Al Dente

The Palena Chicken Project

196 posts in this topic

I've been to Palena about 25 or 30 times now, and I've only ever had the occasional bite of someone else's order of THE Roast Chicken. Well, last night, after exhibiting tremendous restraint by not having one of the tempting multi-course combinations from the regular menu, I ordered the chicken for myself. In the words of Christopher Walken as The Continental, "wow... wowie wow wow WOW".

So, how can this dish be made at home? I have it on good authority that the bird is brined with cardamom, star anise, and vanilla. Are there any other flavors in there? What would the recipe look like for the brine? I imagine it's air dried before browning. How does he get the skin so uniformly brown and crisp? Is it seared first in a pan then finished in the oven? I suspect a blow torch might be involved for touching up the hard to get to spots.

I want to get to the bottom of this so I plan on trying a few experiments over the coming months. Is anyone else interested in trying to decode this recipe? We'll surely win the Nobel Prize for Poultry Preparation should we succeed.

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We'll surely win the Nobel Prize for Poultry Preparation should we succeed.
But you'll be dead within the week. Les jeux sont faits. :)

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I've been to Palena about 25 or 30 times now, and I've only ever had the occasional bite of someone else's order of THE Roast Chicken. Well, last night, after exhibiting tremendous restraint by not having one of the tempting multi-course combinations from the regular menu, I ordered the chicken for myself. In the words of Christopher Walken as The Continental, "wow... wowie wow wow WOW".

So, how can this dish be made at home? I have it on good authority that the bird is brined with cardamom, star anise, and vanilla. Are there any other flavors in there? What would the recipe look like for the brine? I imagine it's air dried before browning. How does he get the skin so uniformly brown and crisp? Is it seared first in a pan then finished in the oven? I suspect a blow torch might be involved for touching up the hard to get to spots.

I want to get to the bottom of this so I plan on trying a few experiments over the coming months. Is anyone else interested in trying to decode this recipe? We'll surely win the Nobel Prize for Poultry Preparation should we succeed.

I have plenty of time on my hands now and would be more than happy to participate in noble quest such as this! :)

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I have plenty of time on my hands now and would be more than happy to participate in noble quest such as this!  :)

Has anyone thought of asking Ruta how he does it?

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Has anyone thought of asking Ruta how he does it?

I tried for my piece on DCist. He's not talking..his waitresses arent talking...nobody's talking. If you'd like a good start I assert that I got close, but would be foolish to think I produced a duplicate. Either way its definilty the best chicken I've ever had at my home. If you get close yourself...I'd love to know how you did it.

http://www.dcist.com/archives/2005/05/25/e...nic_chicken.php

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I have it on good authority that the bird is brined with cardamom, star anise, and vanilla.

Do you think there might be cinnamon in there somewhere too? The flavor of the bird tends to remind me a bit of the moroccan spice blend ras-el-hanout.

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I tried for my piece on DCist.  He's not talking..his waitresses arent talking...nobody's talking.  If you'd like a good start I assert that I got close, but would be foolish to think I produced a duplicate.  Either way its definilty the best chicken I've ever had at my home.  If you get close yourself...I'd love to know how you did it.

http://www.dcist.com/archives/2005/05/25/e...nic_chicken.php

Yeah, my understanding is that the recipe is top secret. I work with a couple of chefs who used to work with chef Ruta at the White House, so perhaps I'll pick their brains a bit.

Your recipe sounds like a good start on the solution to this puzzle.

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I grill the wait staff everytime I go and get a little more info each time. The last time I was there, I told our server that I was going to work in the kitchen on the weekends just to get the recipe. He said that it wouldn't do me any good because no one in the kitchen knows what goes in the brine. Apperantly, Frank makes the brine himself and he is the only one that knows what goes in it. The only thing our server DOES know is that it is brined for 24 hours. Once an order comes in, the chicken is first seared in a pan and then placed in a "hot" oven (he didn't know what the temp was, but I'm assuming that it >400 degrees).

After our last visit (2 weeks ago), I found Patrick O'Connell's brine recipe and tried that (this was posted on eG Forums):

"BRINED CHICKEN from Patrick O’Connell,

found in NYT 12-22-99

serves 4-5; Time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus overnight brining

My notes: This recipe imparts a wonderful taste to the fowl; used on both chicken and Turkey. Time must be adjusted for the size of the bird. Used on parts do not follow timing here or it becomes too salty. For the turkey (fresh, organic, free range), I multiplied the recipe and used a picnic cooler which I left outdoors in the chill Fall air. Worked fine.

