Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Roast Chicken with Ginger Vinaigrette

I don't actually tell you everything. There are some divergent food paths I must travel alone--recipes or obsessions that really seem too strange and idiosyncratic to be useful to you--and so I don't mention them. Or I wait and see if they ultimately translate themselves into a recipe that might be simple and appealing enough to post, and often they do. David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, which I have checked out of the library, is like that right now. I look and look at it; I read it cover to cover and back to front; it is stuck all over with post-its marking the recipes I want to try; and it has given me a new appreciation of the expression "food porn": there is a photograph, spanning two pages just like a centerfold, of a bowl of grits with a poached egg and a heap each of grilled shrimp and fried bacon, that I can't stop looking at. The way the book now falls naturally open to that page makes me feel like a teenage boy with a mattress full of magazines.

But the fact that I have a gallon-jar of kimchi fermenting stinkily in my refrigerator seems not overly relevant here--not that lots of you wouldn't want to make it, don't get me wrong. Or that I made a dish of rice sticks with pork that was the second spiciest thing I ever ate in my life, and that had Michael and me and a couple of friends screaming and sweating and crying and coughing and devouring every last bite (our friends, apparently, had a painful repeat of the spiciness out the back end--yikes!). It was, insanely, one of the best dishes I have ever made or eaten, and at some point someone said, "Are you going to post this on your column?" And I said, choking and sweating, "Um, I don't think." Although, to his tremendous credit, Ben ate a portion from a saucer that would properly serve a doll at a tea party, and he loved it and only drank five glasses of water afterwards. I think, by the way, about spicy food, that the path to acceptance and then passion starts narrow and unassuming: a taste here, a taste there, heaps of praise for adventurousness. I know I say that about everything, but I do think kids need many opportunities to try foods they're not going to like, with no threat of needing to finish anything, and with the promise of admiration for their courage rather than dismay over their polite disgust (and they should definitely learn to be disgusted politely: "This is a little strong for me" rather than "Oh my God, I'm barfing.")
Anyway, one of my sticky-noted recipes is for chicken that they steam first and then deep fry plain--salted but otherwise unadorned by seasoning or coating--and then shower with a garlicky, gingery vinaigrette. As you know by now, this is so my kind of thing: seasoning food robustly after cooking can really solve the problem of not having planned ahead with a long brine or marinade, and I think the flavors are often even clearer that way--the flavor of the chicken, the flavor of the vinaigrette. But I'm not going to deep fry anything at home. I go out to eat for two main reasons: ethnic food that I don't know how to make (sushi, Chinese radish pancake, pho) and deep-fried bar or shack food that I don't want to make (French fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, calamari, fried clams, battered jalapeno slices). I love fried chicken, but I am never going to bring a gallon of oil to a rolling bowl and then spend the next week treating my acne and scrubbing an oily film off of every surface in my kitchen (but if you are, God love you, and please invite me over). 
So I adapted the recipe for a roasted chicken, and it is absolutely spectacular. The chicken is crispy-skinned and succulent, and the dressing is sharp and salty and sweet and enormously flavorful from the heaps of ginger and garlic. I can't tell you what David Chang says about it, because he uses the f-word even more than me. But if you want to drool and lust after and read some bad-boy recipe notes, you should take a look.

Roast Chicken with Ginger Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6
Active time: 20 minutes;
total time: 2 hours

In the Momofuku cookbook, this dressing is called "Octo Vinaigrette" because they also serve it with grilled octopus, which I'm sure is divine. But it is super-easy to make, uses no overly challenging ingredients, and is simply delicious. I use only half of the ginger and garlic, and I thought it was perfect for the relatively mild-mannered chicken, but feel free to increase it--just take your time, as David Chang notes, to cut the ginger and garlic into a very, very fine and even mince so you don't end up with any big, pungent pieces. The dressing would be great with any grilled meat. We dressed our spinach salad with a combination of chicken pan juices and a bit of the vinaigrette, and it was delicious.
For the chicken:
1 4- or 5-pound chicken
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3 scallions, cleaned and trimmed (optional)

Heat the oven to 450. Rinse the chicken, pat it dry with paper towels, then rub it all over with the butter. Salt it inside and out, then stick it in a roasting pan on top of the scallions and roast until it's done: around 1 1/2 hours. I wiggle a leg, and if it seems nice and loose in its socket, I feel confident that the bird is cooked. Other methods include pricking the thigh and looking for clear juice (Clear as opposed to opaque? Or clear as opposed to tinted? I'm never totally sure.) If you have one of those pregnancy bellybutton thingies on your chicken, then just wait for it to pop out.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board to rest for ten or so minutes before carving, then carve it and serve it with the ginger vinaigrette, below. I like to heap a platter with chicken and dress it all, then pass the vinaigrette for extra oomph; if someone at your table won't like the dressing, just keep some of their chicken to the side, but then they're going to hear everyone oohing and aahing and they're going to try it, I assure you.

For the vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon each very finely chopped ginger and garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped pickled jalapenos (at Momofuku they use a quarter teaspoon homemade pickled Birdseye chiles, which I didn't happen to have)
1/4 cup each rice vinegar and soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Freshly grounded black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a lidded jar and shake to blend.

(This makes a great dressing for chicken wings!) 

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