Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Butternut Squash

This is a pretty good, simple recipe from Cooking Light, but remember: this was my first time trying it.  I can definitely see some things that would make it better, so I'll give you my suggestions for when you try it.

I'm a big fan of brining a bird: dry or wet.  If you're not familiar with brining, it is simply the process of exposing the meat to salt and possibly a mixture of sugar and/or herbs and flavorings.  It really ensures that the meat stays moist, even when overcooked.  Everyone has let a chicken or turkey cook a little too long and has ended up with chalk instead of yummy, juicy meat.  Brining will make sure it never happens again.  A secret I have also found is that even an hour of brining makes a big difference.  Yes, I recommend overnight for a turkey, but chicken will benefit from as little as an hour or two.  The seasonings in this bird lend greatly to a dry brine.  You could simply follow the preparation steps for the chicken and then allow it to marinate uncovered in the fridge for a few hours to overnight.  Uncovering the bird lets the skin dry out ensuring a crisp skin after baking.  I know the recipe called for removing the skin before serving, but I just couldn't resist a little crispy skin.  It's the best part!  For more information on brining check out my post "To Brine or Not to Brine?"

I also noticed that the amount of potatoes and squash was too small for 6-8 servings.  I hate a recipe that calls for half of a vegetable, like you're going to use the rest of it for something else.  For instance, it called for 1 1/2 cups of butternut squash.  I used the whole thing, which turned out to be more like 3-4 cups, uncooked.  I chopped up an equal amount of potatoes which resulted in 6-8 one-cup servings.  Perfect!  Olive oil substitutes wonderfully for the butter, and I might also add some garlic and sage to the vegetables next time, just to give them a little more flavor.  You can never get enough garlic.  I actually used my pineapple sage from the garden, as opposed to plain sage.  The flavor is amazing, and it is distinctly milder than standard sage.  One more change I made to the baking instructions was to nestle the bird on top of the vegetables in a pan instead of on a broiling rack.  This let the flavor of the chicken soak into them, but the trade-off is stewed vegetables instead of roasted.  You could do it either way, depending on your preference.  You could even cook the bird and vegetables separately.
The last trick I used was butterflying the chicken.  Did I mention I like the crispy skin?  Well, if you cook the bird whole, the bottom side will end up soggy, not crispy.  Butterflying will also produce more even cooking and a faster cooking time.  Mine took about 55 minutes to cook, but it was still pretty cold when I put it in the oven.  Tip:  Any meat will cook better, faster, and more evenly if brought to near room-temperature before cooking.  If you do plan on eating the skin, rub it with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on the outside as well.

Paired with a simple salad of greens topped with dried cranberries, reduced fat blue cheese, cucumber, and poppy-seed dressing, it was the perfect compliment of sweetness to the garlicky, savory flavor of the chicken and vegetables.  Here's the calorie count for 4 ounces of chicken (listed with and without skin) and 1 cup of vegetables:
  • Total calories: thigh (402/297), leg (375/299), breast(358/292) g
  • Total fat: thigh (22/9) sat. (6/2), leg (19/9) sat. (5/2), breast (15/8) sat. (4/2) g
  • Cholesterol: thigh (95/94), leg (94/91) breast (73)  mg
  • Sodium:  thigh (100), leg (105), breast (85) g (approximate value, doesn't include the salt on the chicken prior to baking)
  • Carbohydrates: 28 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Sugar: 3 g
  • Protein: thigh (25), leg (25), breast (27) g

This is another keeper with a lot of options to change flavor. Let me know how yours turned out.

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