I’ve been meaning to share this amazing recipe with you ever since I started my blog. It originally came from Jacob’s late grandmother Kate, who I have never met because she passed away almost exactly four months before I got to the US. Now Kate was an amazing person – having spent her entire life as a farmer’s wife on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, she gave birth to thirteen children and saw two of them die in childhood, but her legacy lives on in the eleven living offspring and just about countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The two things that Kate is particularly remembered for is her cooking (and, especially, her bread) and her paintings. To commemorate the former, her daughter-in-law Julie has put together two editions of Kate’s extensive recipe collection, which also included recipes from family and friends. It was a monumental effort, and I cannot begin to imagine what it took to pull it off. Twice.
The collection also included the elusive recipe for Kate’s extraordinary Sunday chicken, which I learned how to make from my mother-in-law. And while I had a few delicious chicken dishes in my life, this here recipe, as simple (if not quick) as it is self-consciously decadent – a proud declaration of that unapologetic food philosophy where salt and fat reign supreme – trumps all others, entirely and absolutely.
In this dish, a 5-9-pound leviathan of an organic, free-range chicken – an indulgence in itself – is cut up into pieces, showered with seasoned salt and Montreal Steak Seasoning all the way to that magical point between over-salted and sublime where most ordinary food begins to taste like the nectar of gods, and then browned in oil, covered with a lid, and roasted in the oven for an additional one-and-a-half to two hours, with no extra liquid added beyond the good fat released by the bird itself. The whole thing is then served with mashed potatoes and a silky gravy made with the resulting copious drippings with the addition of flour, starchy water used for boiling potatoes, and cream. No seasoning is necessary since the drippings will be richly seasoned with all the salt you applied to the chicken in the first place.
Here’s how I cut a chicken up:
1) Remove the wings by cutting through a joint that connects the wing to the breast/back/shoulder. When it comes to limbs, always cut through joints – if your knife is hitting bone, look for a different angle. After you remove the wing, place each wingtip in front of the shoulder. Does this makes sense?
This makes the wing quite a bit more manageable when it comes to browning.
2) Remove a leg-thigh unit in the same way. Just look for those joints. Is there an English word for it? I will never forget the humanitarian aid shipments the country was getting after the fall of the Soviet Union which included those chicken cuts from the US, greasy and lacking flavor, and how the locals called them “Bush’s drumsticks” (as in Bush the father – the US president at the time). These homegrown birds, they are nothing like that.
3) Separate the thigh from the drumstick.
4) Separate the breast from the back. Again, you can do it by cutting through shoulder joints.
5) Cut the breast into four pieces by cutting it once lengthwise and then cutting each of the halves crosswise. Here’s how to do it:
a) cut through all the meat first
b) use kitchen shears to finish the job
c) if you don’t have chicken shears, start on the bone with a serrated knife, then use a chef’s knife to apply downward pressure until the bone cracks
d) I really prefer the shears
6) Save the back for stock – we will not be using it in this dish – that is, you can, but I usually don’t.
Now we’re gonna coat the chicken in flour. To do so, place a little flour in a smallish plastic bag (I like to use those bagel bags), place the chicken pieces in, one at a time, hold the bag closed with your hand, and shake it until each piece is well-coated, shaking away the excess as you remove the pieces from the bag.
See? This chicken above is well coated – not too much, not too little.
Now the key to this dish’s flavor are 1) seasoned salt 2)Montreal Steak Seasoning – both are McCormick products. A special note about seasoned salt – another common supermarket brand of seasoned salt is Lawry’s, but I find it really disappointing – too salty for the amount of other seasonings it contains, specifically the ones responsible for the golden-orange color. This is why I always buy McCormick’s Season All. However, if you don’t have any, you can season your chicken with paprika instead (which will impart the reddish color), and just use more Montreal Steak. The latter is not optional for this dish, and, in fact, I use it in 98% of my meat dishes, which is 99% of all the food I cook. To say I recommend it would be an understatement.
Next, we are going to heat some vegetable oil (just not olive – myself I use sunflower made by guys right down the road – how’s that for a Christmas gift idea) in a pan which can later be used for roasting – so it has to be oven-safe. An enamel dutch oven will work, but I prefer this wonderful pan from Cuisinart which I bought specifically with this dish in mind. This 5.5-quart pot is perfect for an 8-lb chicken cut up into pieces minus the back.
As soon as the oil is hot and sizzling (but not smoking), place the chicken pieces in skin-down. Now season the sides facing you with seasoning salt and Montreal Steak Seasoning. About as much as I used in the picture – not too much, not too little. If you are worried, go on the too-little side. This is all happening over medium-high heat, by the way (by the time you are browning your last pieces, you will be turning the heat down to medium).
Sorry about shooting from so far way – the sizzling chicken tends to splatter grease, and my camera is way too nice to be near such atrocities as I don’t currently have protective filters over my lenses.
Turn the pieces as soon as they are about this color and season the second side in the same way. Make sure that you brown and season every surface of each piece. You can’t do it in a single batch, but you can keep adding new pieces when the old pieces that went in first are standing on their thinner side while that side is being browned. You can remove fully browned pieces to a separate vessel, or you can just pile them on top of the others. Does this make sense?
You’ll end up with the chicken that looks like this (this might be a tad more brown than it needed to be on the account of all the picture-taking). Cover the chicken and stick it in the 325-degree oven for about 2 full hours (the time will be a lot shorter for the store chicken, which I have no experience of cooking). You want it to be very tender, without as much as a hint of a pink spot, but not yet having started to dry out. I really don’t take the internal temperature when preparing this dish, so I can’t tell you what it is, unfortunately.
This is what it will look like once it’s done. Now’s a good time to sprinkle it with a bit of dried sage. You can also add the sage before you begin your roasting, but it tends to burn a little this way. Alternatively, you can throw in a few fresh sage leaves before placing the chicken in the oven.
By now you will have boiled your potatoes to be mashed. Don’t drain all of the potato water – we are going to use some of it to make one knock-out gravy. The step-by-step instructions for the gravy can be found in this pot roast recipe – it is really the same gravy, except you use chicken drippings instead of beef drippings. Note: I never, ever, ever de-grease anything, and de-greasing these drippings especially would be nothing short of sacrilege.
And here we go. Everyone’s favorite Kate Hundt Sunday chicken. It’s simply the best.
Note: I have never prepared this with a supermarket chicken, but my guess is that it won’t need to be roasted for more than one hour. Try it and let me know how it turns out!