The Foodie Files

Ben Whelan

As someone who loves food, the thought of a diet consisting of Ramen noodles, cans of soup and Spaghetti-O’s is an absolutely terrifying and sickening thought. Why just subsist on fast food and take-out when you can actually eat real, good, healthy food? For those culinary neophytes out there, the thought of stepping up to the range and putting together a meal yourself can certainly be a daunting one, and understandably so. This is why for the rest of the semester I will attempt to provide food tips, recipes and ideas in this column that make the world of real food a little more accessible and hopefully we can learn some interesting things about the world of comestibles along the way. So, without further ado, lets dive right in!

Tuscan-Style Roast Chicken with a Balsamic ReductionSound overambitious for the first time out? One thing to remember is that just because it sounds difficult doesn’t mean it is. Like most Northern Italian cuisine, this is actually a quite simple and I think elegant and delicious way to prepare a roast chicken that wont break the bank. In some ways, it is more difficult to roast a whole chicken than it would be to use this preparation for say, boneless skinless breasts, or the like, but the flavors released from the bones, skin, and fat add an indispensable extra layer of flavor. The other advantage to buying a whole chicken is that it is a much better value than buying individual pieces. This way, if you don’t finish it off for dinner, you have a supply of cooked chicken to use for sandwiches or salads the next day and you have a beautiful carcass to use for making soups and stocks. The fact that your house/apartment will be filled with the perfume of roasting fowl is just an added bonus. The tart and sweet flavors of the deep, rich, beautiful reduction (known as an aigre-douce in French cuisine) that accompany it bring out the salty and savory flavors of the chicken and the sauce only has three ingredients!

Tuscan Style Roast Chicken 1 2-4lb Chicken1 Lemon, zested1 Small Onion, quartered2 Tblspns Sage, dried or fresh2 Tblspns Basil, dried or fresh2 Tblspns Thyme, dried or fresh¼ Cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

1. Remove the giblets from the body cavity and check to make sure there are no feather tips or other irregularities on your bird and preheat the oven to 350°.2. Place your chicken in a roasting pan, preferably with a roasting rack underneath it to allow for the air to circulate around the chicken in the oven, and slowly pour your EVOO over the bird while carefully, using your hands, rub it into every surface of the chicken.3. Combine the herbs and lemon zest and then roughly chop the mixture to help marry the flavors.4. Carefully rub this mixture into every surface of the chicken with your hands, again making sure you hit every crack and crevice.5. Take your zested lemon and cut it in half widthwise. Stuff half of lemon inside the cavity of the chicken along with as much of the quartered onion as will fit, and save the other lemon half.6. Now turn your chicken upside down and place it on your roasting rack. That’s right, upside down. During the shipping process and while the chicken is sitting on your supermarket shelf, all of those wonderful vital juices are pooling at the bottom of the chicken. By turning the bird upside down while you roast it, you allow all of that flavor-packed liquid to permeate through the chicken giving you a chicken that is not only much juicier, but also has more of the pure chicken-essence flavor.7. Roast your chicken at 350° for 1 ¼-2 ½. If your bird is closer to 2lbs, an hour or so should get it done; if it’s closer to 4lbs you might want to shoot for closer to 2 1/4-2 ½ hours. Either way, a good indicator that the chicken is done cooking is that the juices run clear when you cut into the joints.8. Finish by squeezing your remaining half lemon over the chicken as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Balsamic Reduction1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar; the longer aged and sweeter the better¼ Cup Sugar¼ Cup Porto (if you don’t want to shell out for Porto, any big red wine will work)

1. Combine the Balsamic and wine in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat2. Once the mixture begins to simmer and bubble, stir in the sugar until it dissolves and reduce the heat to very low.3. Let the sauce simmer uncovered until it has reduced by a third; about 10-12 minutes. A good test is coating the back of a spoon with the sauce and if you can make a clear line with your finger through the sauce, it is right where you want it.4. Remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once it cools a bit, it should be thick and syrupy.

Serve this dish with some sautéed green beans or asparagus and mashed potatoes. And there you go, you have yourself a solid meal sure to satisfy after a long day of classes. Bon appetit, and let me know how it goes!

Ben Whelan can be reached at [email protected]