, eventual path to the clergy, and becoming an active abolitionist.
While in Ireland on our trip 12 years ago, the question of food arose, which is usually my first thought when I wake up in the morning no matter where I am. However, due to the terrible exchange rate, our food budget received far greater scrutiny than normal, so I decided to roast two of Ireland’s consistently excellent chickens. Those comparatively inexpensive chickens provided us with most of the main courses for our lunch and dinners over the next three or four days. Beyond the first night’s roast chicken dinner, there were sliced chicken sandwiches on wonderful Irish wheaten bread, chicken salad, and a big pot of chicken soup. The other advantage was this savings allowed us to enjoy more pints of Guinness at the local pub.
This was a predictable rambling way to get to the point of this article, which is a recipe for roast chicken. However, since this story begins in Ireland, where the longest stories are told, it’s altogether fitting. Since most of us are pinching pennies and missing our friends and extended families while huddling in our homes during this COVID winter, why not turn to a healthy inexpensive comfort food to ease what ails you, such as an excellent roast chicken and medicine-for-everything chicken soup? Just as it did for us in Ireland 12 years ago, a roast chicken provides for a delicious dinner, and what’s left of it makes a glistening, rich stock for an equally delicious pot of soup. As far as the food budget is concerned, one four-pound chicken provides the Lovely Lois and I not only a roast chicken dinner the first night, but soup for dinner two nights later, followed by as many as four bowls of soup for lunch. It’s hard to beat the combination of comparatively easy preparations providing soul-satisfying, comforting nutrition while causing such a small dent in the food budget.
I’ve tried many methods for roast chicken over the years and have settled on the method first described by the wonderful cookbook author, master chef, and culinary teacher Marcella Hazan. I’ve made a couple of minor, but meaningful, adjustments including tweaking roasting temperatures and timing, but otherwise follow it exactly.
My first meaningful adjustment is salting and drying the chicken, uncovered, overnight in the refrigerator, which guarantees a crispy skin and acts as a dry rub, aiding the chicken in remaining moist. If you’re salt sensitive or don’t care much about crispy skin, skip this step. If you do salt the chicken, be careful salting it any further before serving. In addition, I deglaze the roasting pan by adding white wine to the pan juices and reduce, before enriching the reduced juices with butter, while Marcella simply pours the pan juices over the chicken meat. However, I believe everything’s better with butter. No matter whether you incorporate my adjustments or not, you’ll serve a delicious chicken as I’m sure Marcella did many times for her family and guests.
Roast Lemon Chicken
- 1 approximately 4 lb whole chicken
- 1 large lemon, washed and pierced all around with a fork
- 2 Tbl kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 or 2 sprigs of rosemary (optional)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 Tbl butter, cut in half
Method:The day before your meal, remove any giblets and any extra fat from the chicken, dry the chicken thoroughly inside and out with paper towels, and rub the chicken all over with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Store uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to dry.The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Dry the chicken inside and out with paper towels again, stuff the washed and pierced lemon into the cavity with the rosemary, if using. Close the cavity with a couple of toothpicks and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. It’s not necessary to close the cavity or tie the legs together tightly.Place the chicken breast side down in a cast iron skillet or any pan which can withstand a 400-degree oven temperature and is able to be used over direct heat. There’s no need to add any oil or butter to the pan or chicken, as the chicken is self-basting. Place on the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and set your timer for 30 minutes.After 30 minutes, flip the chicken breast side up and put back in the oven for 20 minutes.After 20 minutes, turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees F and roast the chicken for 20 minutes longer before checking the internal temperature of the chicken, at the thickest part of the thigh, with an instant read thermometer, which should register 165 degrees F when done. Depending on the size of the chicken, it could take another 10 minutes longer.After removing the chicken from the oven, using a combination of folded paper towels and a spatula, remove the chicken from the pan and, while holding the chicken tightly, tip to drain the juices from the cavity into the pan. Allow the chicken to rest for about 10 minutes on a cutting board. During this time, you can deglaze the pan over medium heat by adding the white wine to the chicken juices in the pan and scrape up the brown bits with a whisk. Make sure to drink the rest of the bottle with dinner. A shot of good Irish whiskey after dinner doesn’t hurt either, just to ward off the chill of winter, mind you.Reduce the liquid in the pan by half and whisk in the butter until it’s fully incorporated, then remove from heat. Thickly slice the chicken and plate with butter-enriched, deglazed juices poured over the meat.
My chicken stock and soup routines:
My routine after we’ve had our chicken dinner is to remove as much meat as possible from the chicken that night, to be reserved separately for adding to the soup later. I’ll put whatever is left of the chicken in a pan large enough so the bones and chicken skin can be covered with water by 2 inches or so. I’ll store the pan and its contents overnight in the refrigerator to be used to make stock the next day.
The next day, I’ll cover the contents of the pan by about 2 inches of water and, over medium heat, bring it to a slow simmer, adding water as necessary to keep the contents of the pan covered. I let the stock barely simmer for about 4 or 5 hours or until, when stirred, the bones fall apart. There’s no need to add carrot, celery, and onion to the stock as I use all the stock for soup which contains those vegetables. I’ll strain the stock and refrigerate to use the next day. There’s really no reason it can’t be used for soup that day, but this is my routine and I like my routines.
You should have about 6 cups of rich, glistening stock to use. For the soup, begin by sautéing until lightly browned, add about 1½ cups each of diced onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough for the soup; a Dutch oven is a good choice. At this point, it’s up to you to add whatever vegetables, herbs, pastas or rices strike your fancy or need to be used. Add the stock and simmer the vegetables until they reach the desired consistency. I often end up putting in leftover vegetables from previous meals, a bag of baby spinach, and the reserved diced chicken meat in at the end. Once the spinach has wilted, add water if necessary. Turn off the heat after the soup has just returned to a boil. Once again, if you pre-salted the chicken as I suggested, taste your soup before adding any additional salt.
What are your favorite meats? What are ways you can introduce more vegetables and fruits into your diet? How could this help your over all diet?
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