April 14, 2012

Blog the Twelfth: On Roasting a Kid with Potatoes and Onions

… or, if you prefer, a Chicken.

Well, we ended up having kid-goat (a.k.a., capretto) on Easter Sunday after all.   My Brooklyn aunt had already special ordered it with her butcher, and she didn’t want to cancel the order, so my mother returned to Jersey from her Brooklyn shopping spree with a plastic shopping bag heavy with half a kid-goat, chopped up into a motley assortment of bony parts, all cozied together in brown paper wrapping.  The baby pink flesh was so beautiful to see and so tender to touch!

I’ve decided to tell you how we roasted our Easter kid with potatoes and onions, because you can do the same with chicken parts, and it’s delicious.  Nor, mind you, is a blog on roasting Easter kid belated, since it’s still officially Easter.  Easter is the Christian Passover, and in imitation of Passover, it is an eight-day feast (or octave), stretching from the First Sunday of Easter to the Second Sunday.  As ever, Christianity finds a prophetic meaning in the Mosaic number:  Jesus’ rising from the dead on the first day of the week is the eighth day of creation, for as God created the world we know in seven days, on this eight day, through the resurrection of Jesus, he creates the eternal life of the world to come.  So, it’s still Easter, and you’re still in time to roast your kid.

As I mentioned, capretto is traditional in Sacco, and with both my mother’s brother come from Switzerland and her sister from Brooklyn, a colloquium about the best way to cook it was inevitable.  I suspect that you, Gentle Reader, are liable to misunderstanding my people’s culinary rigor.  You might think that our insistence on the eidetic demands of Nature’s culinary kinds would lead to a tyrannical regularization of our recipes and an intolerance of variation or innovation among us, à la Haute Cuisine.  Quite the contrary, because we believe the eternal forms to be eternal, we know our temporal imitations to be but temporal.  The intraversible distance between their perfection and our confections leaves much room, nay, infinite room, for controversy about how best to incarnate the eternal in the kitchen.  And, indeed, much discussion was had this Easter about how best to roast a kid.

My mother said that she had called her sister and cousin in Sacco, and they both said they liked their kid roasted plain, with just salt and pepper, oregano, maybe rosemary, and do I need to mention olive oil?  My mother was ready to defer, but readily conceded, upon cross-examination, that her father’s father, who was a great cook, but came from the next town over, used to sauté both the kid parts and potato chunks in oil first, and then combine them with raw sliced onion and a bit of tomato pulp, to finish cooking them all together.  My Brooklyn aunt said that both she and her Neapolitan friend roast it the way that is traditional in Sacco, on its own, for pure capretto flavor, but season the meat the night before.

Hence commenced the dialectic.  My mother said that I could do it with the potatoes if I want to, which being interpreted means,  If you take it off my hands and do it for me, whatever you want to do is fine by me.  My father kept saying that that he knows the butcher my aunt got the kid from, which being interpreted means, Was this really worth the money?  We never had lamb for Easter in Sicily, you know.  My uncle kept repeating, Those potatoes are going to be delicious (his future periphrastic insinuating a foregone conclusion), which being interpreted means:  Don’t let anyone talk you out of those potatoes.  My Brooklyn aunt, however, said that it’s also good on its own, which being interpreted meant:  It’s much better without the potatoes, and that’s the right way to do it.  I was nearly persuaded by her puritanismand even more by the complacent certitude of the silence that followed it than by the simple sentenceuntil she in one iteration added that she also trims away most of the fat, even though the butcher says he leaves it on because it’s more tasty that way­—her opinion instantly losing all credibility with me upon that admission. 

