Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Technique: The anti-trussed poultry

I grew up with a mom who tended to overcook poultry. Or she overcooked the breast. The dark meat was usually fine. But here's the thing. Dark meat can handle being cooked longer and to a higher temperature. It doesn't mind at all. That's why you'll find thighs in recipes that require braising, and you'll find breasts in recipes that cook quickly.

The problem is that the breast is right there, up-top, where it gets the most oven heat. Meanwhile, the joint between the thigh and body is tucked away, protected from all the heat.

And then recipes tell you to truss the bird. Tie its legs together. This is somehow supposed to protect the breast from overcooking. I don't know about you, but I've never seen a chicken that had legs that covered the breast that well. Meanwhile, that thigh joint is still tucked away, right?

A while back, I was working on a chicken recipe where I was stuffing things under the chicken skin, and with all that fussing, the skin tore and the thighs spread away from the breasts and I decided to just go ahead and cook it that way. It wasn't a pretty, round, neat chicken. It looked messy. Lazy. Sort of ... ugly, if I'm being honest.

But here's the thing. That thigh joint was exposed to oven heat, and the chicken cooked much more evenly.

I had forgotten about that chicken until recently. I don't roast a lot of whole chickens. I cook a lot of chicken pieces. But I was cooking a recipe from Sheet Pan Suppers and I saw the words "truss the chicken" and I said "Oh no. I want to anti-truss it." Instead of trying to protect the breast so it would cook slower, I wanted to expose the thighs so they'd cook faster.

And ... it worked! The only downside was that the skin on the thighs didn't get crisp. If the chicken had been cooking on a rack, the thighs would have gotten some air, but the chicken was sitting on a bed of vegetables, so the skin was kind of flabby.

In the photo, the chicken isn't quite done yet, but it's almost there. You can see how the meat in that body-thigh joint is still a little pink. It would have been a LOT more pink if that joint had been protected.

The good news is that breast wasn't overcooked by the time the dark meat was completely done. It was a sloppy looking chicken, but if you serve your chicken cut up, it doesn't really matter, does it? I'm calling it a win. I'm also calling it dinner, and sandwiches, and soup.

Next time, I might remove the leg-and-thigh sections completely so I can roast them skin-up. I mean, seriously. What would you rather have, a chicken that looks pretty, or one that's cooked correctly?