Category Archives: Detailed Recipes

How To Make a Really Delicious Roast Chicken (E-A-S-Y!)

So after having a little plantar fasciitis pity party here and here, I think it’s time for something a bit lighter.  So I’ll write about one of my (new) favorite pastimes: Roasting a chicken.  [This is also healthier than the ice cream habit mentioned in the above posts.]

My Dad jumped on this bandwagon a few years ago, and I distinctly remember my mother noting, “I love that he cooks.  And the chicken is good.  But we’ve had roasted chicken for dinner every single week this winter!”  I think KMN might lodge the same complaint soon.  [Not really. He’s amazing about eating anything I cook, pretty much without complaint, and pretty much always with gratitude and compliments. And I’m probably on the “roasting every-other-week” schedule these days.]

I would occasionally roast a chicken while living alone during grad school, but that always felt like a production, and a race to use all the meat before it went bad.  But now, I’m cooking for two people – so once we settled in Singapore, I decided it was time to get really good at chicken roasting.  Why?  Well, I don’t really like to cook meat all that much.  But a roast chicken is a foundation for a healthy meal.  And if I cook it early in the week, then the leftover meat can make its way into dinner for another night or two with any extra handling of raw meat.  Plus, I can boil the carcass to make chicken broth for soup at the end of the week.  With a little planning, one roast chicken is actually more like three meals, for us.  WIN.

So, in order to raost a chicken, we must first buy a chicken.  And in a new country, everything is an adventure: Even buying a chicken.  In a US supermarket, my choices are (basically) Butterball versus Perdue (or the farmer’s market).  At our local Fairprice in Singapore, I can choose from Fresh Pasar Chickens, Halal Chickens, Spring Chickens, Jumbo Chickens, Black Chickens, and Halal Fresh Pasar Chickens.  The first few times, I randomly grabbed whichever one looked good at the moment off the shelf.   Eventually, I remembered to ask my mother-in-law for help.  Here’s a quick translation of the local lingo (since this won’t matter for…well, for pretty much any of you, but just in case…):

Pasar Fresh: “Regular” chicken
Halal: Killed and processed in a way that is Halal, but otherwise exactly the same as Pasar
Kampong: The local version of “free range” – usually scrawnier, but some people think it tastes better.  Keep in mind that “kampong” isn’t especially standardized, so I’m not exactly convinced that I’m getting a more ethically raised chicken.
Spring: Young chicken. Some people think these more tender.
Jumbo: Duh.  If the name didn’t give it away, one look at them would’ve.
Black: Yep, they’re black: Skin, flesh, bones.  Interestingly, their plumage is white.  Black chicken is popular in Chinese medicine and especially herbal soups.  In my experience, the taste is basically the same as any other chicken – although some people claim it’s tougher.

I usually go for a Pasar or Kampong chicken, but not every option is available every time I go to the supermarket, so I’m flexible.  And although I’m not 100% clear on the regulations and origins of the chicken we eat (sorry, clean eating folks, sorry…I’m trying, but in a new place, this is a real challenge) – I suspect these chickens aren’t quite as bred/injected/modified as their US counterparts.  For one thing, they are smaller.  For another, they look more properly proportioned, if you know what I mean. I’m still learning about the food supply chains out here, but I’m already inclined to trust the standard supermarket chicken out here to be somewhat less chemical-filled, food-stuffed, and breast-heavy.

Furthermore, the chickens are slaughtered locally, and are offered “fresh”.  However, I should note that the day I actually took these photos was the third or fourth day of Chinese New Year – and all the chickens were labeled “Fresh”, with a second label slapped on that said, “Previously frozen.  Thawed on (date).”  Apparently use of the word “Fresh” isn’t strictly regulated, at least not over the holiday period.

Now, don’t expect that your chicken will come in a hermetically sealed package.  These small birds are plopped onto a styrofoam tray, covered in a thin sheet of plastic wrap, and put onto the shelf.  It’s pretty common that the wings poke through the plastic, or the plastic on top tears a bit, or the plastic simply starts to come unwrapped.  Hint: Remember to grab a plastic bag from the fresh fish section.  You can put your chicken in this bag, to keep the rest of your groceries clean.  And watch out – because there’s always a chance that your chicken will drip bloody raw chicken liquid on your list, shoes, and floor – if you aren’t careful:

Yes, I'm a spoiled American. Yes, I think this is rather yucky.  Yes, I smile, bag that chicken, and keep on moving.

Look closely and you’ll see the dark spots on my sneakers, too.  Yes, I’m a spoiled American. Yes, I think this is rather yucky. Yes, I smile anyway, get the chicken into the bag, pretend everything is normal, and keep on moving.

