A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for roasting a chicken
I have been pretty open about my health problems for the past couple of years on this site. One side effect of that has been that our household finances have gotten a bit worse, since I haven’t been able to work at full capacity…or even at half-capacity in some stretches. Medical costs in France are mercifully low, so we haven’t had a massive outlay in that area as we might have had if we lived somewhere else. But still, we have felt a slight pinch. We’ve stopped eating out mostly, or going off on mini-trips and the like. And we pay much more attention to the food budget too.
What that means also is that we’re eating a bit less Japanese food. Getting the proper ingredients here in semi-rural France is not so easy; the nearest Japanese grocery store is in Lyon, about 2 1/2 hours away by car…and it’s really tiny. The nearest fully stocked Japanese grocery store from here is actually across the border in Geneva, about a 3 1/2 hour drive! I do get dry goods and things by mailorder (mostly from the ever trusty Japan Centre) but fresh or perishable ingredients can’t be procured that way.
My sister Mayumi, who lives in Tokyo, recently posted this picture of bean sprouts on her Facebook:
Bean sprouts are one of the go-to ingredients in Japan when your purse feels light. A big bag of bean sprouts costs 20 to 30 yen or so (or in US terms, around 20 to 30 cents). Another cheap ingredient is tofu. You can get tofu on sale for as low as 50 yen; even top quality tofu costs 300-500 yen for a big block. Around these parts, very mediocre tofu costs more than the really high quality tofu in Japan.
When we’re feeling a bit low on funds, one our go-to recipes uses one of these:
Whole chickens are amazingly cheap here. A factory grown one is as low as 3 euros or so for a 1 kilo plus bird. Even ones that are free-range and happily raised, with the exception of something extra-special like a poulet de Bresse, is only about 6 euros, 8 euros tops, for a 1 kilo-plus bird. But in Japan, a whole chicken is considered to be luxurious feast food, only served at Christmas dinner and such, and is expensive.
As a matter of fact, bone-in chicken meat is more expensive in Japan than boned chicken - and harder to get too. Whole bone-in chicken legs are rarely used unless it’s for a ‘fancy’ meal. And you can buy chicken carcasses cheaply to make soup with. Just about all ‘chicken soup’ recipes in Japan are actually chicken bone (torigara) soup. One of the first things I had to teach myself to do when I moved to Switzerland many years ago is to break down and bone a whole chicken. Boneless chicken thighs for instance are unheard of in Switzerland or in France, so that’s the first step when I’m making chicken karaage (or the variation) for instance.
Another difference is the perspective of, and price difference between, white and dark meat. In France, or the U.S., or Switzerland, white meat is always more expensive than dark. I think this is because white meat is perceived as being healthier because it’s lower in fat than dark meat. It could also be that white meat was and is considered more refined or something like that. But in Japan it’s the opposite: white meat is the cheap chicken meat, and the dark thigh meat is more expensive and desirable.
Many of the “budget” recipes on Cookpad rely on the big three ‘cheap ingredients: bean sprouts, tofu, and white chicken breast meat. I guess this is one of those things that do not translate from country to country. For me a dish with those ingredients is a luxury, while for my sister Mayumi a whole roast chicken is a luxury.
My method for roasting a whole chicken
This is barely a recipe, but I thought I would put it here anyway. ^_^ I like my roast chicken very simple, so the only ingredients you will need are salt, pepper and a chicken. I always get a chicken that is around 1 kilo (2 1/4 lb or so), or 1.2 kilo tops. This is more than enough for 2 people, with leftovers for stir fry or chicken rice or something the next day. Sometimes we save the bones for a soup too. I don’t iike cooking bigger birds, so if I need to serve more people I just roast more small chickens.
Preheat the oven to 200 °C (about 400 °F). Line an oven tray with parchment paper (optional; this just makes cleanup a bit easier.)
If your chicken comes with its legs tied together with elastic or something, cut this off. I don’t truss the chicken or anything; I just leave it with its legs wide open. It cooks more evenly this way, even if it looks a bit…easy? ^_^;
If there area any bits of feathers and things on the bird, take them out with fish bone tweezers.
Rinse the bird inside and out, and pat dry. Salt and pepper the bird generously inside and out. Sometimes I put half a lemon inside the cavity, plus a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme or something, but usually I don’t bother.
Put the bird on the lined oven tray breast side down. This is very important: don’t put it in the “right” way up, with the breast facing upwards. By roasting the bird with the breast facing down, the fat from the back of the bird will baste the drier breast meat.
With a 1 kilo (2.2lb) bird, roast it on its breast for 40 to 45 minutes. Turn the bird over, and roast it the “right” way up for another 40 minutes. There’s no need to baste the bird or anything - it bastes itself.
If you really want the breast meat to be juicy, and you don’t mind the calorie boost, slice up some butter and insert it between the breast meat and skin. But with the upside-down method you shouldn’t need to do this.
Bonus: Easy chicken-noodle soup the next day
Save the carcass of the bird and any leftover bits of meat (or reserve them). Chop up an onion and a celery stalk and sauté them in a bit of the chicken fat, or in vegetable oil. Add the carcass and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes. Optionally add a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme when you simmer. Skim off any scum.
Strain the soup though a strainer or a colander. Add more cut up vegetables if you like. When the vegetables are tender, add some chopped up chicken, and small pasta (I usually use thin, short pasta called vermicelles, which looks like cut up vermicelli). Season with salt and pepper. Optionally sprinkle with chopped parsley when serving.