Cooking a whole chicken, a roast, or a duck can be extremely intimidating – especially for the first time. It doesn’t have to be. And honestly, when putting to practice some of these tips, its nearly effortless.
If you’re cooking for flavor, I believe time is your greatest advocate. I know a lot of people are getting into pressure cookers, or insta-pots, but there is something about the traditional way of cooking that won’t disappoint. Utilize time and allow simple ingredients to infuse your food, building upon itself minute after minute, hour after hour, incredible flavor.
Here are my tips for painlessly adding depths of flavor and tenderness to your choice of protein. Let time do all the work!
- Always, Always and I’ll say again, Always cook with thawed meat: If you begin with a frozen product, you have already set yourself up for failure. The end result will be dry, chewy, and lacking flavor. Frozen meat cannot soak up seasonings. So gather yourself the night before and be sure to take out whatever cut you plan on working with the next day.
- Use fresh herbs: I dont really need to expound on this. Its pretty basic. The enzymes and life in fresh herbs bring so much to the table as far as flavor. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Sage and Chives are just a few that can really spice things up!
- Marinade in vinegar: This actually begins the ”cooking” process. At this point your protein is not in an oven, but by marinating your meat in vinegar, the digestive or “breaking down” process begins. The vinegar softens and tenderizes the meat without the risk of overcooking. This works wonders if you find yourself with a particularly tough cut of meat, but dont want to heat up the oven for 12 hours and end up with jerky. Its important a to choose a vinegar with color and depth. That will reflect into your product. Apple Cider Vinegar is our household choice because it infuses so much flavor into the protein. White vinegar will not get you very far, and has an artificial aftertaste when used as a marinade. But other vinegars such as red wine or balsamic will work just as well.
- Don’t throw out the olive juice: Similar to the tip above, the potential of the leftover olive juice to completely upgrade a simple chicken dish is incredible. Don’t ever dump that down the kitchen sink! Save the juice from your olives (kalamata are my favorite for this) and use it as a marinade.
- Salt well in advance: This rule does not apply to all choices of protein. Chicken and Lamb do really well salted ahead of time where as steak, pork and seafood render more tender product when salted just before cooking. The salt on your lamb or chicken will allow for the meat to retain moisture, the same way your body reacts to lots of salt by water retention, resulting in a melt in your mouth experience!
- Utilize bone broth: We almost always have a pot of bone broth slow cooking in our kitchen. During the warmer months, I’m not always keen on heating up my oven for a few hours to cook up a whole chicken, or a roast. You can break down that chicken, marinate half of it, and then allow the bone broth to cook the other half infusing it with tons of flavor! You will never have a dry roast again with this method. And then you can walk away, and not think about it until dinner.
- Braise or broil before beginning the slow cook: You want to ensure that all the delicious flavor you’ve worked so hard to culminate in your meat stays there. By braising or broiling the meat before it begins to cook, you will seal in the salt and vinegar, allowing them to work for your advantage during the cooking process.
- Let your meat rest: The point of this is to allow the meat to cool down, so it can retain the liquid that is in the meat. When slicing into a hot piece of protein, you will notice the juices from that meat pouring out onto the surface of your block. That is because meat struggles to hold onto moisture at that temperature. By allowing your protein to cool, it will be able to maintain the moisture that got heated during the cooking process, resulting in a much more juicy product.