Cooking Fail: Iron Chicken

They can’t all be winners. This recipe started out with the best of intentions, but it was not so successful. I wanted to create my own recipe by picking and choosing things I liked from various other recipes. I was hoping for a rustic chicken roast with mushrooms in a rich balsamic sauce. But what I ended up with was undercooked chicken and oily mushrooms drowned in hot vinegar. The only plus side is that, when we went to get quesadillas afterwards, we also stopped by CVS where they had these doritos sold in old school packaging.

Last week was an usual one for us because of travel and work, so it ended up that I went to the grocery store by myself and without a plan as to what I wanted to buy. I walked down the meat case and waited for inspiration. Among other things, I found a family pack of quartered chicken legs and thighs. They were on sale for 79 cents per pound, which is cheaper than dirt, literally.

I was going to make coq au vin with it. But on Friday night after work, I decided that I wanted to eat that chicken. Since it was already about 7pm, there wouldn’t have been enough time for that. I thought I would try roasting the chicken quarters in my iron skillet. I hadn’t used it in a while, so I thought it was time.

I figured that it would require a little bit of high heat on top of the stove with lower heat to finish in the oven. I looked up a couple of recipes and started calculating what I needed to do. A lot of recipes called for sage, or lemon, or fennel – lots of things I don’t usually have in my kitchen. Keeping with my low-sodium theme, I kept it simple with thyme and rosemary.

I also compared several recipes for cooking times. Ultimately, I decided that I would use 400 degrees for 20 minutes after browning the skin on the stove. Although I was somewhat worried that this would not be long enough of a roast, I figured this would be ok since that is what I use for boneless chicken breasts. Also, that is the temperature and time I needed for my acorn squash side dish. Choosing this temperature and this length of oven time were my first two mistakes.

I started out with putting some duck fat in the iron skillet. Then I added the chicken. Although I had defrosted the frozen chicken quarters in the fridge overnight (I originally was going to make coq au vin the following day), they were still somewhat solid. So, I had put them in a large bowl of water for about an hour to speed up the defrosting. When I went to put them in the hot oil, they were fully defrosted but soaking wet. This was my third mistake of the evening. The cold water in the hot oil started erupting out of the pan. Fortunately, I have an electric stove. If I had a gas stove, I likely would have had a very embarsssing grease fire.
I fried up the chicken in the duck fat for a while. But I definitely didn’t give it enough time. For some reason, I was getting really impatient with the chicken. Although the skin was not getting crisp by the time I wanted to put it in the oven, I assumed that it would get crispier as it roasted. It didn’t.

Before I put the chicken in the oven though, I dropped in some mushrooms. I had about four ounces of baby portabellas and 8 ounces of oyster mushrooms. I had never had oyster mushrooms before. These mushrooms were fantastic and I really looked forward to eating them after they had roasted with the chicken. Unfortunately, there was about a quarter cup of rendered chicken fat and duck fat in the iron skillet. By the time the whole thing came out of the oven, the mushrooms had become oil-logged.

I was also thinking that this dish needed some sort of pan gravy or sauce. I was thinking about soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. But we had just come back from New Jersey, where Sarah and I ate Korean food non-stop for about four days. So I decided to steer clear of the Asian flavors and do a balsamic reduction. That goes with mushrooms, I thought.

When the chicken was done, I removed it and the mushrooms to a plate. I poured off the excess fat (there was a lot) and added about a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar. I put it on a burner on the stove and started to reduce it.

Typically, I am bad at reductions. I think I am just too impatient for them. I knew this going into this recipe, so I gave it an extra long amount of time on the stove to reduce. Or so I thought.

I took the reduction over to the chicken and poured some on top of everything. It beaded up on the oily chicken and just rolled right off. This left the chicken looking like I had dragged it through mud.

I also put the reduction on the mushrooms. When I ate the mushrooms, I could tell that they would have been delicious, had they been prepared correctly. But these mushrooms had not been prepared correctly by me. They smelled like salt and vinegar chips or feet. And the texture reminded me of the time I got really drunk at a street fair and then ordered a pig heart, liver, and ear stew at a Guatemalan restaurant. Except I really liked that pig dish.

If you like your chicken cooked to a medium well, you may have liked this chicken. Sarah does not like her chicken cooked to a medium well, particularly when the chicken is bone-in dark meat. I don’t mind, in theory, chicken that is undercooked. If it wasn’t for the fear of salmonella, I might have actually enjoyed the texture and taste. Also, I added way too much rosemary; it was like eating a chewy fish full of pine-flavored pin bones.

Sarah disliked this food even more than I did. She tried to make it look like she ate some of it. She is uber polite like that. But I could tell that the only thing about dinner that she liked was the side salad (pre-washed salad-in-a-bag) and the roasted acorn squash.

About half an hour later, we were both hungry again. Neither of us had eaten particularly much of our dinners, which was probably a good thing, as both of our stomachs felt unsettled after eating the undercooked chicken. Maybe it was psychosomatic, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, we walked to our neighborhood late-night Mexican place for quesadillas. These were marvellously toasty, cheesy, and melt-y. It amazes me that something consisting of only tortillas and cheese could taste so good. Plus, if you undercook a quesadilla, it won’t make your stomach gurgle.

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