BRINE:

½ cup kosher salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup honey

3 sprigs each parsley, dill, thyme, tarragon, sage

1 sprig rosemary

1 Tbs mustard seeds

1 Tbs fennel seeds

1 cinnamon stick

2 large bay leaves

4 cloves

½ Tbs juniper berries

½ Tbs cardamom pods

1 Tbs black peppercorns

1 lemon, halved and squeezed lightly

3 star anise

½ Tbs whole allspice

CHICKEN:

3-4 lb chicken

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup sliced onion

2 Tbs butter, melted

1. Large stockpot or roasting pan that holds chicken in one piece: bring 1 gallon to a boil; remove from heat, add all brine ingredients, stir. Cool to room temperature. (Of course you can substitute a ziplock for the pan once the brine cools.)

2. Add chicken to pan. Cover, refrigerate overnight.

From here you can substitute your own favorite way of roasting the bird, but I give you O'Connell's instructions for completeness:

3. Drain chicken well, discard brine. Cut off and discard wing tips. Preheat oven to 350f. Roasting pan: place carrot, celery, onion. Place chicken on top of veggies. Brush chicken with melted butter.

4. Roast chicken til thigh joint temperature reaches 150f, about 1 hour. Baste with pan juices at least every 15 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. If parts become well browned, cover with foil. When chicken is done remove from oven. Allow it to rest at least 10 minutes before carving. (depends on size of bird, of course)"

This was VERY similar to what I've had at Palena (minus the crispy skin, but I'm working on that). My only variation would be to multiply the water by 0.75, multiply the salt by 1.5 and brine it for 24 hours instead of 12 or overnight. And of course I cut the chicken in half and brined the two halves instead of brining and cooking it whole.

Let me know what you guys think!

Edited by mhberk

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This was VERY similar to what I've had at Palena (minus the crispy skin, but I'm working on that). 

To get a crisp skin, try the Zuni Cafe trick of letting it airdry in the refirgerator of a day or so.

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To get a crisp skin, try the Zuni Cafe trick of letting it airdry in the refirgerator of a day or so.

I remember watching Iron Chef Sakai dry out the skin of a duck by sitting in front of a fan (or cold air blow dryer) for 20 minutes. I was thinking about trying that.

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I have had the chicken, when the herb flavor is primarily tarragon. Other times, not. So I suspect he changes the brine recipe periodically.

Here's my theory, though. Rather than simply immersing the bird in the brine--I THINK HE INJECTS IT. The flavor goes all the way to the bone in a way that I have only been able to achieve with injecting brine/marinade. Also, it's possible to inject a bird and airdry it over night, so you are getting both the deep flavor and the skin dry enough to get crisp in the oven.

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Here's my theory, though. Rather than simply immersing the bird in the brine--I THINK HE INJECTS IT. The flavor goes all the way to the bone in a way that I have only been able to achieve with injecting brine/marinade. Also, it's possible to inject a bird and airdry it over night, so you are getting both the deep flavor and the skin dry enough to get crisp in the oven.

What about rather than injecting it, the chicken is cooked sous vide then roasted to crisp the skin? This is the suspicion of a chef friend of mine.

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What about rather than injecting it, the chicken is cooked sous vide then roasted to crisp the skin? This is the suspicion of a chef friend of mine.

It's a very interesting theory, but the more I think about it, the more doubts I have. As I understand it, sous vide is essentially a form of poaching or steaming the food gently in its own juices without any evaporation or diluting of the juices into a larger liquid medium. Roasting is entirely different, with hot air cooking, evaporating fluids and concentrating the flavors. Brining is a technique used to counter the drying effect of the roasting method. I don't think that chicken skin that has previously been cooked in a sous vide pouch would crisp up as uniformly as Palena roast chicken does. Unless it were just partially cooked sous vide and then roasted. Even so, the skin would be wet and steamed before it went into the roasting oven. But frankly, I question all the extra work that would entail. First brining, then vacuum-packing and cooking sous vide, then roasting. I think he injects it with brine, stores the chickens uncovered overnight in the refrigerator to dry the skin --maybe with a fan blowing on them (or dries the skin and THEN injects the brine into the meat), perhaps gives the skin an extra blast of drying air with a hair dryer and then roasts it in a fairly hot oven or convection oven. Think Peking duck technique. Crackling skin, melting meat. Has anyone been in the kitchen to see whether he has one of those Peking duck ovens where the bird is suspended vertically? Remember, it takes forty-five minutes to get the roast chicken when you order it. That's how long it takes to roast a (raw) chicken in a hot oven.

