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.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now