Dinners that elicit utter silence in guests are the ones to strive for. When the food takes precedence and words simply do not form in your head, you have achieved something great. This was one of those meals.
It all started a few weeks ago when an amazing blogger friend stated “You cook the most exotic food. Do you ever just roast a chicken?” I decided to take it as a challenge, because truth be told, I rarely just roast a chicken. Maybe a bit of spring cleaning in the kitchen is in order to appreciate the simple wonders of classic fare. Fast forward to a few days ago- I found myself on a lazy drive cruising the back roads of the Kitsap Peninsula in search of fresh eggs. Can I just state for the record and for the hundredth time that I desperately want chickens and ducks and I don’t think it’s fair that my evil husband won’t let me keep them on our in-city lot? Stated. My loose goal was to end up at Pheasant Fields Farm, although I’ve never been before. I rolled up and was greeted by dozens of friendly free-roaming chickens, who incidentally struck fear into Bentley’s little heart. He clung to my legs like never before but he was so awed he couldn’t walk away. Come to find out, I had missed by a half hour the slaughter of a whole mess of chickens. If you know me at all you can imagine how disappointed I was to miss such a thing, but I’m told they’ll do it again soon and I’m invited to come participate. Plus, they still had all the equipment set up along with a giant bucket of heads and feet which they graciously gave me to take home and make stock. All that collagen- oh yes, baby!
I was only too happy to take one of the freshly-rigormortisized chickens off their hands along with some duck and chicken eggs right out of the nests. I learned a great tip I wish I had known when I unceremoniously killed my own chicken last fall. Don’t cook the birds until they are no longer stiff, as rigor mortis causes toughness if you cut meat off the bone while the bird is still in that state. It takes 24-48 hours for the bird to loosen back up, though you’re welcome to brine the bird during that time. I waited the obligatory two days and meanwhile made a batch of fresh cottage cheese. I decided cottage cheese noodles would be a perfect accompaniment to simple chicken. I also had some triple crème languishing in the refrigerator (don’t ask) so I tossed that in with the noodles along with a boatload of my fresh eggs, some thyme, just churned-butter and the cottage cheese. This was my first experience making the noodles with a pasta machine. I felt a little bit like a sellout since I have hand-rolled and cut them several times a week for as long as I can remember, but I guess that fact in itself justifies a machine. The noodles sure are nice and uniform, even if they do lack the personality of truly handmade pasta. I will use the machine in the future but will also definitely retain my hand-rolled technique as well. Another interesting observation about machine-rolling the noodles is that it doesn’t require nearly as much wine. You simply cannot hand-make noodles without regular gulps from a big balloon wine glass in order to fortify your strength. Because you need less strength for machine-done pasta, you don’t encounter near-enough of this happy problem.
Once enough time had passed, I removed my newly-loosened chicken from her brine and fired up the smoker while her skin air-dried. I figured one little change from roasting the chicken to smoking it really doesn’t make much of a difference to my initial challenge, as it’s essentially just cooking it in an outdoor oven over apple wood as opposed to an indoor one. Once she was nice and dry and the smoker was nice and hot (I averaged 220° F for 3 hours for a 5.5 lb bird) I trussed her, stuffed her cavity with a bit of thyme, and rained Maldon salt and a touch of pepper over her body. Because simplicity was the name of the game here, I didn’t want to get complicated with extra rubs, marinades, or god-forbid basting, which doesn’t work well with smoking as it lets too much heat escape.
Once my chicken was nearing completion I tossed the noodle concoction into the oven and whipped together a simple butter lettuce and cucumber salad along with some homemade buttermilk dressing. I made a jus to drizzle over the chicken by reducing the juices collected from her cavity in a saucepan along with some vermouth and thyme.
The noodles came out, the chicken was carved, salad was served et voila- I can DO simple, damn it! And I’m happy to report it was so simply damn delicious that not a word was spoken amongst five of the most talkative people I know for over 60 seconds. They resumed their maddening din after they recovered from their delight, but did so with a lingering smile around their lips as they licked the last of the chicken from the glistening bones.