The focus of today’s post is gallus gallus domesticus – the most successful ex-dinosaur on the planet – and how easily one can become part of an elegant and simple dinner, starring three options for sides you’ll love – each of which will feed about four.
Selma here sings Hootie and The Blowfish songs – a little too loudly and off-key – while waiting in line at Starbucks, and never has her order or money ready when she gets to the front. She thinks the nerdy T-shirts your girlfriend wears are tacky and stupid. And she drinks way too much White Zinfandel at family reunions where she hits on distant cousins while making incredibly racist jokes about the Irish and Sri Lankans.
For God’s sake, let’s make dinner.
Roasting a chicken is easy. Roasting a chicken WELL is less so.
You and I know cooking almost any whole bird successfully is all about getting the dark meat and the white to finish cooking simultaneously. The even cooking that comes from roasting pans and V-racks don’t really solve the problem. If you’ve got a pre-heated cast-iron skillet, though, you can get the undercarriage going faster so that everything finishes up pretty much at the same time.
The following recipe is adapted from a classic Mark Bittman method – one of the few I found that solved the dark meat/white meat problem without spatchcocking (butterflying) or piecing up the bird. I’m not usually too fussy about presentation (spam sushi cubes aside) but the sight of a whole roast bird is worth the effort, I think.
And don’t skimp on the chicken. You don’t need a huge one, or one of those heritage breeds that cost thirty bucks (not that I wouldn’t eat one if you offered it to me) but maybe try to find one that was humanely and organically raised, and fed well. You pay a little extra for prime rib and top-notch steaks – why not spend a few extra bucks on your poultry? You can taste the difference, believe me.
- 1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds) You’ve pulled the neck and gizzards and whatnot out of there, right?
- 1 medium or large lemon, quartered
- olive oil (at least 3 tablespoons)
- some herb sprigs (I used rosemary, but use what you like)
- a few peeled garlic cloves (I’d use at least 12 big ones, but I’ve also been told I have a garlic problem, and should seek help, so you do what you want. Six sounds less crazy.)
- chicken or vegetable stock, or water
- butter or cream
1. Open your oven, and set one rack on the lowest point in your oven. Pull the other rack out, if necessary. Put a cast-iron skillet or another heavy pan (but buddy, you should have a skillet. They’re cheap and come in handy, especially in cartoon kitchen fights.) on that low rack and preheat to 450°F.
2. Rub the chicken with the olive oil, and season the bird somewhat generously with salt and pepper. Shove some lemon quarters in the chest and neck cavity. Tuck some herb sprigs in where you can.
3. After about 15 minutes, carefully place the chicken, breast side up, into the skillet. Toss some garlic cloves around the bird (you might wanna use a wooden spoon for this – remember, that pan is HOT.)
It’s gonna start to smell awesome, wherever you are. Roast that sucker for at least 40 minutes, maybe 50. You should check after 40 with an instant-read thermometer – the thick part of the thigh should read 155°F.
4. Once it’s finished roasting, tip the pan or lift the bird (using a big wooden spoon or a spatula) so the juices run into the pan – if they’re still red, cook it a little longer. Put that bird on a platter along with the garlic. Pull out the lemon quarters, set aside and tent the chicken loosely with foil. The chicken will continue to cook under there while you’re making a simple pan sauce.
5. Put the skillet over a burner set to high and put about two cups of stock in. Scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil that stuff until about half of the liquid is cooked away.
6. Stir in a little butter or cream. Taste it. Is it holy-crap-I-wanna-rub-this-on-my-face good, or could it use a little salt and pepper? Maybe a few squeezes of the lemon you pulled out of the chicken? You decide.
7. Show off the chicken and get the “oh mans” and “hell yeses” you’ve been waiting for, then tell your family/friends to get the table ready and open more wine while you portion up the bird. Serve with the pan sauce on the side.
Three sides: Healthy, healthyish, and something with bacon in it.
Side 1 (Healthy): Kale and Cabbage Salad.
This salad was inspired by one of Honey Butter Fried Chicken‘s amazing sides. I like it with a little cider vinegar and mandarin oranges for sweetness, but you can use grapes or some chopped honeycrisp apples , if you want even more crunch.
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called black or Lacinato kale)
- 1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (use the thicker parts of the cabbage, lower down)
- 1 cup regular, non-Greek yogurt (don’t use lowfat here. Come on, man.)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
- 1 small 10-to-11 oz can of mandarin orange segments, segments and liquid reserved separately.
