I’ve been roasting chickens, lately. If you roast a chicken, you might as well also make chicken stock and chicken pot pie.
My detractors might snip that you should use only fresh chicken for either of these. They are right that anything is better with fresh ingredients, but “the better is the enemy of the good,” and recycled roast chicken will work just fine, here. And this recycling will minimize how much chicken you waste. Being quite close friends with a number of chickens, this seems a worthwhile consideration, to me—even though my own flock of cannibals would cheerfully polish off any leftovers, without hesitation or regret….
Anyhow, after many years of cowering from the thought of roasting a chicken, I finally tried it a few weeks ago. Now, it’s becoming a habit.
My hesitation came from the aphorism, “You can judge a cook by their roast chicken.” Hearing that scared me off trying it for years. I know that I’m not a “good” cook. I’m unashamedly a fearless hack who can more or less follow a recipe, when pressed. And following someone else’s recipe is different than being a good cook. Proper “good cooks” whip things up by whim, inventing yummy things on the spot, or painstakingly develop truly transcendent original creations. They can be fast and precise, and have good imaginations for putting flavors together, like fresh spinach vinaigrette with goat cheese and dried cranberries. I’d never have thought of that miracle combination! But it’s one of those things that someone figures out, and it’s so easy and wonderful that everyone should just make it all the time, and tell anyone who will listen to do the same.
That’s pretty much what I’m doing here, in this trilogy, and about my recipes in general. For the record, any kitchen triumphs I have are based, generally indirectly, on the hard work by actual trained cooks, and often filtered by many others. Like, I make a fairly mean cheesecake, using an adaptation of my mother’s recipe. I could claim, “It’s an old family recipe.” My children might someday claim it’s their grandmother’s cheesecake. However, I believe her original source was a New York Times Magazine article from the 1970s that she clipped and eventually copied onto an index card. The original was probably a widely beloved dessert at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan. Yes, my mother changed the crust, but that cheesecake’s essence was actually developed by a proper chef. And then I changed it again, but not in a way that alters its essence. It’s still wonderful.
The point is, family recipe, my foot! And so it goes with nearly all recipes one reads, which like any new creations, stand on the shoulders of giants. As Stravinsky said, probably quoting someone else, to be a good artist, you need to be a good thief. One of my current favorite cookbook authors is Dorie Greenspan, who wrote Around My French Table, among others, and she is very diligent about crediting the chefs who inspired her recipes. I’ve mentioned her before. She does a great job of making delicious recipes relatively accessible, which is an important contribution.
She is a giant I’m stepping on, here, and her simplest roast chicken recipe dispelled that dish for me. And in fact, it makes me think that the “judge a roast chicken” quote has some subtle meaning among true food scientists that I don’t understand, because Greenspan makes creating a really good roast chicken so easy that it’s almost like cheating.
The real recipe? Read “Around My French Table.” My deeply abridged version, simplified perhaps to the edge of uselessness (if not obnoxiousness), but hopefully to the point of concise liberation from the bonds of following overly persnickety recipes? That will follow.
First, though, a word about the trilogy, which is really what this post is about, rather than imparting specific recipes. Part of the benefit in roasting a chicken is that it also sets you up for two other meals: chicken stock and then chicken pot pie. So, here is my Recycled Roast Chicken Trilogy, presenting only the most essential ingredients and tasks, as usual, while assuming that you will just monkey around based on what ingredients and wild hairs you have flitting about. (If they are beagle hairs, I hope they don’t wind up on anybody’s plate.)
The essential methods disclosed here were likely originally developed by someone deeply accomplished, at great expense, long, long ago. I hope that they are not languishing in obscurity while the rest of us claim their methods as our own.
1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Put a 5 lb seasoned chicken in a Dutch oven, which has been greased with olive oil. Stick in some herbs, and dump in a cup or so of white wine.
3. Roast for 45 minutes. (This makes it half done.)
4. Surround chicken with root vegetables.
5. Roast for another 45 minutes, perhaps interrupting it halfway through apply the optional glaze (described below)
Then you’re done. So easy, it’s impossible not to try to monkey around with it.
• Honey Mustard Wine Glaze for Chicken (optional)
I had a good roast-chicken offroading result by glazing it 20 minutes before it was done. Boil these in a saucepan for a few minutes, then apply it to the mostly cooked chicken using a pastry brush. (The cook uses the brush, not the chicken.) You only need a half cup or so of this glaze.
- 1 glob honey (as much you can gather with a tablespoon)
- a bit less mustard
- some herbs, if you like
- A half cup or so of wine, more or less
When the chicken is done, let it rest for 15 minutes, then carve it up and eat it for dinner. (Search YouTube for excellent chicken carving demos.) But don’t pick the carcass clean, because you want leftover meat to use in your pot pie. Freeze whatever’s leftover for when you’re in the mood to continue.
Stock is made by slowly boiling stuff to transfer the flavors of the stuff into the water. Here, it's chicken. The longer it cooks, the more flavor goes from the chicken parts into the soup. The meat's flavor and texture for your upcoming pot pie will gradually decline, as the stock boils. Just so you know.
To make chicken stock, take everything leftover from your roasted chicken (bones, skin, giblets, etc., though NOT THE FEATHERS, if you’ve murdered the chicken yourself), put them in a pot with a cut up onion (include the peel, if you like) and some celery, add enough water to cover it all, and boil for at least two hours, but it could be practically all day. Just keep cooking it until the broth tastes good. Two or three hours is probably enough.
Strain this, and eat/freeze it, or if you like, add carrots and whatever else floats your boat, and cook again until these veggies are tender. Then you’re done, though should probably make your pot pie that same day.
Chicken Pot Pie
A pot pie is just various things covered in a sauce, and cooked together in a pie shell. Everything inside it is cooked first.
So, make a double pie crust (2 sticks butter, 2 cups flour, ½ cup water), and line your buttered pie plate with one of them.
Take the chicken parts from your stock, and see what meat you can salvage from it. The amount you’ll get will depend on how meticulously you carved the original roast chicken. You can supplement it with any leftover chicken, obviously.
Sautée a chopped onion in some butter until the onion is clear. Add 2 tablespoons flour, and cook it for a couple minutes. Then add two cups of the chicken stock, and cook until it thickens. You can add herbs and spices of your choice, salt, pepper, mustard, etc.
Then, take your chicken and some cooked root vegetables (about 3 to 4 cups total stuff). Dump the sauce over chicken/vegetables, cover the pie, prick the top, brush on a scrambled egg, if you like, and then cook it until it’s done, say 350 for 45 minutes, more or less.
My favorite recipes are the ones that are relatively easy compared to how good they are, and these three all have positive ratios, in that regard. The pot pie is the most difficult, and you might want to make a chicken salad instead. But chicken pot pie is awfully warming, these cold winter days.