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Tasting chickens

May 30, 2012
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Bistro du Midi

The price $48

The technique Bistro du Midi uses 3-pound chickens from Bell & Evans, D’Artagnan, or Giannone. These are brined for two days in a salt bath that contains the likes of rosemary, thyme, and star anise. Then birds are air-dried for about a day. Executive chef Robert Sisca stuffs a mixture of ricotta, pine nuts, lemon zest, and espelette pepper under the skin of the breast. Onion, garlic, and herbs go into the cavity, and the bird is trussed. It roasts at just over 500 degrees in the restaurant’s wood pizza oven. The chicken is presented at the table, then returned to the kitchen for carving. Just before serving, it gets a final crisping under a salamander.

The experience The menu reads, “Please allow 60 minutes to roast, present, and carve.” (Sisca says some guests call ahead to order.) When the chicken arrives, the skin is the color of sugar just as it begins to turn to caramel. Each serving includes half a carved bird, wedges of roast potato, and small, sweet spring onions. The garnish changes with the season — in the winter it might be pumpkin and cipollini onions. The ricotta keeps the breast meat moist without making it taste at all cheesy. The flavor is delicate but not bland; when you think “chicken,” this is how you imagine it tastes. The skin is crisp and very salty, edging toward too salty but not crossing the line. A perfectly irresistible bird. 272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, www.bistrodumidi.com

Craigie on Main

The price $74 (can also be ordered as part of a three-course prix fixe, $65 per person)

The technique “We buy an awesome chicken and try not to screw it up,” chef Tony Maws says. That chicken comes from Misty Knoll Farms and weighs in between 4 and 4½ pounds. It’s brined for two hours in a solution designed to maximize umami, with plenty of seaweed in the mix. Then it air-dries overnight and is cooked sous-vide in roasted chicken fat. For the final step, the bird is rubbed with butter and togarashi salt and roasted until the skin is crisp.

The experience The bird looks beautiful on presentation, a deep mahogany that begs you to eat it then and there. The separation anxiety you experience when a server takes it away to be carved may be warranted. On a particularly busy night, the open kitchen in full hustle, it may be a few minutes until someone gets a chance to cut and plate the chicken. This means the skin may have lost its crispness by the time the plates arrive back at the table. This is disappointing, but the beautiful presentation helps make it better. The carved pieces are artfully stacked, accompanied by tiny mousseron mushrooms and apricots. A server asks if you would like jus — of course you would — then pours it around the bird from a white ceramic pitcher. The tender meat is mild, and the togarashi salt doesn’t make the bird spicy. Despite the potential hazard of de-crisped skin, the awesome chicken has not been screwed up. 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, www.craigieonmain.com

West Bridge

The price $43

The technique West Bridge uses Crystal Valley chickens that are between 3 and 3¼ pounds. They are brined overnight with ingredients such as fennel, thyme, bay leaf, fenugreek, and coriander. The birds then hang for a day to dry. The cooks put herbs and butter under the skin, more butter on the skin, truss the chickens tight, and roast them. This takes 35 to 40 minutes. The bird goes into a 425 degree oven. Partway through roasting, the chefs turn the temperature down to 225 without opening the doors. Chef Matthew Gaudet says it probably goes down to 375. When a bird is ordered, it’s time to get another ready. Any extra cooked chicken at the end of the night is smoked and used later in a banh mi-esque chicken sandwich.

The experience A golden chicken arrives at the table with a side dish of pee wee potatoes and mushrooms — perhaps Nebrodini and maitake, depending on what’s available. A server offers the opportunity to carve the bird yourself, and knives worthy of the task are on hand. Otherwise, the kitchen will break it down into legs, breast, and wings. The meat is juicy, with good flavor — even the white meat tastes definitively like chicken. The juices run slightly red when the dark meat is carved. The skin is perfectly crisp, perhaps not a surprise at a restaurant that serves crunchy pieces of chicken skin as an amuse-bouche. This bird most closely resembles a great, home-cooked version, and offers similar satisfaction. 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-945-0221, www.westbridgerestaurant.com

DEVRA FIRST

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