- a willingness to de-rib Tuscan kale.
Ever de-ribbed kale before? I have. And if you don’t know how to do it quickly, it suuuuuuuucks. BELIEVE ME. But once you get good with the knife, it’s pretty easy to get through a bunch.
1. Once all your kale leaves are de-ribbed, chop roughly. Toss together with the cabbage and mandarin segments. Set aside.
2. Stir all remaining ingredients together to make your dressing. You should get hints of saltiness, sweetness from the mandarin juice and tang from the yogurt and the vinegar. Make adjustments as your taste demands.
3. Pour about half the dressing into a large bowl, then add the fruit and vegetation. Use tongs and the walls of the bowl to toss and coat the salad evenly. Add more to taste.
4. Tell your semi-vegan friends to suck it up, they should be happy there’s even kale in the house, and chow down.
I did flash-fry some shallots at the last-minute and toss them in, but they added more flavor than crunch. Do what you like, people. And enjoy.
Side 2 (Healthyish): Roasted Brussels Sprouts with almonds and Parmesan
We’re living in a golden age for Brussels sprouts. This recipe delivers crispy edges and a tender interior, worthy of this glorious time for this once reviled vegetable.
If you don’t use the cheese, these babies are vegan and a perfect side for your chicken. That being said, you should absolutely use cheese, since you’re already eating meat, and cheese is fricking delicious.
(This recipe is adapted from a chow.com recipe, itself adapted from a recipe in “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian.”)
- 1/2 cup whole, roasted nuts (yes, you can get the ones already roasted and salted in a can – I’d suggest almonds.)
- 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts (small ones, if you can find them), trimmed and halved through the stem
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1/3 grated parmesan (any tangy, aged cheese will do, but Parmigiano-Reggiano is preferred.)
- fresh lemon juice, two to three tablespoons.
- dukkah (optional)
1. Chop up the nuts, coarsely. Set them aside. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
2. Place the sliced sprouts in a big bowl, and toss with the oil and enough salt and pepper to coat. Put the sprouts cut-side down in a single layer on a baking sheet (hold onto that bowl). Roast for about 10 minutes. If you’re using small sprouts, your sprouts should be brown and tender and ready to pull. If you’re using larger sprouts, stir and cook longer, checking every few minutes to make sure they don’t burn.
3. Return the sprouts to the bowl, and let them sit for a few minutes. Toss them with the nuts, cheese and lemon juice. Taste, and add salt and pepper if necessary. Optionally, add dukkah and extra cheese to the top of each portion.
4. High-five everyone at the table, or, if you’re eating alone, show someone your handiwork via Skype. Your tele-diner will most likely demand a virtual fistbump.
Side 3 (OH YES): Mashed potatoes with garlic, scallion and sriracha-glazed bacon
Do I even have to explain myself here?
- 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, partially peeled, quartered.
- 1 cup regular, non-Greek yogurt
- 4 tablespoons butter (optional)
- 2 heads’ worth of peeled garlic cloves, whole.
- sriracha (just get out the whole damn bottle. You don’t have to use it, but you can.)
- 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon.
- 5 scallions (green onion), white and pale green parts, sliced thinly
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the potatoes and the garlic for 30 minutes.
2. While potatoes boil, find a microwave-safe plate and cook bacon in microwave on paper towels, about a minute less than instructions direct. Pull bacon from microwave and paint one side of bacon with sriracha. Transfer bacon to foil sheet and finish cooking in 400°F oven for 2-5 minutes – watch carefully to make sure bacon doesn’t burn. Chop bacon, crumble into bowl and set aside. (You can skip the oven-finishing step by simply crumbling still-warm fully cooked bacon in a bowl and tossing with sriracha, but you won’t get any carmelization)
3. Drain potatoes for a few minutes and return to warm pot (leave pot on burner, but leave burner off.) Let residual heat of pot dry drained potatoes for a few minutes.
4. Put yogurt and butter into pot with potatoes and salt and pepper. Use potato masher to bring ingredients together, roughly. Season additionally to taste.
5. Stir in sliced scallions and chopped sriracha bacon. Place in bowl and top with additional sriracha, like this:
6. Serve, then look around and scout out any recliners or comfortable armchairs for a post-meal nap.
Well, I hope that sets you up for at least one nice dinner this fall. Roast chicken is delicious, anytime, but it’s especially wonderful as the weather and the leaves start to turn.