A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for roasting a chicken

I have been pretty open about my health problems for the past couple of years on this site. One side effect of that has been that our household finances have gotten a bit worse, since I haven’t been able to work at full capacity…or even at half-capacity in some stretches. Medical costs in France are mercifully low, so we haven’t had a massive outlay in that area as we might have had if we lived somewhere else. But still, we have felt a slight pinch. We’ve stopped eating out mostly, or going off on mini-trips and the like. And we pay much more attention to the food budget too.

What that means also is that we’re eating a bit less Japanese food. Getting the proper ingredients here in semi-rural France is not so easy; the nearest Japanese grocery store is in Lyon, about 2 1/2 hours away by car…and it’s really tiny. The nearest fully stocked Japanese grocery store from here is actually across the border in Geneva, about a 3 1/2 hour drive! I do get dry goods and things by mailorder (mostly from the ever trusty Japan Centre) but fresh or perishable ingredients can’t be procured that way.

My sister Mayumi, who lives in Tokyo, recently posted this picture of bean sprouts on her Facebook:

moyashi-beansprouts.jpg

Bean sprouts are one of the go-to ingredients in Japan when your purse feels light. A big bag of bean sprouts costs 20 to 30 yen or so (or in US terms, around 20 to 30 cents). Another cheap ingredient is tofu. You can get tofu on sale for as low as 50 yen; even top quality tofu costs 300-500 yen for a big block. Around these parts, very mediocre tofu costs more than the really high quality tofu in Japan.

When we’re feeling a bit low on funds, one our go-to recipes uses one of these:

poulet-intermarche.jpg

Whole chickens are amazingly cheap here. A factory grown one is as low as 3 euros or so for a 1 kilo plus bird. Even ones that are free-range and happily raised, with the exception of something extra-special like a poulet de Bresse, is only about 6 euros, 8 euros tops, for a 1 kilo-plus bird. But in Japan, a whole chicken is considered to be luxurious feast food, only served at Christmas dinner and such, and is expensive.

As a matter of fact, bone-in chicken meat is more expensive in Japan than boned chicken - and harder to get too. Whole bone-in chicken legs are rarely used unless it’s for a ‘fancy’ meal. And you can buy chicken carcasses cheaply to make soup with. Just about all ‘chicken soup’ recipes in Japan are actually chicken bone (torigara) soup. One of the first things I had to teach myself to do when I moved to Switzerland many years ago is to break down and bone a whole chicken. Boneless chicken thighs for instance are unheard of in Switzerland or in France, so that’s the first step when I’m making chicken karaage (or the variation) for instance.

Another difference is the perspective of, and price difference between, white and dark meat. In France, or the U.S., or Switzerland, white meat is always more expensive than dark. I think this is because white meat is perceived as being healthier because it’s lower in fat than dark meat. It could also be that white meat was and is considered more refined or something like that. But in Japan it’s the opposite: white meat is the cheap chicken meat, and the dark thigh meat is more expensive and desirable.

Many of the “budget” recipes on Cookpad rely on the big three ‘cheap ingredients: bean sprouts, tofu, and white chicken breast meat. I guess this is one of those things that do not translate from country to country. For me a dish with those ingredients is a luxury, while for my sister Mayumi a whole roast chicken is a luxury.

My method for roasting a whole chicken

This is barely a recipe, but I thought I would put it here anyway. ^_^ I like my roast chicken very simple, so the only ingredients you will need are salt, pepper and a chicken. I always get a chicken that is around 1 kilo (2 1/4 lb or so), or 1.2 kilo tops. This is more than enough for 2 people, with leftovers for stir fry or chicken rice or something the next day. Sometimes we save the bones for a soup too. I don’t iike cooking bigger birds, so if I need to serve more people I just roast more small chickens.

Preheat the oven to 200 °C (about 400 °F). Line an oven tray with parchment paper (optional; this just makes cleanup a bit easier.)

If your chicken comes with its legs tied together with elastic or something, cut this off. I don’t truss the chicken or anything; I just leave it with its legs wide open. It cooks more evenly this way, even if it looks a bit…easy? ^_^;

If there area any bits of feathers and things on the bird, take them out with fish bone tweezers.

Rinse the bird inside and out, and pat dry. Salt and pepper the bird generously inside and out. Sometimes I put half a lemon inside the cavity, plus a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme or something, but usually I don’t bother.

Put the bird on the lined oven tray breast side down. This is very important: don’t put it in the “right” way up, with the breast facing upwards. By roasting the bird with the breast facing down, the fat from the back of the bird will baste the drier breast meat.

With a 1 kilo (2.2lb) bird, roast it on its breast for 40 to 45 minutes. Turn the bird over, and roast it the “right” way up for another 40 minutes. There’s no need to baste the bird or anything - it bastes itself.

