Hair-Raising Adventures In Chicken Roasting, Part II, in which we have the opposite experience from last time but, like last time, everything turns out OK in the end. This is another recipe from Martha Rose Schulman’s Ready When You Are, a book I’m really thinking about buying because everything I’ve made from it has turned out great, if a little intimidating in execution. But I like a challenge. This was actually simplicity itself, except that my chicken got very, very brown very, very quickly, and finished much sooner than the recipe claimed it would, which was worrisome. (In retrospect, this was probably because I was using a chicken on the smaller end of the continuum, about 3½ pounds.) And I’d thought I was smarter than the recipe, which was trying to tell me to cook the potatoes for 90 minutes, which seemed sure to produce little blackened lumps of coal. So I added the potatoes later than I was instructed to, but then since my chicken was done sooner than expected I had to remove the chicken and cook the potatoes longer, which didn’t end up being a big deal but caused me a little stress that everything wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. Not to mention that I was using ordinary red potatoes instead of sweet potatoes, because A doesn’t like sweet potatoes, and I wasn’t sure if that would work.
But glory hallelujah, this was some good chicken. At first bite I was suspicious—it seemed bland, and I started hankering for flavoring, like garlic or herbs. But then I realized: this just tastes like chicken. Good, sweet, crispy chicken. The lemon isn’t too assertive, but it made the meat really moist, even despite the fact that I probably overcooked it (OK, the breast was maybe a tad dry, but it could have been much worse. The legs, at least, were perfect). The honey made the skin delicious. The potatoes were roasted potatoes, but with a little glaze (I’d brushed on some of the leftover honey). A was enthusiastic. I’ll definitely make it again.
Postscript, December 2009: I have made it again a few more times, but since it just can't compete with my other roasted chicken recipes, it's fallen out of favor. The lemon and the honey aren't quite enough to set it apart, and if I want sweet potatoes, I'll just have them with the other mixed vegetables in this iteration. Time to slap on the "Not Favorites" label, I think.
1 chicken (3½ to 4 ½ pounds)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (for me, this was about 6 lemons)
salt and freshly ground pepper
4-6 medium or large sweet potatoes (or red potatoes, or a mix)
¼ cup mild honey, such as clover
1. The night before you're going to roast the chicken, place it in a large Ziplock bag. Pour the lemon juice into the bag, seal it, and refrigerate it for 12-24 hours. Turn the bag over a couple of times while the chicken's marinating to make sure the it soaks in the juice all over.
2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a roasting pan (I actually use a large, heavy baking sheet). Drain the chicken and season it all over with salt and pepper, set it on the baking sheet breast side down, and put it in the oven for 10 minutes.
3. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and add the potatoes to the roasting pan. The recipe tells you to scrub them, pierce them several times with a sharp knife, and roast them whole, but I like potatoes with as many brown and crispy surfaces as possible, so I cut mine into fourths; I also seasoned them with salt and pepper. Return the pan to the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
4. After 45 minutes, the chicken should be a nice golden brown. Put the honey in a bowl and microwave it for 15 seconds to thin it out, then brush it over the chicken’s back. Turn the chicken over so the breast faces up. (Unfortunately, all the breast skin stuck to the pan and ripped away as I did this. I’m not sure how that could be remedied in the future, but it should be, because it would help protect the breast meat from drying out.) Brush this side of the chicken with honey. (I also gave the potatoes a little brushing of honey, for good measure.)
5. Put the pan back in the oven and cook for another 45 minutes, basting often with the pan juices and any leftover honey, until the chicken is browned and the potatoes are tender. Take the pan out of the oven and let the chicken sit for 10-15 minutes so it'll be firm enough to carve. (If your potatoes need to cook longer, remove the chicken to a plate and return the potatoes to the oven.) Carve the chicken and (if you left your potatoes whole) cut the potatoes into chunks, peeling if desired. Serve with a little pan juice spooked over each serving.
Serves: 4 (maybe 6 if you have a bigger chicken or can carve more meat off the bones than I can)
Time: 1½ to 2 hours, plus 12-24 hours to marinate