Cooking from the Farms: Chicken and Root Vegetables

I roasted my first chicken in 1984 in my Comm. Ave. apartment kitchen using a method I read about in the Boston Globe’s food section: no trussing, high oven heat, a 90-minute roast, and oodles of fresh tarragon butter massaged under the skin of the bird.  The Globe’s method produced the crispiest, tastiest herb-infused bird I had ever eaten, a far cry from the bland but convenient boneless and skinless breasts a recent college graduate might be used to.

I’m looking at the clipping now: Dinner for six features super simple roast chicken (June 6, 1984).  Super simple? Yes.  While not as quick as a grilled chicken breast, roast chicken is super simple by anyone’s standards.  Take the Globe’s recipe: five ingredients – a good chicken, butter, tarragon, salt, and pepper – and a roasting pan.  If you have an oven, you’re golden.  This is one dish, set it in the oven and walk away cooking at its finest.

The beauty of roast chicken is that although it is an easy, homey meal, no one on the receiving end of this dinner will feel you’re doling out fast food.  You can fancy up a roast chicken for a clutch of dinner guests on a Saturday night as easily as you can serve it in more casual style to your family in the middle of the week.  And at the end of each meal both sets of diners will appreciate you for the kind and caring kitchen god or goddess that you are.

There are about a million ways to roast a chicken and each will yield a good tasting bird.  Roast whole or butterflied.  Manipulate a seasoned butter into the pocket between breast skin and flesh or simply dust the skin with the seasonings of your choice.  Serve with labor-intensive sides like bitter greens and creamiest mashed potatoes or roast a selection of humble root vegetables along with the bird in its pan.  Stuff the cavity with lemons or garlic cloves or herbs, or not.  Truss the legs to be proper or leave the legs untrussed for a rougher but crispier presentation.  Your options go on and on.

In the intervening years since being inspired by the newspaper recipe, I have honed my roasting method to reflect how I best like to eat my roast chicken.  Others are fancier than I am, but I like my chicken graced with olive oil and the juice of a lemon, its skin seasoned with little more than salt, pepper, and either a sprig or two of fresh thyme or a liberal coating of sweet Hungarian paprika.  And I like the ease and schmaltz-rich flavor that results from cooking root vegetables in the same roasting pan.

It takes about twenty minutes to get everything into the pan and 90 minutes in the oven for a very satisfying dinner after a long, perhaps difficult, day.  It’s a treat for tired, hungry diners.  For the cook too.  Roast chicken gives you, the cook, a gift of time to use however you want.  Get a manicure, walk the dog, do two loads of laundry, finish up the loose ends of your work for the day so that you may come to the table unencumbered.  Pick any of these.  It’s up to you; these are your 90 minutes.

Roast Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables

This week’s Heron Pond CSA turnips, carrots, and shallots were the inspiration for tonight’s dinner.

Try a roast chicken this way, rustic style as I like to call it (I don’t peel any vegetables except for the turnips), or refine it a bit with peeling, pureeing, mashing, gratineeing any or all of the vegetables if you wish.  It will turn out delicious every time, no matter what.

  • 1 4-5 pound chicken, the best quality (preferably organic, free range) chicken you can find, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 bunch turnips, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 – 1 pound small potatoes, puartered
  • 1 bunch of slender carrots, washed and halved
  • 3 or 4 shallots, peeled and broken or cut in two
  • 1-2 heads of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a large roasting pan with non-stick spray.

If you like, place a small roasting rack in the center of the pan.  I use one to elevate the chicken out of the vegetables and help it brown all over, but a rack is not necessary.  Place the chicken on the rack if using one, or in the center of the pan if not.  Scatter prepared vegetables all around it.

Salt and pepper the chicken and the vegetables.  Scatter the thyme sprigs over both the chicken and the vegetables.  Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables to and the top of the chicken to coat, then squeeze the juice of one lemon over the top of everything.  If desired, throw the shells of the squeezed lemon into the pan for extra lemon flavor.  (I always do; it’s a nice addition.)

Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast for 90 minutes or up to 2 hours, until done.  Chicken is done when a thermometer inserted in the fleshiest part of the drumstick reads 180 degrees.

You can also tell chicken is done when juices run clear after the leg is poked with a knife, and the leg is very wiggly at its joint.

To serve, take a page out of Jacques Pepin’s book first remove the legs and wings, and then cut the whole breast from the bird and cut it up into pieces crosswise.

When served, every person getting white meat will get a piece of skin.

Transfer the vegetables to a serving dish and plate alongside the chicken.

©2010  Jane A. Ward