Monday, February 14, 2011


The Roast Chicken Meditations

It has often been said that if you have a house you want to sell you should bake cookies to entice prospective buyers. I have a deep belief that they would be even further seduced by the scents arising from a chicken roasting to a crackle skinned doneness in the oven. There are few things that I do in my kitchen at home that speak to my basic cooking instincts like roasting a chicken.

There is something so entirely satisfying about readying the bird for the oven; anointing it with a bit of butter, or olive oil or a simple squeeze of lemon; filling it's innards with that same split lemon, or sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme, or several cloves of partially crushed garlic, or, all of the above. I forego the roasting rack that goes beneath the bird and instead build a celebratory pyre of sliced carrots, wedges of onion and more peeled garlic cloves. The bird goes on top and then into the hot oven.

And then, for that proscribed amount of time, perhaps 45 minutes for a smaller specimen, perhaps up to an hour and twenty minutes for a four and a half pound bird, your time is your own. It is just you and that book, or some perfect chicken roasting music (or for me, both) and the smells that begin to waft from the oven. There is of course, the interruption about twenty minutes into the process for the opening of the over door (ahh, more lovely smells) and the placing of the halved or quartered small potatoes around the bird, but it is, if well planned, brief.

The bird is in the oven, the book is in the lap, Bill Frisell is noodling exquisitely on his guitar and all is right with the world. If this isn't cheap and significant therapy, I'm not sure what to recommend that would be. It works wonderfully if it is cold and rainy outside, but I found out yesterday, it works just as well on a tropical late afternoon in Costa Rica. I sat on the back patio, and the book, the music and the smells were all just as they should have been.

It was clear that the climate has no influence on the effect of the roasting chicken on the psyche and the soul when I suddenly looked down and realized I hadn't read a page in several minutes and had not been aware that the cd had moved right on to the next one in the shuffle. I stretched out on the chair behind me and put my feet back up on the chair in front of me. The cicadas were clicking madly and a few goofy "gallinas de la montana" were warbling their insane warble. The sun had slid down behind the coconut trees and the air was rich with the smell of a deeply burnished bird.

So yes, one must arise to rescue the bird, but there is security in knowing that it must, as the French say, "repose" for several minutes before it falls prey to the carving knife. A salad might be made at this point, a simple salad; tomatoes sliced, even an avocado broken into and mixed with a dash of "jugo de mandarina", but this is lazy work, work done at a restful and serene pace. Don't make a dressing, just splash some olive oil and citrus juice on the greens; sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. The salad will far better accompany the simple flavors of the chicken dressed this way.

It's all ready. Cut the bird anyway you like. I like to start with a leg, but then, I am a "leg man". Grab a few crispy potato pieces, a hunk of two of browned carrot and some of the fallen apart but caramelized wedges of onion. The garlic cloves, roasted to perfection; grab a few of those, too.

Load the plate up and push some of that simply dressed salad on there. Tilt up the roasting pan and pour some of those chicken-y fatty juices over the whole damn thing. Perfect, just perfect.
Eat. And enjoy.


  1. Oh so perfect a chicken roasting rendition!

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  3. Roasted chicken is by far one of my favorite dishes, one that I have not had since being here in CR, because I do not have a stove or even a toaster oven. Regardless, I was able to experience all that I love about Roasting a Chicken from preparing it, all the tantalizing smells wafting through my house and me in a state of total anticipation of the first bite and then visually seeing my creation coming out of the oven, there is nothing like it ..and, finally, when I take the very first bite into the juicy meat it just livens up my taste buds & comforts my soul.

    Your post captured all this for me, loved reading it. thank you. the way I am a wing fact those are the parts that cook first so by the time the whole bird is finally cooked and coming out of the oven, more often than not, the wings are missing....(-;


Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.