Sara: “’Cause it never tastes this good.”
Celest: “Yeah, and because my mother always told me it was the most boring choice. It’s like a throw-away meal.”
Amanda: “Mmmmmm…this is so tender!”
Erin: “Kimberly, I’m not even minding the ‘bird on the bones’ thing! The chicken just falls off.”
To be honest, no one seemed overly enthused when I announced a menu of roast chicken and vegetables for The Tribe’s slumber party last weekend. But then I cooked the hell of those birds and showed them what was up!
I mean, I get it. Chicken can be boring; it usually is. I grew up with grilled lemon-pepper chicken four times a week and to this day I won’t go near the stuff (sorry Mamma). Truth is, chicken has got to be moist and fatty to be good (sorry Sara), and that’s why my roasted version stands out from most. At the slumber party, I slathered olive oil under the skin, stuffed the bird with sage and lemon (which gets all caramelized and sweetly sour after roasting—definitely not throw-away food!), massaged a heavy handed salt rub into the skin to encourage crisping, and threw handfuls of dark brown sugar onto the fruit & veg I was cooking beneath the birds. But almost none of this would’ve mattered if I’d failed to baste. Gotta keep the bird wet, and for that, may I suggest wine! Far from boring, definitely not dry, my roast chicken raises the bar for winter comfort food.
And the fact that I chose roast chicken for the party in the first place proves yet again that I seem to have some psychic powers when it comes to predicting the food section of The Times! I made my dish on Saturday, and on Wednesday, Frank Bruni let his unabashed admiration for Jonathan Waxman’s version of, what else?!, roast chicken, elevate the entire star rating for Barbuto; it now has one star from The Times. The chef was praised for consistent execution of his chicken dish (and by the way, he told New York magazine that he sources none other than regular, Bell & Evans chicken for his West Village restaurant—a fave spot of mine), but the fact is, Frank Bruni wasn’t invited to our sleepover, or he might’ve found a decent rival to Waxman’s dish…
The fact is, chicken is considered a back-to-basics meal, and God knows, during the “lean” season that is the first of a new year, we all want recipes that are easy on the chef and on her wallet. In fact, for the whole month of January, I plan to bring you recipes that elevate chicken and other pantry staples, without breaking the bank. So hold on to your leftovers—even the bones—‘cause we’ll be making magic with what was once considered throw-away.
Roast Chicken with Fruit & Veg
- 6 medium sweet potatoes
- 6 crab apples
- 1 package carrots
- 1 Vidalia onion
- 1 shallot
- Several handfuls of Brussels sprouts
- Brown sugar (anywhere between ½ cup to a whole cup depending on your sweet tooth)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 glass of white wine (I used a French Chardonnay)
- Two 4-6 lb. roasting chickens
- 2 bundles of sage leaves
- 4 lemons (sliced into rounds)
- Dried spices (I used a pinch of paprika, a dash of rosemary, and bit of thyme)
- Salt & pepper
Peel, core and chop the potatoes, apples, carrots and onion into large chunks. Dice the shallot. In the bottom of your roasting pan, toss all fruit & veg with the Brussels sprouts and mix in just enough olive oil to moisten the lot. Throw in brown sugar, salt and pepper according to taste and toss again.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Wash and dry your chickens. Separate the skin from the meat by sticking your hands up into the breasts, thighs and legs, gently detaching the skin from the muscle as deep into the bird as your fingers can reach. Though not for the squeamish, this is the trick to tenderizing and seasoning your meat, and frankly, it’s my favorite part. It feels honest.
Massage the chickens both under and over the skin with a generous amount of olive oil. These birds are slippery when wet so be careful. Slide the sage leaves and half the lemons between the skin and the meat. Season the cavity of the chickens well with salt and pepper and stuff the sage stems and remaining lemons into the cavity. If you’ve got it, tie the birds with butcher’s twine (Sara definitely did not have butcher’s twine so I just skipped this step and no one was the wiser).
Make your own salt rub by combining a few tablespoons of good kosher or sea salt with the dried spices of your choosing…use more salt than you think you should, you’ll thank me later, and if not, you can always push aside the skin (though it is of course the best part!). Rub your spice mixture all over the birds and place them directly atop or in a v-rack above the fruit & veg. Oven-sear the chickens in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and add one glass of wine (you could substitute juice, water, or stock here…but why would you?). This liquid will mix with the caramelized juices of the chicken and vegetables and produce a wonderful pan sauce. Every time you have a free moment (maybe every 20 minutes or so) spoon this sauce over your chickens to baste…this is key! Roast for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours; add more wine if the pan juices become dry. The chickens are done when a thermometer reads 180 degrees when inserted into the thigh or when the juices run clear from the thigh when pierced. Remove the chickens and allow to rest for 15 minutes under aluminum foil.
Carve and serve the birds with a side of fruit & veg and the degreased pan juices drizzled over the entire plate. Be sure to dig around for those caramelized lemons from under the skin—definitely not throw-away food!