Doing this is exactly as hard as it looks, even for a biologist.

Doing this is exactly as hard as it looks, even for a biologist.

And don’t forget (friends from the USA) that once you bring your little Spring/Kampong/Fresh/Halal chicken home, you still have to remove the feet and head.  These parts are tucked into the bird’s body cavity for “display”, but they’re definitely still attached.  I debated whether or not to include this picture, but it’s part of my real-life experience.  So I included it, but I made it nice and small.  Don’t look if you’re squeamish.  If you’re curious, click for a nice big version.  😉  Regardless on your feelings about the chicken photo, I will share with you two truths:

1. This experience will bring you closer to your food.

2. A cleaver is a valuable tool.

But enough talk.  Let’s get this bird into the oven.  Speaking of ovens, pre-heat yours to 400°F (200°C).  Line your baking pan with foil (this saves much clean-up effort).  Then, rinse the chicken thoroughly  (remove the giblets, if included) and pat her dry, inside and out.  This is pretty important: If there’s too much excess water around, the bird will actually steam in the oven, rather than roast.

All right.  Are you ready for the hard part?  This preparation is really complex.  So complex, in fact, that these days, I do the chicken-touching parts with just one hand, so I have one “clean” hand to touch/move other things, and one “contaminated” hand for the chicken. (<– Paranoid biologist)

1. Mix ~1 Tbsp salt + pepper to taste [I use a lot of pepper; you can use less – remember that not a lot gets onto/into the meat, so no worries about spice.]
2. Rub mixture into body cavity.
3. Squeeze half a lemon into body cavity.  Stuff lemon half in there for good measure. (Don’t ask me why this doesn’t cause a “steaming” problem. It just doesn’t.)
4. Encrust the outside with salt or salt/pepper mix.  Be generous.  You should actually be able to see the salt.  This helps keep the bird moist.  Magic!

5. Roast for ~50-60 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. If the breast starts getting brown, fold some foil into a triangle and make a small shield to cover the breast (sounds very medieval, no?).  This helps keep the meat moist.  When I think it’s just about done, I use a meat thermometer in the thigh (should read 165°F) to confirm.
6. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.
7. Carve: Remove legs and slice all the breast meat off in one slice per side (you can sub-slice these after removal).  Pick remaining meat off by hand.
8. Enjoy.  Trust me, it’s delicious.

Chicken breast slice, potatoes, and salad.  An unusually "meat and potatoes" meal for this household!

Chicken breast slice, potatoes, and salad. An unusually “meat and potatoes” meal for this household!

Another iteration: Chicken, stuffing, and carrots.  Also very "Meat and Starch".

Another iteration: Chicken, stuffing, and carrots. Also very “meat and potatoes”, but with stuffing, instead of potatoes. If that even makes sense.

These photos were compiled from several recent chicken-cooking escapades – including last night! Tonight, I’m on my own for dinner, so will certainly be enjoying some leftovers.  And I already have a nice container of stock sitting in the refrigerator.  Oh…the possibilities!

Do you have any special chicken-roasting secrets?

I’m still resting my foot, so I have to live vicariously through your running workout today.  Tell me allllllll about it!

Crock-Pot Pulled Pork and Pig Anatomy

I consider myself to be pretty decent in the kitchen, but using a slow cooker is a pretty new adventure to me..  We didn’t have one growing up, so it was never really on my radar.  I guess slow-cooker meals would’ve been a fancy solution to dinner during grad school, provided I actually got home at my intended time.  I usually opted for cereal, eggs, or quinoa (or some combination of all three) instead.

But, I married into a Crock-Pot.  When KMN and I were living apart (you can read a bit about our story in this post), there wasn’t much point in using it when I went to visit KMN, since the meal would have to cook for pretty much the entire length of my visit.  But nowadays, the Crock-Pot and I (and KMN) are comfortably co-habitating, and I’ll hopefully be expanding my working sphere beyond our front door soon, so I figure that learning how to use the little (big) guy might not be a bad idea.

Pre-blog, I’d used it to make over-cooked chicken legs, and a very unremarkable soup.  I was not impressed, but knew there must be some tasty recipes out there.  I recalled hearing people discuss making pulled pork in the slow-cooker.  This sounded promising.  So I grabbed the little cookbook that came with our Crock-Pot (Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Cookbook), and sure enough – I found a recipe for Carolina Barbecued Pork.  My adaptation appears below.