Well, I decided to go with my grandfather’s potatoes, although not his pre-sauteeing, even though my own intuition accorded with my father’s, that my grandfather’s pre-sauteeing in oil would make the meat and potatoes even tastier and inure them against the drying heat of the oven.  I also considered, as an alternative, putting the meat into the oven raw, but pre-sauteeing the potatoes and adding them together with the raw onion halfway through the roasting.  But in the end I deferred to my mother’s intuition that it was not a good idea, even though she could offer no reason why.  Supplying a reason, I figured that when we do this recipe with chicken, it comes out delicious just roasted, and just-roasted is a different flavor (and texture) than sauteed, so I decided to stick with that.  Next time a kid comes my way, maybe I’ll try pre-sauteeing. 

The other question was whether to pre-brine.  On one hand, the kid meat seemed so naturally tender and delicate, I feared that brining might undermine its texture, as happens with beef.  On the other hand, I always brine such white meats as chicken and pork, and it’s precisely the most delicate parts, like the breast or loin, that benefit the most from the moisturizing and seasoning effects of brining.  I was still in doubt when I unwrapped the kid early Sunday morning, but when it gave off an odd gamey odor that it didn’t have the day before, I decided to soak the meat in a brine of 1-cup kosher salt to 1-gallon water for three hours.  I’m still in doubt whether that was a good idea, because the pieces did seem mushy after soaking, even though the meat both kept its color and lost its odor.  Next time a kid comes my way, I’ll try my aunt’s way of salting it the night before and letting it dry-brine over night.

When I roast chicken parts with potatoes, I often use “Pick of the Chick”, and I always brine the parts, to purge, season, and moisturize them (I’m often beginning with frozen meat, which defrosts more quickly and safely in a brine than at room temperature, the frozen meat acting like ice cubes to keep the ambient temperature even with the meat’s).  Personally, I prefer dark meat on the bone, and would just as soon roast only chicken thighs and legs, which always stay moister and get tastier during roasting than breast, but there’s inevitably an eater of puerile palate who only eats white meat, so I include breasts.  The brining is mostly for the sake of keeping the breast moist, and even with brining, I still put the breasts in later, to cook less. 

After brining, I rinse and dry the meat well.  Then I cut up potatoes into fat wedges (quartering medium ones, for example), keeping them under water against discoloration (and to dissolve excess starch).  When all is cut up, I combine the parts and potatoes in a bowl and season them all with showers of salt and pepper, little bursts of dried oregano, sprinklings of chopped fresh rosemary needles (thyme would work too), and generous drizzling all over of regular olive oil.  I mix all well to marry and set aside to marinate until it’s time to go into the roasting pan and hot oven.

I then prepare the onion, to be added to the roasting pan halfway through the roasting, so that they don’t stick and burn.  I used big spanish onions for the kid, but regular yellow onions are fine too (I’d worry that sweet vidalia would be too sweet).  To slice onions, I cut away the ends, slice them in half, pull away their peel, and thinly slice the halves lengthwise.  Throwing all the slices into a bowl, I chop up, for a bit of color, a bit of pelati (whole peeled tomatoes imported from Italy):  I halve each, gently squeeze out the juice and seeds, and slice the halves lengthwise into strips.  I add them to the onions and dress them, just like the meat and potatoes, with salt, pepper, dried oregano, and chopped fresh rosemary needles, and do I need to mention generous drizzling of olive oil?—but this time, extra virgin olive oil.

Despite its tenderness, goat likes to roast long and slow, said my Sacco aunt, so I roasted it together with the potatoes at 350° (in my mothers slow oven) for an hour, turning all over now and again; after an hour, I mixed in the previously dressed onions and raised the temperature to 400°, for a second hour of roasting (with occasional turnings), at the end of which time the meat came out beautifully gilded and sweetly aromatic. 

In the case of chicken parts, youll want to roast them for much less time, probably less than an hour, and at higher temperature.  The challenge is to get the meat gilded on the outside and cooked through to the bone on the inside, but before it dries out.  The thighs and drumsticks are the problem; I know that Jacques Pepin cuts a slit all the way to the bone of his thighs and drumsticks, to let the heat reach there faster.  There are two, opposite approaches to achieving gilding without drying:  the one, to begin at a high temperature to get color, and then finish at a low temperature to cook through; the other, to begin at a low temperature to pace cooking through, and then end at a high temperature for a final coloring.

