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I made roast chicken the other day. There was nothing unusual in that except that I have been looking for a simple recipe. I didn’t want to baste. I didn’t want to turn the chicken in a new direction every 15 minutes as Julia Child recommends. I wanted to season the chicken with salt and pepper, preheat the oven to between 375 F and 400 F, put the bird in and come back an hour later and eat it.

After several experiments and a lot of reading, I realized that the best and easiest recipes all had a little something extra in common. They covered their birds with fat. “Horrors! Gasp!” Some recipes I looked at that didn’t call for this treatment but they would do something similar like first brown the birds in hot oil on the stove. Others advised putting large nuggets of butter under the breast skin—sort of an internal basting. Maybe this has become necessary because today’s chickens have less fat than they used to. Maybe it’s because this is the way it used to be done when people had more to do around the house than watch a chicken broil.

I didn’t want to drown my chicken in grease. All I wanted was something that would crisp the skin, moisten the meat, and add a little flavour.

The key is to find a fat that will melt slowly and not burn once it falls into the pan.

Fat evenly raises the cooking temperature. It helps brown vegetables and meat. Food develops a more complex taste and texture—firm on the outside, sweet and soft within. Diced carrots, sautéd until they turn bright orange, give soups a heartier flavour. Pan-fried potatoes are crispy outside; asparagus coated with a little oil, broils beautifully in the oven and is much sweeter, with a more concentrated flavour than when it is steamed.

The trick is to use the right oil. Butter, unless it is clarified, burns at 350 F. Most animal fats and vegetable shortenings will smoke higher (between 350 F and 400 F).

Vegetable oils cook foods at different temperatures. Olive oil burns at too low a temperature for most cooking. Corn oil and canola are better. Peanut oil heats to the highest temperature (450 F) before it starts to smoke. It is the best for stir-fries and sautéing.

I like vegetable oils for cooking vegetables. As for the chicken, I favour fowl with fowl. The logical fat is, of course, from the chicken itself; but a tastier match is to cover the bird with a sheen of fresh duck or goose fat, available at many butcher shops. It gives chicken a lovely, slightly gamy flavour. By the time the bird is cooked, the fat has dripped off the bird, the skin is crisp and nut brown, and the meat is succulent

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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