Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31: Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables

Chicken is my go-to meal. I love that it's reliable, flexible, and a perfect springboard for jumping off to almost anywhere. It is healthy--sometimes healthier than other times, depending on how it's prepared--and it's widely available. Almost every picky eater I've ever known has been open to at least some variation of chicken. My sister-in-law, who will seriously eat almost nothing, loves chicken enchiladas.

A simple roasted chicken is that perfect jumping-off point that I talked about. Roast two of them, and one of them is dinner tonight, and tomorrow night, it's chicken burritos or chicken divan or chicken and vegetables in a casserole with noodles.

God, there are a lot of ways to screw this up though. When Dan and I first started going out, he had a Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven. That's the one: Set it and WALK AWAY! I loved that thing: I used to roast 12 heads of garlic in the basket in it. The entire apartment building smelled like roasted garlic. Dan would come in from work and be able to smell roasted garlic in the parking lot outside. I would squish it out of the heads and mash it and use it on pizza, or in pasta, or in a tomato sauce with oven-roasted tomatoes in the dead of winter, when the tomatoes taste like cardboard. I have forgotten totally that I'm supposed to be talking about chicken.

What I was going to say before I started thinking about garlic was that the Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven made a perfect roasted chicken. Season it, impale it, and let that sucker spin. The thing even turned itself off. Sadly, the Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven died on Thanksgiving 2005, and out she went. And living in a house with a smallish kitchen, I really can't justify a new one.

No sweat. I am reasonably proficient in the kitchen; I can roast a damn chicken in the oven. Right? Well, yeah. But like I said before, there are so many ways to screw this thing up. Dry, overcooked chicken that tastes like sawdust, or charred on the outside and still raw inside, or swathed in flabby, limp, greasy chicken skin. Yuck.

There are as many ways to roast chicken as there are...well, there are enough that my five readers could roast chicken in a variety of ways for several weeks without running out. I love butterflied chicken under a broiler, with lemon and red pepper flakes. But the most simple, pure thing you can do with it is to brine it, season it and roast it in a v-rack in a moderate oven. It is almost flawlessly juicy, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked.

This recipe is for two 3-to-4-pound chickens. If you can find a bigger, 6-to-8 pound bird, by all means, go for it. I like having the extra breast meat though, it's my favorite part of the bird, so I like cooking two. And I of course love the vegetables that get cooked alongside the chicken. This recipe from America's Test Kitchen is perfect for me. It serves 4-6 generously.

Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables


Chicken and Brine
1 1/2 cups table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 medium heads garlic, outer papery skins removed, cloves separated, unpeeled, and crushed
6 bay leaves, crumbled
2 whole chickens (3 to 4 pounds each), giblets removed and discarded
Ground black pepper
1 cup low sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
1 pound medium carrots , peeled, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, tapered ends left whole, large upper portions halved lengthwise
1/2 pound parsnips , peeled, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, tapered ends left whole, large upper portions halved lengthwise
1/2 pound yellow onions(small, 2- to 3-inch diameter), peeled, root end left intact, and quartered
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. FOR THE CHICKENS AND BRINE: Dissolve salt and sugar in 1 gallon cold water in large container. Stir in garlic and bay; immerse chickens and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Set V-rack in large flameproof roasting pan and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Remove chickens from brine and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.

3. Season chickens on all sides with pepper; set wing side up on prepared V-rack and roast for 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven and, using 2 wads of paper towels, rotate chickens so other wing side faces up; continue to roast for 20 minutes.

4. Remove roasting pan from oven and, using 2 large wads paper towels, rotate chickens breast side up. Add 1 cup broth and continue to roast until chickens are golden brown and instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, 30 to 40 minutes. (If necessary, add more broth to maintain thin layer of broth on bottom of roasting pan.) Transfer chickens to cutting board and let rest, uncovered, while roasting vegetables; remove V-rack from roasting pan.

5. FOR THE VEGETABLES: While chickens are resting, adjust oven rack to middle position and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Using wooden spoon, scrape browned bits in roasting pan and pour liquid into fat separator. Return now-empty roasting pan to oven and heat until oven reaches 500 degrees, about 5 minutes. Toss vegetables with oil, salt, and pepper.
6. Scatter vegetables in single layer in roasting pan, arranging potatoes and onions cut side down. Roast, without stirring, for 25 minutes.

7. While vegetables are roasting, pour off 1/2 cup liquid from fat separator; discard remaining liquid and fat. Remove roasting pan from oven and heat broiler. Drizzle liquid over vegetables and broil, 5 minutes. Stir vegetables, coating well with reducing liquid, and continue to broil until tender and deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving platter.

8. While vegetables are broiling, carve chickens. Transfer to platter with vegetables and serve.

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