Sunday, January 9, 2011

Roast chicken makes good Friday night company

Living New York city and Washington, DC, my sister and I have a many entertaining options on any given Friday night.  Some weeks, though, a simple supper of roast chicken with perfectly crisp skin, a glass of Austrian Pinot Noir (Johanneshof Reinisch's Vom Steinfeld, 2008) and a movie is all that a girl in a big city wants.  Easy to put together, leisurely to enjoy, roast chicken with vegetables for one also results in plenty of delicious lunches that draw sighs of envy from one's colleagues.
I follow Zuni Cafe's approach to roast chicken by picking a smaller bird and cooking it at high temperatures in my favorite 10-inch cast iron skillet.  Not being a planner, I often forget to salt the chicken in advance, but seasoning it a half an hour before roasting works pretty well too.  The quality of the chicken is particularly important in this simple preparation, so get yours from your favorite local chicken farmer.  I like adding vegetables to roast with the chicken. This time, I used baby potatoes and red onions, but winter squash, whole cloves of garlic, carrots, even brussels sprouts would all be good additions.  So, if you find yourself lazying around on a Friday evening, perhaps nursing a winter cold, with waning motivation to go outside, make roast chicken and ease into a restful weekend.

Roast chicken with vegetables
1 whole small - medium chicken, about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds
8 tender prigs of thyme, rosemary, marjoram, or sage (mixing the herbs is good, but not necessary)
1/2 lemon
1-1/2 pounds of vegetables for roasting, such as halved baby potatoes, sliced red onions, cubed winter squash, thick coins of carrots, and halved brussels sprouts
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Plenty of salt and pepper

Salt the chicken generously inside and outside at least 1 hour before roasting and up to 2 days.  If salting several days in advance, keep refrigerated until about 1 hour before roasting.  Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees and place a cast iron skilled or another roasting pan inside until well-heated.  Meanwhile, carefully loosen the skin over the breast and thighs and slide several sprigs of herbs underneath.  Put a few sprigs of herbs and the lemon inside the chicken cavity. There is no need to truss.

Dry the chicken well and place, breast side up, in the skillet/roasting pan.  Put the chicken in the oven and keep an eye on it; it should sizzle and start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn't, gradually increase the temperature by 5 degrees; if it starts blistering, decrease the heat by 25 degrees.  Let roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables of your choice by mixing them with chopped garlic, 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Carefully turn the chicken over, so that it is now breast side down, and tuck the vegetables around the chicken.  Roast for another 10 - 20 minutes, depending on the size.  Flip it over again to let re-crisp the skin on the breast for another 10 -20 minutes.

Take the chicken of the skillet and let it rest of a platter for 10 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, keep your vegetables in the oven so that the chicken juices reduce and the vegetables cook fully.  Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables, squeezing the juice of the roasted lemon all over, grinding fresh pepper and scattering a bit of fresh thyme or parsley over.  Serve with an light Pinor Noir, a green salad, while wearing your favorite house slippers.  Friday night at home can be so so good.

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