When in doubt, always trust Ina Garten’s recipes. The woman can do no wrong in my eyes. Her roast chicken recipe is perfect: crispy skin with lemony tender meat and a thyme filled aroma. One night when I was making this, I went on a riff that proved to be somewhat genius. I don’t mean to wax my own car so much and I’m usually pretty unimpressed with my own cooking, but this was an exception. It was the best chicken I’ve ever made. Nay, the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.
Let’s talk about riffing.
to perform a monologue or spoken improvisation on a particular subject.
But what about riffing in cooking? Are you a master of improv or do you stick to the recipe? I’m a staunch riffer, partly because I don’t have the patience to follow a recipe to the number; I’m terrible at math and I hate the extra dishes that measuring cups make. My mom and sister always follow the recipe and maybe that’s why their the bakers of the family. People have asked me “how” I “learned” to riff but I never know what to say. Trial and error, mostly. An intuition, I suppose. And lots and lots of tasting along the way!
With this chicken, for example, my riffing simply came out of an abundance of old white wine. We had two half empty, months old bottles of white wine in our refrigerator that I couldn’t bear to throw away but also was tired of letting them take up space. So at the grocery store, I thought, what goes well with white wine? And whole chickens were on sale. Done. What else goes with white wine and chicken? Lemon and thyme. I didn’t make it up, there’s a million recipes featuring those four stunners on the internet. So that’s how I knew this would likely be a good collaboration.
I did however, make up the application of the wine. Since I’m quite lazy, I followed Ina’s recipe minus the veggies, then just poured the wine inside of the cavity. A lot trickled out but a lot stayed in. I used probably 3 cups of wine, but you could use more or less. I can only imagine the effect this had during cooking; steaming the chicken from the inside! It could very well be why the chicken came out so juicy and tender.
But the MAGIC happened after the chicken was done roasting. I set the chicken aside to rest. The au jus, cooked wine and onions sat there, begging to be turned into gravy. So I dusted some flour directly into the roasting pan, squeezed in another half a lemon and set it on heat (DONT DO THIS WITH A PYREX DISH- it WILL EXPLODE, I know from first hand experience) and whisking the mixture together. It was the easiest, creamiest, lemonyest gravy I’ve ever had, and it took almost no extra work.
I know the cheap whole chicken is literally 6 times less expensive than a free range organic chicken, but THERE IS a difference and you WILL be able to taste it. I know it’s hard to make the switch, but we all have to do it if we want to see a change in the way our food industry operates. I’ve made the commitment to only buy and cook the best meat I can get my hands on and afford. In slim times, it just means we eat less meat. For me, its an easy sacrifice to make to know I’m making decisions that benefit the environment.
I was making other veggies, so I left out the carrots and fennel (also, I don’t like fennel) and instead just set the chicken atop a bed of thickly chopped onions. I like having the meat off the bottom of the pan, I think it cooks more uniformly. Plus the onions made a delicious addition to the gravy!
How much flour do you add to make gravy, you ask? What I’ve found is the best way to know if you’ve put enough flour in is to start small and work up. Essentially, you want the flour to join with the fats; that’s what makes the thickening happen. So if you stir the mixture together and you still see bubbles of grease and fat floating to the top, you know you need to add more flour. If it gets too thick, just add water.
Since thyme always comes in a huge bundle, I sprinkled more into the gravy for extra flavor. It was delicious. As you can see, I hate waste!
So don’t be afraid to add to recipes, especially if you have things lying around the kitchen that need to be used. Even Ina encourages a litte riffing. You might just make a recipe that blows you away!