If you really want the breast meat to be juicy, and you don’t mind the calorie boost, slice up some butter and insert it between the breast meat and skin. But with the upside-down method you shouldn’t need to do this.

Bonus: Easy chicken-noodle soup the next day

Save the carcass of the bird and any leftover bits of meat (or reserve them). Chop up an onion and a celery stalk and sauté them in a bit of the chicken fat, or in vegetable oil. Add the carcass and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes. Optionally add a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme when you simmer. Skim off any scum.

Strain the soup though a strainer or a colander. Add more cut up vegetables if you like. When the vegetables are tender, add some chopped up chicken, and small pasta (I usually use thin, short pasta called vermicelles, which looks like cut up vermicelli). Season with salt and pepper. Optionally sprinkle with chopped parsley when serving.

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Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I use a Romertopf for chicken roasting...

http://www.roemertopf.de/english/

Never dry always nice. I'd suggest you try it. It's something along the lines of:

soak the clay pot in water for 15 minutes... put in whole chicken spiced and all... cover... put into oven at 180-200 from 1.5-2h(depending on weight) and that's about that.

anon.ruskie | 11 April, 2014 - 20:28

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

For making chicken affordable in France, you have to thank Henri IV.

Si Dieu me prête vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot!

(If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday!)

Did Henri IV conquer Bresse because of it's chicken? Well, that's a possibility.

Henry IV, having stopped off at Bresse following an accident with his carriage, tasted the bird’s meat and demanded its inclusion on his courtly menu.

Lupe Christoph | 11 April, 2014 - 20:38

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

And then...USA Republican Party 1928 motto: a "chicken in every pot. And a car in every backyard"

Mooch | 12 April, 2014 - 18:27

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

An old trick to make chicken soup look golden: Add a few pieces of onion skin to the pot while cooking the carcass.

anon. | 11 April, 2014 - 21:09

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I have learned so many things and enjoy your blog a great deal. As I plan a first visit to Japan in the fall, I am especially interested in your food-related posts. Not only are they fun and entertaining, but a great resource.

Your blog provides lots of good information for travelers and I know it will continue to be helpful to me.

Thank you!

Ann Kennedy | 12 April, 2014 - 14:34

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Tofu in my country of Trinidad is expensive! I don't understand why. It's comparatively more expensive to buy tofu compared to chicken and also when eating out as well. I wish I could make my own, but I remember my dad making tofu when I was younger and it was not good. Do you have a recipe for home made tofu?

Aruna | 12 April, 2014 - 17:50

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Chicken here on the West Coast, California north, is quite expensive, but still considered everyday. Lately the cost of a free range bird is $15 to $25. A caged raised bird runs $8-$10.

I have been reading lately that the bird should not be washed due to spread of bacteria. It should only be patted dry with paper towels. I've done it both ways, and have not gotten sick from chickens as far as I know. I think I might look that up on the USDA site and see if there is a recommendation. Any suggestions for further insights?

MaryAlice | 12 April, 2014 - 19:26

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I've always washed off chicken, because the ones we get here (in Switzerland/France) tend to have tiny bloody bits and the like sometimes, plus they also have bits of feathers left on. I'm not too concerned about the bacteria - it's more to remove the blood and things. I also do it in the sink and scrub the sink out afterwards of course. If the chicken is very clean when you get it I guess it's not too critical. (The idea that it comes to you covered in bacteria, which cannot be removed by water and just spreads it, squicks me out... but so do factory-production methods for producing cheap chicken... so I try to buy chickens grown in decent conditions always, even if they are more expensive.)

maki | 16 April, 2014 - 22:23

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Tofu and bean sprouts are expensive, too. (see previous post by me)

MaryAlice | 12 April, 2014 - 19:28

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I also wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and "The Just Bento Cookbook"
I hope you are feeling better.

cheers, parsnip

anon.gayle | 12 April, 2014 - 20:34

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Starting upside-down sounds like a great idea. I'll try it soon, thanks for the tip.

Mikeh | 12 April, 2014 - 23:13

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

The recession in the U.S. has driven the price of most meats far beyond my family's budget, but factory-raised chicken is still cheap.