I should note that the only pork I’ve used in cooking, ever, has been ground pork.  I tend to the vegetarian/poultry side of things, but cook a lot more meat now that I live with KMN.  Chicken gets boring fast, and I don’t really like beef.  Pork seemed like a reasonable compromise.  The recipe called for boneless pork butt or shoulder roast.  So, I headed over to the meat section of the Fairprice, hoping the cuts were well labeled.  Indeed, I was able to find something labeled “Pork Shoulder/Butt”.  I found this perplexing, but was glad not to have to choose between the two.  About 2 lbs of boneless shoulder/butts came home with me.

[Some subsequent Googling educated me: Pork shoulder and butt are, indeed, the same cut.  It’s the shoulder blade area, above the front legs – and especially good for pulled pork because it is marbled with enough fat to stay moist while cooking. Don’t ask me why the “butt” is over the front legs.]

The only other ingredient we didn’t have at home was Worcestershire sauce. I was a bit nervous about how much this western condiment would cost, but I was able to find a very small bottle (but really, who ever uses a whole bottle of Worcestershire sauce?) for about $3.50 SGD (~$2.80 USD).  Awesome.  I was good to go.

Shoulder/butts in the Crock-Pot.

Shoulder/butts in the crock-pot.

As per the recipe, I mixed up:
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
and used it as a rub on the meat, which then went right into the Crock-Pot, along with several quartered onions.



Next, I made a royal mess while mixing up the sauce ingredients:
3/4 cup cider vinegar
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp chili powder
Pour ~2/3 of this mixture over the meat.  Save the rest in the fridge as a drizzle for the finished product.  Cook on high for 6 hrs (or low for 10 hrs).  

I really don't know how I managed to make such a big mess with so few ingredients...

I really don’t know how I managed to make such a big mess with so few ingredients…

I was a bit nervous, because the liquid definitely didn’t cover all of the meat, but I trusted the recipe and left this cooking all afternoon, while I did some errands and met KMN for a gym session (this was last Wednesday).  I’m always a *tad* anxious about leaving the Crock-Pot on while I’m out, but if I only used it when I was home, that would defeat half the point, right?  And when we returned, the apartment smelled great and the juices were bubbling away.

The final product, post-pulling.  (Despite my worries, the pulling was fun, and easy!)

The final product, post-pulling. (Despite my worries, the pulling was fun, and easy!)

I easily shredded the meat with two forks, and all we had to add was some freshly cooked rice and a salad.  Dinner was served!  I was so eager to taste it that I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly finished:

Veggies, mostly already in my tummy...

Veggies, mostly already in my tummy…

Carolina BBQ Pork, served over rice

Carolina BBQ Pork, served over rice.

The final product was quite tasty.  The sauce isn’t a thick BBQ sauce (obviously), but still has quite a good, tangy flavor, which I loved.  If you’re more sensitive to vinegar, though, you might want to cut back to 1/2 cup, plus some water.  As for me, I think I’ll cut back on the sugar next time – this was slightly sweet for my taste.  But there’s a huge range of preferred BBQ tastes, so it all depends what you like.

Overall, though – I was thrilled with this recipe.  It was easy (minus the mess!) and tasted great.  Plus, we made plenty of extra pork. I enjoyed some on a salad the next day (didn’t even need any dressing!), and we froze the rest.  I think we’ll be enjoying that on sandwiches the next time we need a super fast dinner.  This recipe is certainly flagged as a “make again”!

Do you have a favorite slow cooker recipe?  Please share it, or the link to it!!
(Especially if it doesn’t require lots of pre-packaged American products.)

Do-It-Yourself Porridge: A Work In Progress

Yesterday, I popped out for a short run on one of the trails near our apartment:

Holly on a trail at MacRitchie Reservoir

This is just a gratuitous photo, to whet your appetite for more trail pictures. I promise to show you this trail several times a week.  No lie, I will.

Speaking of appetites, let’s get back to the porridge, shall we?   [If you’re confused, check out the first part of the porridge discussion in my last post, What Happens When the Colonizers Don’t Discuss Porridge?]

The Chinese equivalent of America’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook is probably Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking [ref. My Mother-In-Law, et al.].

Irene Kuo, Key to Chinese Cooking, Porridge

In all its shiny glory!

The title is a bit misleading, though, because the book is 532 pages long.  Clearly, there must be more than one key.  Or else, it’s an incredibly long key.  I don’t know what that lock would look like…but I digress.  This tome is actually out-of-print, but KMN managed to secure me a like-new copy this summer.  I’ve only dabbled in it so far, and I’m sure that Mdm. Kuo and I have a long and adventure-full future ahead of us.

