Thursday, October 27, 2011

Roast chicken with a Fujianese twist

The other day I brought back home a large bird that dared me to come up with a new way to prepare that delicious standby, roasted chicken. This was a six-pounder, a fine representative of the best that poultry farmers can offer, so she only needed some tasty encouragement to turn into a crispy-skinned dinner.

My big jar of Fujian Red Wine Lees sat on the counter, looking as lovely and as scarlet as ever, which made me think, why hasn't anyone roasted a chicken with it? I've basted many a chicken with Shaoxing rice wine, but why not the red stuff? I couldn't think of a good answer, so I invented the following recipe. I guess you could call this nouveau Fujian style chicken, for want of a better name.

The main requirement, really, is a very good quality roasting chicken. This means that it is much larger than a fryer, which usually weighs in at about three to four pounds. The older birds respond wonderfully to the dry heat of the oven, rendering their fat and juices into the most perfect sauce imaginable.

Ruby red and delicious
Second on the list is Fujian's Red Wine Lees, a beautiful ingredient that can easily be either made at home or bought at a Chinese market; if for some reason you have neither, feel free to use either the Homemade Fermented Rice we talked about so many times here, or even a good Shaoxing rice wine. Everything else is pretty straightforward.

If you are pretty busy, you can marinate the chicken ahead of time by placing it in a resealable plastic bag with all of the marinade ingredients. Squish the marinade over the chicken and refrigerate everything. (Past experience with leaky bags has taught me that it's always best to place a work bowl underneath the bag, too.) Refrigerate the chicken for 8 to 10 hours, and it will be even more flavorful.

Serve this chicken with rice or steamed bread, a couple of simple vegetable dishes, and maybe a hot soup, and you will have a very easy feast with lots of leftovers. The broth from the chicken makes a delicious base for soups, too; just toss in some fresh mushrooms, spinach, soft bean curd, or even the onion that is stuffed inside the chicken, plus filtered water and seasonings to taste.

Roast chicken with a Fujianese twist 
Minshi kaoji  閩式烤雞
Northern Fujian
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal

1 organic, free-range roasting chicken, about 6 pounds
1 large onion, peeled
½ cup Red Wine Lees
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons soy paste (jiangyou gao)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons roasted sesame oil 
Robed and ready

1. Start this recipe at least 3 hours before you wish to serve it. Clean the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Stick the whole onion into the chicken, as this will keep the breast meat from drying out. (If you don't want to do this, tie the legs together to keep the drying heat out of the cavity.)

2. Place the chicken in a resealable plastic bag and add the rest of the ingredients. Seal the bag while forcing out most of the air, and then massage the marinade into the chicken from the outside of the bag. Put the bag in a work bowl and refrigerate the chicken for at least an hour and up to 10 hours. 

3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator while you heat up the oven to 4oo degrees F. Select a roasting pan that is just a bit wider than the chicken; either a high-sided baking dish or an iron Dutch skillet work great here. If you have one, place a small trivet inside the pan so that all of the skin will get a chance to crisp up. Arrange the chicken in the pan and place the pan in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 375 degrees F.

4. Roast the chicken for about 1½ hours, basting every 10 minutes during the last hour. It will be done if the juices in the cavity run clear when you tip up the chicken; you can also check that the thighs are done by piercing them with a knife, as these juices should be clear, too.

5. Let the chicken rest for 15 to 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal, as this will allow the juices to plump up the meat. Remove the onion and use it for something else. Drain off the juices, skim off the fat if you like, and either serve this alongside the chicken or save it for the soup mentioned above.

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