Sometimes when I am feeling particularly lonely for Los Angeles, I click on mapmyrun.com and trace my old running routes through the west side of the city. Clicking and dragging, I “run” around the Rancho Park golf course, through the sculpture garden at U.C.L.A., along the beach in Santa Monica.
This exercise can be comforting or it can be depressing, and with that I segue to roast chicken. Is not a chicken slathered with salt and olive oil the ultimate American memory dish? We are not talking comfort food, that’s a different genre. I am talking about food that reminds you of your various life stages, in and out of the kitchen, the dish through which many of us can trace our culinary development.
Roast chicken was the first thing I learned to make in an oven, if you don’t count American cheese slices melted on saltine crackers, which I used to make in 4th grade, after school, my house key still attached to a string of rawhide around my neck. Roast chicken was also the dish I used to order on occasional dates with Wall Street bankers while in college, because it was the cheapest entrée.
I have cooked chicken breast up and breast down; covered in butter or slathered with Crisco (thanks grandma); I have overcooked it to the point that it tasted like the farm dirt whence it came, and undercooked it so often my husband has accused me of trying to kill him for insurance money via his plate. I have been transported by roast chicken, and demoralized by it.
But there it is, the dish we all must master before moving on to greater things. Further, I have found roast chicken to be the ultimate weeknight protein, one that can be stretched via tacos, hash, soup and what have you.
I am sure than none of you really needs instructions on how to roast a chicken – so many before me have opined adequately on the topic, and in truth a bit of salt and oil and watching for overcooking will get the job done. But I found Bevi's Lemon and Onion Roasted Chicken to be something rather special, both because of the onion-slices-under-the-skin technique, which I had never tried, and because it forced me to consider the parsnip, a root vegetable I have generally chosen to ignore.
The way I made this dish work on a Monday was to assemble the whole thing in my casserole dish and leave it in the fridge for the day while at work. I called my sitter an hour before I left and asked her to pull the bird out for 30 minutes then tuck it into the oven, so that I would come home to a aromatic house. (I would also arrive to a floor covered with small wet paw prints and an overflowing compost bowl, but these are the trade offs of domestic life.)
The added value here, as I alluded to earlier, are the slices of onions under the skin, which you should slide in carefully to avoid rips. You will see that Bevi instructs you to choose any 2 out of the 4 vegetable selections and put them in the pan. I did not really understand this; was she saying skip the other ones, or use them later, and in which case when? Nevermind. I did not use the potatoes, because potatoes make me hostile, but I used more carrots and parsnips than she suggested, because I like a little extra. Roasted parsnips are now my new favorite thing – can I get an amen?
What we have here is a highly flavorful bird, with some really nice tasting roasted vegetables, a hearty one dish meal that is fit for any city. At any time of life.
Serves 4 portions
- 3 large carrots, peeled
- 3 parsnips, peeled
- 1 fennel bulb, quartered
- 2 handfuls fingerling potatoes
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- One 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
- 1 large onion
- 1 lemon
- 6 to 8 sage leaves
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Ask a question about this step.
- Choose any 2 out of the 4 vegetable selections. Cover the bottom of a 9" x 13" glass baking dish or roasting pan with the vegetables. Sprinkle 1 Teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables. Use your hands to smear the vegetables thoroughly with the salt, pepper and oil. Ask a question about this step.
- Thoroughly wash the chicken, and pat dry. Salt and pepper the chicken cavity, and throw in the garlic cloves and either rosemary or thyme as well. Place the chicken breast side up on top of the vegetables in the baking dish. Ask a question about this step.
- Peel the onion and slice crosswise, keeping the onion slices intact, and making each slice about 1/4" to 1/3" wide. Basically you will have about 8 onion "plates" of various sizes. Ask a question about this step.
- Run your hand under the breast skin, releasing the skin from the meat. Run your fingers under the legs as well to separate the skin from the meat. Ask a question about this step.
- Take the larger onion segments and place them under the skin, 2 segments per side of the breast. Take the smaller onion segments and place them under the leg skin. Any remaining, loose onion slices can be thrown into the cavity. Ask a question about this step.
- Slide 6 or 8 sage leaves under the skin, and you can place them on top of the onion slices. Conversely, you can place a sage leaf on each onion segment as you slide the onions under the skin. Ask a question about this step.
- Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice all over the chicken, working the lemon into the skin with your hands. Thrown the lemon halves into the cavity. Ask a question about this step.
- Rub the remaining olive oil all over the chicken. Sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper over the bird. Ask a question about this step.
- Place the bird in the middle of the oven. Baste the bird occasionally with the pan juices that accumulate. The chicken will be done in 80 to 90 minutes. Test the bird for doneness by wriggling the leg, and if the leg comes out of the joint easily the chicken is done. Ask a question about this step.
- Let the chicken rest about 10 minutes before carving. To serve, place the chicken on a serving platter, surrounded by the roasted vegetables. Serve the jus on the side. Ask a question about this step.
- With the leftover chicken, I like to make a nice curry. Then I remove the lemons and herbs from what is left of the carcass and make chicken stock. Generally we get 2 days of roast chicken for two people, 2 days of chicken curry, and then stock to boot!
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.