Tuesday, November 15, 2005


November 17 at midnight (the third Thursday in November) marks the official release of Beaujolais Nouveau. This is the wine made this fall from the summer’s grapes. In fact, ten thousand cases have already been shipped to Japan alone, ready for celebration at the exact hour of release. The nouveau is light, fruity, pretty insubstantial, and quite pleasant to drink with a little chill on it. Its international reputation is mainly a matter of marketing hype and I, like many Beaujolais fans, used to be irritated by the hoop-la. Beaujolais can be a wine of real substance too and this flashy nouveau business tends to obscure even more the serious merits of the good stuff. By now, though, I recognize my attitude as just another form of wine crankiness. Anything that celebrates simple, honest wine is a good thing for wine’s contribution to joy, for evidence, as Benjamin Franklin put it, that “God loves us and wants us to be happy.” All it takes to complete the picture is equally simple and direct food. And here’s the simple dish that’s on my mind this month – a clever way to strip roast chicken to its delicious basics, thanks to the newest Cook’s Illustrated television series with book. Heat the oven to 500F. (Yeah, we know that’s the best way to roast a chicken but doesn’t the smoke drive you out of the kitchen? Hang on.) Cut out the backbone, easy with poultry shears but a slight nuisance with a knife, and flatten the chicken a little by smashing down on the breastbone. (This way, the thighs and the breast will be done at the same time.) Now peel and slice two russet potatoes. (They will absorb the chicken fat as it renders, which is why your kitchen won’t be engulfed in acrid smoke.) Finally, and this is the genius part, get out the broiler pan, line it with foil, put the potatoes in the bottom, then put on the ridged part, with the chicken on its back on top. (Keeps the potatoes moist, the chicken greaseless.) Salt, roast for about 45 minutes for a three-and-a-half pound-bird, and you are done. The fat should pour right off the potatoes but you can also blot them a little with a paper towel. You could also work an ounce or two of butter under the skin before you roast it. No need to brine the chicken, especially if you start with a good one: I prefer either a Maverick Farm roaster from O’Malia’s or a Bell and Evans from Kroger. A simple dish that will show your nouveau at its best but wouldn’t let down your expensive pinot either.