But one of the recipes that I have tried is the one for Rice Porridge.  I have long known that porridge is one of KMN’s comfort foods – and let’s be honest – even a progressive, modern feminist wants to be able to cook her husband’s comfort food, right?  Well, this one does, at least. So when the book arrived, I immediately flipped to the index to hunt down the porridge details.  This is taken from the Rice Porridge introduction:

“Known as hsi-fan, ‘thin rice,’ rice porridge is the basis of breakfast for most Chinese…Made by simmering a small quantity of rice with a large amount of water, the resulting rice is a creamy gruel.  The porridge is served in individual bowls with an accompanying assortment of tasty and highly seasoned cold dishes, such as salted and preserved eggs, vegetables, or fish and leftover red-cooked or stir-fried meats and poultry.” [The Key to Chinese Cooking, Irene Kuo]

The recipe looks straightforward:  1/3 cup rice + 4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let rice “bounce gently in the bubbling liquid” for 5 minutes to loosen the starch.  Stir.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Serve with whatever garnishes/toppings you choose.

Seems simple enough, right?  Or not.  I’ve tried it three times so far, with varied degrees of (but never complete) success:

Attempt #1: We were still living in the US, and I had just gotten the book.  I was anxious to try the recipe.  I asked KMN what would make good porridge topping.  His reply?  “Anything!”  I took him at his word.  I made a passable but porridge (it only boiled over on the stove once), and topped it with things we already had in the fridge, including chicken sausage and a leftover asparagus saute.   The porridge itself was pretty bland, and the toppings…well, they weren’t especially Chinese.  And the “fusion” concept didn’t translate so well where porridge was concerned.

Porridge with asaparagas sautee and sausage

Even KMN conceded, “OK, maybe ‘anything’ was a bit too broad…”

Attempt #2: After this uninspiring result, I went on a bit of a porridge hiatus.  [OK, we also moved our entire life to Singapore during this time.]  But once we were settled in Singapore, with our pots and pans unpacked, I decided to try again.  Somehow, though, I misread the recipe as 1 cup of rice + 4 cups of water.  Obviously, this didn’t get too soupy, and I essentially ended up making regular rice.  It wasn’t even good steamed rice, though.  For that, I highly recommend a rice cooker.  I’m a total convert and won’t make regular steamed rice any other way anymore.  Also, the rice cooker never boils over.

Attempt #3: I thought that using some chicken stock in place of water might liven up the flavor a bit.  I’d made some stock earlier this week, so decided to use that to try the porridge thing again.  In case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, here is the status update that accompanied this third pot o’ porridge:

Rice boils over on gas stove

I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable toward the porridge, after it boiled over onto the stove three times…

Starchy boil-over burned onto stove and pot

Burned starch. My fave.

These shenanigans resulted in a stove and pot that looked something like this —>

I mostly blame the stove, and my inexperience with it – even after 2 months.  The flame *does* conspire to either completely halt or dramatically expedite my cooking, I swear.  [Of course, the fact that I was trying to type blog posts, edit photos, and reply to email while cooking dinner was totally unrelated to the boil-overs.]

With much trial and error, and a vented lid, I was able to achieve some semblance of a simmer.  But despite an extra half hour of cooking, I never really achieved “doneness”, as defined be Mdm. Kuo:

My liquid and rice continued to separate.

“The porridge is ready when there is no separation of liquid and rice.”  Never quite got there last night…

Furthermore, my rice grains were still pretty well intact.  They didn’t get as broken apart as I’d hoped, and the mixture wasn’t *quite* as creamy and starchy as the really good porridges I’ve had here.  But, inspired by some porridge I’d had (out) over the weekend, I added a bit of cooked ground pork, then topped the whole thing with scallions and sliced fishcake.  Halfway through slicing the fishcake, I realized I’d cut it along the non-standard axis.  Duh.  Well, I was feeling creative, so I had fishcake circles instead of strips/ovals.  The finished product actually looked pretty good, when served with some sauteed Chinese veggies

Veggie and congee

So really, I can’t complain too much about this third attempt.  The chicken broth gave the porridge a good flavor, and I finally managed to get the “right” kind of Chinese toppings.  I do wish my rice had gotten a bit more creamy, though.  Maybe my problem was the boil overs, or the extra fat in the broth (vs. water), or perhaps the kind of rice I was using.  I think maybe next time, I’ll bring my laptop out into the kitchen while the porridge simmers, to keep an eye on the boiling-over situation…

In conclusion – Thanks, Mdm. Kuo. I promise to practice until I get this right!

Holly & The Key to Chinese Cooking

I will admit, though, given the trouble I’ve had perfecting this recipe, I’m a little nervous nervous about trying anything more complicated than “boil rice and water”!

Do you make rice porridge? What’s your secret?

Any tricks for cleaning burned starch off the stove…?