My mother would likely roast the chicken, potatoes, and onions all together from the start at 425° the whole time.  I would start off the chicken and potatoes at 375° for 20‑30 minutes (adding the breasts 15 minutes in), and then at this half-point add the dressed onions and raise the temperature to 475° for another 20‑30 minutes.  Its good to use a large roasting pan that lets you spread out the meat and potatoes in one layer, to maximize browning and minimize friction during the occasional turnings over.  Be forewarned that if you crowd your roasting pan, you risk getting pale steamed chicken rather than golden roasted chicken.  If your potatoes turn out paler than you like, you can remediate by removing the meat and putting the pan under the broiler, to get the browning and crisping you want, but the potatoes are delicious as well left soft and golden.

Roasted meat likes oily vegetables.  As I predicted in my last blog, my mother sauteed broccoli di rape with garlic and oil, and sauteed red peppers, seasoning them with vinegar and toasted bread crumbs.  The green and red was beautiful to see next to the golden meat, as was the counterpoint of garlicy bitterness and vinegary sweetness to taste.  The goat was surprising to me.  In taste, it seemed at once more wild and more elegant than lamb, but in texture, had less tender flesh and more chewy cartilaginous stuff.  It also surprised me that it liked the extraordinary red wine my expat uncle brought:  Val di  Suga  Brunello di Montalcino (2000).  This meaty and manly wine had a stirring nose of tobacco and cedar, a velvety dry palate of age-tamed tannins, and a heart of distilled dark fruit undiminished by age.  It was delicious on its own and also with the kid, whose mildly wild flavor took to it.  The unexpectedly happy match reminded me of a time when at a wine seminar in Philadelphia I asked the speaker what meat goes best with the finest Chianti Riserva; when he replied Wild boar, I said, And if I dont happen to have any wild boar in the freezer, what would be next best? 

If you don’t happen to have kid‑goat in the freezer, roast a chicken with potatoes and onions. It likes both white and red wines, and is eager and able as well to please.


Goat or Chicken Parts 
Roasted with Potatoes

* PUt a whole goat or chicken, cut up, to soak in a brine of 1/4-cup salt in 1-qt. water, all day, all night, or not less than 3 hours, if you have time for it. If you brine, be sure to rinse and dry the pieces well before dressing them for roasting.
* Cut up potatoes (maybe 4?) into big wedges (quartering mid-sized ones?), and put them to soak in cold water until you're ready to use them. Likewise be sure to dry them well before dressing.
* Combine the chicken parts and potato wedges in a spacious roasting pan (cozy is okay, but not piled), dress them liberally with regular olive oil, salt 'n pepper, and some dried oregano. Holding back any breasts, put the rest in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, to blush golden, adding in the breasts half way through, and turning things over once or twice, just to prevent any stick-'n-burn.
* Meanwhile, slice big onions not too thinly (maybe 1/8-inch? but surely not more than 1/4-inch!), and in a mixing bowl dress them liberally with extra virgin olive oil, a shower of salt, fresh grindings of ground black pepper, and sprinklings of dried oregano. Also add several roughly chopped pelati (whole peeled tomatoes imported from Italy!), but only enough for color. Mix all well to marry the sundry savors and scents. (If it doesn't scent great, you've been cheap with the savors, so add some more.)
* When the chicken parts have blushed golden, strew the seasoned onions over them and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Finish baking for another 20-30 minutes, turning things over frequently enough to keep everything browning evenly.
* When it's lovely, it's ready. Remove it from the oven and lay the chicken parts out on the serving platter with the potatoes piled among and upon them, that the dissipating heat of the potaotes keep the chicken the warmer and moister. (P.S. Be sure to fill that roasting pan with water for a soak to make scrubbing easy later, or better yet, next morning.)