Thursday, November 24, 2011

A home cook tackles chef Jonathan Waxman's famous roast chicken & salsa verde...and wins!!!

A recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine featured some of our country's most famous chefs and their signature dishes. The one that immediately caught my eye was Jonathan Waxman's Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde (aka: pollo al forno), which is a staple at his NYC restaurant, Barbuto. The main thing I liked about it was its simplicity. The actual chicken requires no marinating or complicated basically just cut it up, stick it in a pan, and stick it in the oven. The second thing I loved was the salsa verde. Having eaten at one too many Tex-Mex restaurants, when I think of "salsa verde," I immediately think of a concoction of tomatillos, cilantro, onion, and green chiles. So I was surprised to see Waxman's Italian salsa verde, which is a mixture of fresh herbs, capers, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and some other yummy stuff.

What daunted me most about the recipe was the idea of cooking a whole chicken. Now I've cooked plenty of chicken in my life, but only one part at a time: breasts, legs or thighs...all pre-cut, nicely arranged in pretty little rows inside a neatly wrapped package. But a whole chicken? With all its weird innards, bones, and ligaments? It scares me.

What gave me the courage to try it was this youtube video I found of Jonathan Waxman himself cooking the aforementioned chicken. As soon as I watched the video, I couldn't NOT cook the chicken. Watch it yourself and tell me you don't feel the same way.

Everything about the video--the music, the fresh herbs strewn on the cutting board, the flickering flame inside the oven, Waxman's laid back "anyone can do this" vibe--inspired me. Again, I challenge anyone to watch that video and NOT want to make that chicken. So I went to the store, bought the freshest whole chicken I could find, and set to work.

If someone had been in my kitchen, the video of me trying to prep the chicken might have become a youtube sensation of its own. See, the part where Jonny (I feel like I can call him that since I've made his chicken) takes his scissors and neatly cuts through the chicken's back like he's cutting a piece of tissue paper? Well when I did that, it looked like I was trying to chop down a tree with a pair of pruning shears. And that part where Jonny takes his hands and, with one slight shove, cracks the chicken's spine in two? Well I literally had to climb on top of the chicken, mount it, and bounce up and down until I got it to crack. But the point is, I DID it. It wasn't as pretty, but I guarantee the end result was just as tasty.

As for the salsa verde, it's pretty foolproof. If you don't have the same herbs he recommends (parsley, mint, tarragon, and rosemary), you can substitute or omit at will. In fact, the printed version of his recipe apparently uses different herbs than he does in the video. You can find the print version here. I used basil instead of mint, and it turned out awesome. I don't think you can go wrong. Since he didn't give measurements in the video, I just eyeballed the amount he used and aimed for the same amount.

After talking this dish up so much (I texted my husband something along the lines of: "BTW, when you get home tonight, you will be transported to Manhattan's West Village, where you will eat the signature dish of a Top Chef Master. It's a $19 dish!"), I was a little nervous about actually serving it. But it totally lived up to the hype. It's a simple dish, yet it tastes totally upscale. It's comfort food, yet its healthy. It's something the whole family will enjoy eating. And the leftovers can be made into an excellent soup (but that's another whole I'll hopefully get to one of these days). 

The bottom line is: watch the video, make the chicken. You won't regret it! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Salad (aka: How to satisfy your chicken wing craving without guilt)

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the couch while my girls were taking a nap, wondering whether I could come up with a buffalo chicken recipe that would actually be healthy. See, I love me some really crispy, spicy chicken wings, but the main reason I crave them is the buffalo sauce. And buffalo sauce itself isn't unhealthy--it's just some vinegar and chili peppers. It only becomes unhealthy when you combine it with tons of butter, a deep fryer, ranch dressing, or mounds of cheese (as in my favorite recipe for buffalo chicken dip).

As I was sitting there pondering potential recipe ideas, I heard a voice say: "Buffalo chicken salad." God? I thought, looking upward. Then I realized that the voice belonged to Ellie Krieger, who was speaking to me from the TV. Well she wasn't actually speaking to ME, but it felt that way. It was as if she'd read my mind.

Ellie is known for putting healthy spins on traditionally unhealthy dishes, so I was excited to see what she whipped up. The trick to her salad was to make her own blue cheese dressing, which uses fat free yogurt as a base in place of tons of mayonnaise. She also used plain chicken breasts doused in buffalo sauce and broiled in the oven.

I made the recipe ASAP, and it turned out great! Here is a link to the recipe on the Food Network site.

A few things I did differently:

1) Instead of spending money on buttermilk for one recipe, I created my own using vinegar and milk. To do this, just place 1 tbsp of white vinegar in a 1-cup measuring cup. Fill the cup to the top with milk. Let stand for 5 minutes: Voila! You've got buttermilk!

2) To boost the flavor of the dressing, I added about half a packet of dry ranch dressing mix in place of the sugar.

3) Instead of using just romaine hearts, I used a mix of romaine hearts and a darker leafier green (to boost the nutrients)

Also, unless you're partial to a certain buffalo sauce, I definitely recommend using Frank's Red Hot. It has great flavor that can't be beat (in my humble opinion). This is a recipe I will be making again and again. It's great for a light weeknight dinner or for entertaining. Your guests will love you when you tell them that it's guilt free.