"Oven-fried" chicken is popular in the U.S. This is cut-up chicken that has been coated with egg and some type of crumbs or other grain product, then baked. Now, some oven-fried chicken fans are all about the coating. My family appreciates a nice crispy skin with minimal coating, and succulent but not greasy meat inside. That's because they grew up eating this:

RUTH'S SUCCULENT AND DELICIOUS OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN

You must have a two-part broiler pan to make this recipe. This is a broad, shallow metal pan that has a removable pierced metal plate on top. Also, use only bone-in chicken thighs for this recipe. If you can't buy only thighs, you may use other dark-meat cuts as well: drumsticks and/or whole legs. But do not use backs or wings, because they are too bony, or breasts, because my late mother-in-law will rise from her grave and smack you in the back of the head. She always said that white meat was heavily marketed because top-heavy big-breasted chickens didn't move around much and were easier to raise--but dark meat was the only meat worth eating!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. (No, you are not actually broiling with your broiler pan.) Lightly oil the top plate of your broiler pan. Rinse your chicken parts and press dry between layers of kitchen towels. Take 3 deep plates. In one of them, beat eggs: 2 eggs for 3 pieces of chicken. In the other two prepare whatever kind of coating you like. Ruth favored saltine cracker crumbs seasoned with pepper, powdered garlic, and a little paprika. I use flour with a little cornmeal and my own seasonings.

Working with one hand, so as to keep the other one clean to turn on the faucet and so forth, roll one chicken piece in a plate of coating. Shake off the extra. Roll in beaten egg, then in the other plate of coating. Lay on the broiler pan. Repeat until all chicken pieces are on the pan. Your chicken-hand will be thickly coated in egg and crumbs. Wash your hands and put the chicken in the oven. Check it at 45 minutes and every few minutes thereafter. Watch out: a cloud of steam may roll out of the oven! When the chicken pieces are dry-looking and nicely browned, immediately remove them from the pan (they will stick as they cool) and pile on a platter. Result: crispy, nicely seasoned skin and meltingly tender meat that is juicy but not too greasy. Most of the fat is now in the bottom of the broiler pan, along with some broth. Pour this into a jar, refrigerate until solid, and either use the fat for schmaltz or discard it. The small amount of strong broth underneath can be thrown into the pot when making stock.

Jenny Islander | 14 April, 2014 - 08:20

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Where I am (east coast US), roast chicken is a great, cheap meal for two. We have it about once a month. You have the chicken one night, strip it, make stock from the carcass, and use the leftover chicken in multiple meals throughout the week. Sandwiches, tacos, soup, pasta... chicken is so versatile! What is best is that I prefer the dark meat and my husband prefers the white, so between the two of us there's no fighting over the choicest bits.

I do a roast chicken the way my mother taught me, which is almost identical to what you have here. She learned this technique from her grandmother, a farmer out in the midwest. The only difference is that I always put rosemary in the cavity, and if I feel like it I'll push an herbed butter mixture under the skin. I also throw in various root veggies into the roasting pan so they get wonderfully cooked with the chicken juices.

The Elf | 14 April, 2014 - 16:55

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Tried your method this weekend and it worked perfectly. Starting with the breast side down really does make a difference.

kingyo | 14 April, 2014 - 18:14

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

By golly - the moyashi (bean sprouts) looks so fresh and delicious! It's hard to believe that it is an easy-on-the-wallet ingredient. I can only dream of it being that way in the US.

Thanks for the great tips regarding roasting a whole bird! I didn't realize that it's so easy to do... I probably will start roasting chicken that way rather than wasting $ on cut up chicken parts. :)

Hope you're well!

anonymous | 15 April, 2014 - 04:57

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I am so happy that in my country white meat is considered superior to dark meat which is so so budget friendly for a frugal college gal like me haha.( which also makes me reminiscing about the day of me living on ramen and bean sprout ) To me, white meat is the most boring and dull part of the chicken.I still don't understand the crave for it though lol

Ei | 15 April, 2014 - 18:44

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Hello Maki,

I would like to test your recipe but with a little twist. I want to add some honey BBQ Sauce to it. How many minutes do you think i will need to wait until the chicken really get all the sauce flavor and the best way to apply it?

Yuonne Egli | 16 April, 2014 - 21:16

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Chicken has gotten really expensive here (Quebec, Canada), but people keep buying it beause it's what they were raised on. My go-to meat is the underappreciated pork. I can get a nice lean filet that will feed my boyfriend and I for 2.50$. If we want to be fancy, we go to Chinatown where we can a nice whole duck for the price of a small chicken!

Biev | 22 April, 2014 - 20:45

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

I can get bean sprouts but the quality is not great. Have you ever tried sprouting your own? I have sprouting trays; here's a newer version (from Canada) of what I have: http://www.veseys.com/ca/en/store/sproutsand/victorio4tray#closed

I can get the mung beans from the health food store or on-line. It's important to check for when the sprouts are at their prime, so your meal planning needs to be flexible.

DDM | 27 April, 2014 - 23:47

Re: A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for ...

Roast your turkey (using a "V" shaped rack) breast side down OR -- even better -- on one side first, then turn to the other side halfway through. Will have rack marks on it, but moist and delicious. Or butterfly (spatchcock) the chicken or turkey.

Sylvia S. B. S. | 16 June, 2014 - 21:08

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