Edited by zoramargolis

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It's a very interesting theory, but the more I think about it, the more doubts I have. As I understand it, sous vide is essentially a form of poaching or steaming the food gently in its own juices without any evaporation or diluting of the juices into a larger liquid medium. Roasting is entirely different, with hot air cooking, evaporating fluids and concentrating the flavors. Brining is a technique used to counter the drying effect of the roasting method. I don't think that chicken skin that has previously been cooked in a sous vide pouch would crisp up as uniformly as Palena roast chicken does. Unless it were just partially cooked sous vide and then roasted. Even so, the skin would be wet and steamed before it went into the roasting oven.

If I remember correctly the duck breast at Citronelle is cooked sous vide and had a wonderfully crisp skin. Not proof of Chef Ruta's process, but proof that one can produce a crisp skin with this technique.

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If I remember correctly the duck breast at Citronelle is cooked sous vide and had a wonderfully crisp skin.  Not proof of Chef Ruta's process, but proof that one can produce a crisp skin with this technique.

I believe that is done by putting the previously sous vide cooked duck breast skin side down in a very hot skillet until the skin is crisped. In her book. _The Cooking of Southwest France_ Paula Wolfert describes sous vide confit of duck legs, which can have the skin browned in a 400 degree oven. Hmmm.

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I believe that is done by putting the previously sous vide cooked duck breast skin side down in a very hot skillet until the skin is crisped. In her book. _The Cooking of Southwest France_ Paula Wolfert describes sous vide confit of duck legs, which can have the skin browned in a 400 degree oven. Hmmm.

From the peanut gallery, let me point out that Costco sells a remarkably convenient and inexpensive two-pack of sous vide "roast" duck halves (each with an atrocious packet of "orange sauce" that is easily discarded) that crisps up nicely in the oven. QED.

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From the peanut gallery, let me point out that Costco sells a remarkably convenient and inexpensive two-pack of sous vide "roast" duck halves (each with an atrocious packet of "orange sauce" that is easily discarded) that crisps up nicely in the oven.  QED.

I don't think these qualify as "sous vide"-- I've had this product, and I believe that it is roasted conventionally and then vacuum packed, not vacuum sealed when raw and then cooked at very low temp, which is what sous vide is.

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I don't think these qualify as "sous vide"-- I've had this product, and I believe that it is roasted conventionally and then vacuum packed, not vacuum sealed when raw and then cooked at very low temp, which is what sous vide is.

Hmmm, I think you may be right. My first impressions were based on the retained juicyness and relative lack of browning, but upon carefully examining a package in my fridge it seems to me that the exposed bones do look somewhat roasted. Apologies for contributing non-information.

Note to self: I must visit Palena to try this chicken...

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Got a nice crispy skin on a non-brined chicken this weekend, roasting at 450. The feel of the skin was pretty similar to the Palena chicken, first time I've done so at home. Patted the skin dry, rubbed it with oil, left it alone on high heat. Not as thin as Ruta's, but I'm not sure whether that's method or product.

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I tried to make it again last weekend (Christmas weekend) with some half chickens I bought at Whole Foods. I made a few modifications to the brine recipe that I listed in my previous post and it came out VERY, VERY similar to Palena's as far as flavor and juiciness!

As far as the roasting method, I took the chickens out of the brine earlier in the day. I then let them sit in the refridgerator, uncovered, for 7 hours. When it came time to roast them, I started by setting my oven at 500 for 30 minutes. After the oven had been at 500 for 30 minutes, I placed the chicken on a bed of mirepoix, 1/4 cup chicken stock, and a 1/4 w. wine and placed it in the oven. After 20 minutes, I turned the oven down to 425 and continued cooking for another 45 minutes (these Whole Foods chickens were much bigger than the average half chicken). The skin was a little darker than "golden brown", but I think it was just the carmalization from the honey. I retained the juices and drippings as a dipping sauce for my guests and even served the mirepoix as a vegetable for those that wanted it (you'd be amazed at the flavor of the mirepoix from the drippings).

Since the chickens were so big, we had leftovers. In fact, my wife just finished her chicken last night (almost a week and a half after they were prepared) and she was still amazed. As I was placing it in the pan to cook it, I could still hear the crackling of the skin as I pressed on it (even after sitting in my fridge for over a week!).

Has anyone else tried the recipe that I listed?

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Try using cinnamon, nutmeg and anise in your brine(equal parts sugar and salt). Soak the bird for 24 to 48 hours, dry in the refridgerator for 3 or 4. Now try applying some of judy rogers technique by patting the bird dry and salting the skin pretty liberally. This part is important: use peanut or grapeseed oil, preferably the latter b/c it wont impart as much flavor. Youll never achieve the skin that you want before olive oil burns. After the skin goes brown(which takes some time) throw the pan in the oven and finish the bird. Make sure to let it rest for 5-10 minutes and you should find that this is about as close as anyone can get to Chef Rutas chicken.

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