I cooked my first whole chicken this week - and by "cooked" and "whole chicken, " I mean I really cooked the whole chicken (I haven't eaten everything yet). Being the thrifty sort, I'd read a lot in recipe books, food writing, etc. over the years, and listened to comments from friends, on how to use every bit of the bird... and finally decided it was time for me to do it.
On Friday, I took the chicken - a normal supermarket chicken - and stuck it in the largest bowl I owned, dumped salt and water in to make a brine, and tried to cover the whole shebang with plastic wrap to keep the bird submerged. I wrestled the sloppy, awkwardly-wrapped contraption into my fridge, where it occupied over 25% of the available space, plowing leftovers out of the way like the prow of an ocean liner, slowly and majestically shoving carrot soup and spinach salad into containers of cooked lentils and the fridge wall.
On Saturday, I thought about the chicken and felt a slight twinge of panic. It'll... be good to... brine it more, I decided, and continued reading.
On Sunday, I hoisted the dripping chicken from the now-slightly-bloody-red brine, which I gingerly tipped down the sink. Now I was standing over the sink holding a pale, squishy bird. As it slumped into my hands, slowly dripping salty water, I was vaguely reminded of my bewildered preteen self holding a wet baby (my cousin) for the first time - except I needed to eat this thing, not change it.
The next-actions seemed similar enough, though. I rinsed the bird, discovering the neck and giblets in the process. I'd seen Karlie make gravy from those, so I stuck them in a little plastic tub and stuck the tub in the fridge after poking curiously at the shiny, gelatinous liver for a bit. The bird I laid on a clean towel on the kitchen table, where it squelched moistly, then lay still. I patted it dry inside and out with the towel and paper towels. Now what?
Roast it, said the internet. Okay. I turned my oven on and rubbed salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary all over the bird, giving the carcass something akin to a spicy shiatsu. I pried open a gap between the skin and breast meat and cursed roundly through repeated attempts as I mimed a nurse unsuccessfully trying to tap a vein - except the needle was a bay leaf, jamming either into the skin or the flesh as I tried to work it in, threatening to snap into brittle, inedible shrapnel. "Just slip it in," said the cookbooks. Bullshit. I can't even imagine how people get rosemary all the way into that gap; when I tried (and failed), the dried herbs just rained down outside the pocket like little splinters of woody death.
Thus spiced, the chicken got popped into the oven. An hour later, the smells trumped my willpower, and I pulled a perfect roasted chicken from the oven with crackling, golden-brown skin, swimming in a pool of its own hot fat... I tore a leg off, dipped it into the hot chicken fat, and devoured it over the sink like the uncivilized little beast I am. Delicious. This, my friends, was meat.
After eating as much of the hot chicken as my stomach could hold, I reluctantly wrapped the roasting pan in foil and stuck it in the fridge... for another day.
Monday: Sharpened knife and approached the chicken with poise, grace, and hunger intending to elegantly carve off the remaining leg, wings, breasts, etc. and save them for later meals. 15 minutes later, a ragged pile of chicken pieces huddled in a bowl like the survivors of a chainsaw massacre, and I had resorted to ripping meat off the bones with my bare hands. Clearly my carving skills need work; I swear TV chefs must remove the skin and pre-carve the chicken, then replace the skin, because when they touch the dang bird with their knife, it falls apart into perfect segments. That's not human.
Consoled self by throwing shredded chicken scraps into a bowl of peanut noodles stir-frying in my wok for dinner. Was quickly distracted by deliciousness again.
Tuesday: Opened fridge and faced the fact that no more food would fit into it unless chicken was removed from roasting pan and turned into a more compact form of nutrition. Took carcass, filled all available stovetop containers with bones and vegetable scraps from earlier stir-frys, and poured cold water over, bringing to a slow simmer in the hopes of making broth of some sort. It wasn't really a traditional mirepoix; instead of carrots, onions, and celery, there were celery tops, onion skins, red pepper, spinach stems, and the gizzards and neck I had saved earlier (and nearly forgot - I stuck them into the already-full pots when I remembered).
Decided I was too lazy to wash roasting pan, which still had a solidified layer of chicken fat in the bottom. Scooped out as much of the fat as possible to save for cooking later, then poured chopped cauliflower into the pan, salt, pepper, and stuck under broiler. Cauliflower roasted beautifully into sizzling chicken fat. Late-night snack. Decided I would do the same with the remaining fat and brussel sprouts the next day.
As the stock came to a simmer, I came to the realization that I had nothing to strain it with. Attempted to assess whether my salad spinner (which I have been using as a makeshift colander) could do the straining job. Decided this was best left for the next day when the stock was cool. (Update: Salad spinner works for straining stock!)
Slept. Dreamed of chicken. One bird goes a long, long way.