Monday, September 20, 2004


I have been itching to roast a chicken for a while now. Don’t ask me why—maybe it’s the onset of fall making me crave huge oven-warm slabs of meat? Or maybe it’s the book I got this recipe from, Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals by Martha Rose Schulman, which is chock-full of simple, hearty, delicious-sounding fare and features a tantalizing glossy photo of this dish looking all browned and glistening. Plus, it was a challenge, a new skill to try—I’ve never worked with a whole chicken before, and I had to buy all kinds of exciting accoutrements, such as a meat thermometer and a roasting pan. Originally, I’d bought a large disposable roasting pan (all that was available at the grocery store), but then I got home and read about chicken-roasting in more depth (in Martha’s book and in The Joy of Cooking’s All About Chicken, and I realized that if I used such a deep pan my chicken wouldn’t brown much. The books said I could use a large, heavy baking sheet with a rim around the edge, so I did. If I’d had more vegetables, there wouldn’t have been enough room, but as it was everything fit OK. Eventually I’ll buy a proper roasting pan of the correct size. (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I haven't done this yet. My only innovation has been to line the baking sheet with tinfoil beforehand. NOTE FROM OCTOBER 2008: Later I bought a roasting rack that sits on the baking sheet and elevates the chicken just slightly, keeping the skin from sticking and helping the warm air to circulate around the bird, but still allowing the juices to drip down onto the vegetables.)

I didn’t use parsnips or turnips, because I don’t like them (although, granted, I don’t have much experience in their realm, so who knows?). (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I do now like turnips. Hooray! NOTE FROM OCTOBER 2008: And now I like parsnips. Also, I like to replace some of the normal potatoes with sweet potatoes.) In retrospect, I could have upped the amount of potatoes and carrots I used to make up for that, because the vegetables turned out so freaking delicious. Strangely, though, they got quite well done (some of the smaller onion pieces were totally blackened) even before the chicken was finished cooking, although Martha expected me to have to remove the chicken from the oven first and let the vegetables continue cooking another 15 minutes beyond that, which obviously didn’t happen. Maybe I cut them in too small pieces? Maybe a larger quantity (less spread out) would have helped?

As A put it, this was my most intensely carnivorous cooking experience yet, and I was suitably daunted. The (Trader Joe's hormone-free, cruelty-free, vegetarian-fed) chicken was worrisome at every stage of the process. Trouble began when Martha said to “remove the neck,” to which I promptly said “ew,” because there was indeed a stub of vertebrae protruding from the back, and it was not easily removed. Normally very detailed, All About Chicken just glossed right over how to do this. I ended up sawing it off roughly with a knife, then washed my hands about 500 times. Apparently, I’m more of a wuss than I expected when it comes to poultry carcasses. (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I have roasted many chickens in the subsequent year and a half, and I now skip right over this neck-removal thing. It hasn't seemed to make a difference.) The chicken just looked so naked and somehow obscene when raw (especially when I was stuffing things in its “cavity”), so mystifying to carve when cooked, and oddly wet and pinkish inside the thigh as I began cutting, even though the meat thermometer had declared it done. I was having a bad day anyway, and A clearly seemed to doubt my mastery of the situation, as did I a little, especially as I began worrying about how it was my fault we were going to get salmonella and die. All this interfered somewhat with our enjoyment of the food, so it wasn’t the triumphant experience I’d hoped for, but it was good. The chicken did not kill us, and I maintain that the pink/red we were seeing was only the thighbone anyway. It tasted like fine chicken. With a clove of the roasted garlic, a slice of caramelized onion, and a crisp piece of potato in the same mouthful, it was better than fine. And easy, too, for the most part, especially if for anyone who knows their way around a chicken better than I do—some prep work at the beginning, and then just sit back and let it cook (and make your apartment smell terrific, by the way). It wasn’t quite as easy or flavorful as the Greek Chicken I made a couple of weeks ago, but I’d certainly make this again—and try to perfect my technique, too. Also, Ready When You Are has another tantalizing-sounding roast chicken recipe (with lemon and honey), so I daresay I haven’t seen my last chicken cavity.

Also, I’d like to try Martha’s suggestion for pureeing the leftover vegetables into a soup (although that means somehow ending up with leftover vegetables). I’ve included it at the end of the recipe; if you give it a shot, let me know how it turns out.

1 medium chicken, about 4 pounds
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and cut in wedges
4 large carrots, peeled, cut in half crosswise, and halved lengthwise
1 to 1½ pounds potatoes, scrubbed and left whole if small, quartered if medium, peeled and cut in sixths if large russets
2 or 3 celery stalks, cut in 3-inch lengths
¾ pound turnips, peeled and quartered
¾ pound parsnips, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise (I misinterpreted this at first, until I looked at the photo in the book—cut it horizontally around the middle, so each clove is cut in half)
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the cut-up onions, carrots, potatoes, celery, turnips, parsnips, and garlic in a roasting pan. Toss the vegetables with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then make “a little nest,” as Martha charmingly puts it, in the center of them for the chicken.

2. Unwrap the chicken and remove the package of giblets from its cavity. Remove the neck (or not), rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water, pat it dry with paper towels, and place it in its “nest” in the roasting pan. Rub it all over with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, season it all over with salt and pepper, and strick sprigs of rosemary under its wings and legs. Turn the chicken over so its back is facing up, and put a few garlic cloves, a rosemary sprig, and a bay leaf in its cavity. Bury the remaining bay leaf and rosemary among the vegetables.

3. Now, into the oven. Roast for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue roasting, this time for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over so its breast faces up, baste it lightly with the accumulated juices on the baking sheet, and stir all the vegetables, which may be starting to stick to the pan. Roast another 30-40 minutes, “or until the chicken is golden brown and the juice runs clear when pierced with a knife (the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh should be at least 165 degrees).” If the vegetables don't seem done yet, you can remove the chicken to a carving board and then stir the veggies and return them to the oven for another 15 minutes of cooking. Let the chicken rest 15 minutes and then carve it. Serve with the roasted vegetables on the side.

Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (mostly baking time)
Serves: 4-6

If I’d had more vegetables, I would have made the soup Martha suggests from the leftovers:


2 to 2½ cups of the cooked vegetables
2 cups chicken stock
½ to 1 cup milk
Process the vegetables coarsely in a food processor or blender. Combine with stock and bring to a simmer. Add milk and heat through. Season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, and serve. (Serves 2-4)

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