Last Friday night I had the time of my life and it was totally unexpected.  My friend Dana invited me to attend one of the USN evening classes – this one a cooking class – conducted by Chef Jamie Watson. I have been to many cooking classes from David Hart making Coq Au Vin to Margot McCormick’s to-die-for Pear Tartin.  What I loved most about Chef Jamie’s class, other than the fact that he was completely disarming, was his emphasis on technique.  Just as real estate agents preach location, Chef Jamie says it’s all about technique. After spending 4 hours learning his techniques of French Cooking,  I am in complete agreement.

Chef Jamie graduated with distinction from the French Culinary Institute and spent time working with famous chefs like Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac.  Chef Jamie is great fun, but totally serious about his art.  In his estimation, a recipe is a worthless road map without the knowledge and skills to master basic techniques. And distinctions are important. For example, we learned that seasoning is different from flavoring because the latter can only be achieved with salt.  The list goes on and on.

There are 17 basic techniques which comprise French cooking, and I could write a blog about each one, but then we’d never get to the perfect roast chicken. For someone who has made roast chicken a bazillion times, I thought I understood the basics pretty well, but I found myself saying, “I didn’t know that,” more times than I’d like to admit.  Let’s start with a nice photo of our goal and the recipe, and please note that I’ve italicized the things I thought were especially important.

Chef Jamie Watson’s Perfect Roast Chicken

  • 1 Organic Chicken
  • Olive oil (use the good stuff)
  • Trussing string (best deal can be found at the Viking Cooking Center)
  • Herbs, carrots, onions to stuff inside the bird.  (note: use only parsley stems as the leaves are bitter)
  • Lemons (sparingly)
  • Kerrygold herb butter (can be found in the cheese department of Harris Teeter)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Chicken stock

Prepare whole chicken: Wipe down exterior and interior cavity with a paper towel. Never rinse the chicken with water. Cut off skin and fat flap from entrance to cavity.  Cut off wing tips.  Remove wish bone with tip of sharp paring knife, it will make carving much easier. (If you don’t have a sharp knife, you’re toast.)  Stuff cavity with celery & carrot pieces.   You can use citrus, but – and here’s a big one that who knew – introducing moisture into the cavity may cause it to steam rather than roast.

Truss with twine tightly, winding up legs, to help chicken cook uniformly.  Trussing is not for the faint at heart and we spent lots of time wrangling with the bird.  Do the best you can! You want to wrap the legs about 3 times.
Sprinkle with LOTS of Kosher salt like a snow fall. There is a big difference between Kosher and Morton’s and it’s called bleach.

Simmer wing tips in chicken broth for one hour (store-bought broth works because the wing tips add flavor).

Cook Chicken:  Pan sear whole chicken in a skillet with Canola oil.  Heat pan first, then add oil, to close pores in the stainless steel and prevent skin/meat sticking. Remember when searing:  hot pan, cold oil. You want to sear the chicken until you get a little color to help set the skin, crisping it and closing the cellular structure to lock in moisture.

Preheat the roasting pan. Put in the roasting pan:  several stalks of celery, one onion cut in quarters, skin and all.  Place pan seared chicken on top.  Gently mash or mush onto the top of the chicken a stick of herb butter.  This can be found at your local grocery and it is delicious.

425 degrees F for ~70 minutes. Remove.  Let rest.  Carve. Preheat cookie sheet at 500 degrees,  then cook parts that need additional cooking for 3 minutes on pre-heated pan at 500. Serve family style on platter.

Make pan sauce/gravy:  Deglaze chicken bits from searing pan with white wine (use only something you would drink yourself)  Savingnon Blanc is a nice choice  and reduce to 1/2.  Once reduced sprinkle in about 3 T of flour.  Add enriched broth to reduction and reduce further.

If you are not tasting your sauce while you go, Chef Jamie will give you one big ole’ demerit and send you to the back of the class.

Voila!

Spinach and Berries Salad with Dill

Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Salad

  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 pound baby spinach leaves, trimmed
  • 1 pound baby butterhead lettuce
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 1/2 pint fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 pint fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill weed

For the Vinaigrette: combine the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, slat, pepper, dry mustard and onion powder in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to mix. Chill until serving time.

For the Salad: spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Toast at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring after 3 to 4 minutes. Let stand until cool. Toss the almonds, spinach, lettuce, green onions, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and dill weed in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette just before serving and toss to coat.

This was first served to me by the dynamic mother-daughter team of Lee Ann Merrick and Ann Calhoun. It is from the Junior League Cookbook of Colorado.

Now comes the happiness: Dine outside with your family or friends, serve a crisp bottle of wine, light some candles and smell the roses.

Chef Jamie is available for catering large or small parties, private dinners or culinary instruction for groups of 8 and under.