Have you heard about Cook The Books? Meg at Grow and Resist and Briggs at Oh, Briggsy dreamed up a little challenge for 2013: cooking out of those big, heavy, paper-stuffed things you have crammed onto a shelf somewhere near your kitchen. Yep, that’s right: forcing us to crack a spine, rather than tip-tap-tappity through the Interwebs to plan dinner. The nerve!
I do love cookbooks, despite the fact that I rarely follow a recipe. It’s just that my recipes are dictated by what is in my larder, rather than the other way around: it’s not always easy to stare at a shelf of books, thinking “What can I make with 2 wrinkly carrots, a butternut squash and a handful of cilantro?” Easier by far to Google “carrot squash cilantro” or better yet, just make something up off the top of my head. That said, I love cookbooks the way I love design & architecture magazines: I never expect, or even want, my room/house to look exactly like the glossy magazine photo, but I gather information, inspiration and nifty ideas from those pages and incorporate the ones I love into my home.
So, I was excited when Meg told me about Cook The Books: a different cookbook each month, and specific enough (one cookbook!) yet broad enough (any recipe! however many you want!) to have something for everyone. Even better, the cookbook choice for January is Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, a cookbook I just happen to have crammed onto that over-stuffed kitchen shelf, and one that I’ve been meaning to delve into again, since my first successful foray.
I paged through a lot of recipes in AMFT, looking for one that jumped out at me. I had the same problem I always have, what I call the Locavore Problem: in order to make some judgment about a recipe and/or cookbook, I want to try to make the recipe exactly as stated, or at least close enough. But I’m not about to go out and buy out of season and/or non-local ingredients in order to do it; that’s just not my thing. I ended up with a simple roasted chicken recipe, with a twist: this chicken is cooked at high heat and then rested, breast down to redistribute juices to the drier breast meat (hence Dorie’s name “hurry up and wait chicken.”). While I was prepping this, I was on the phone with my friend Nadine, explaining the procedure, “First you roast it on its side, then you flip it to the other side, then you flip it breast-up, then you rest it breast down.” She said it sounded more like Dancing Chicken, since the bird was dancing all over the pan, and a name was born.
And the chicken? It was good: exceptionally crispy skin due to the high-heat roast, especially on the thighs which don’t normally get all that crispy; very tender leg meat and reasonably tender breast meat. I realized after the fact that I should have rested the bird not only legs up but spun 180 degrees (there’s that dancing again) so that the breast pointed towards the pie plate rather than the air; perhaps that mistake is why I wasn’t all that impressed by the quality of the breast meat. While my first bite upon carving was very juicy, I feel like all of those redistributed juices left the breast meat as soon as I carved the bird; the breast meat as our meal progressed was a bit drier than my usual bird, and out of the fridge the next day was very dry.
In general, I find that a low & slow roast produces the most reliably delicious bird: crispy skin, tender breast meat, fully cooked dark meat. But this method is a good one to remember if you are in a hurry, and it did produce amazingly crispy skin. A side bonus is the amount of fat released from the bird during a high-heat, on its side roast: the bed of vegetables became a sort of roasted root vegetable confit, crispy and tender, amazingly flavorful, and the surprise star of the meal. It’s worth dancing that chicken all over the pan for the vegetables alone!
Adapted (slightly) from Hurry-Up-And-Wait Roasted Chicken in Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
- 1 whole roaster chicken, approximately 4 lbs
- Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried bouquet garni herb mix
- 1 Meyer lemon, quartered
- 1 small handful fresh sage leaves
- 1 and 1/2 lbs potatoes, scrubbed and diced to 1-inch
- 2 medium red onions, peeled & quartered
- 4 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and coarsely chopped
- olive oil
- Rinse the chicken inside & out and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer to a clean plate and sprinkle surface liberally with Kosher salt and black pepper. If you have time, allow chicken to sit, open to the air, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours; this helps to achieve a crispy skin. Allow to come to room temperature for approximately 1 hour prior to roasting.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (425 degrees F convection). Squeeze one or two of the lemon segments into the cavity of the bird; add the lemon segments and sage to the cavity. Truss the legs and tuck the wingtips neatly under the back of the bird.
- Add the chopped vegetables to large cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven or casserole. Drizzle vegetables lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper and toss well. Make a little room for the chicken in the middle of the pan, then prop the chicken on its side. My chicken was sitting on a smoothed bed of vegetables, which helped to keep it stable while on its side, I think. Roast at 450 degrees F for 25 minutes, then, using two sturdy wooden spatulas, turn the chicken so that the other side is up. Toss the vegetables about in the schmaltz while you are there. Continue to roast at high heat, for another 25 minutes. Turn the bird breast-side up. Continue to roast until the breast skin is nicely browned and the internal temperature at the breast is at least 165 degrees F (another 30 minutes for me, although Dorie’s recipe suggests 10 minutes).
- Remove the bird to a rimmed platter or pie dish, breast side down (unlike my picture below, which shows breast side up): lift the legs and prop a bowl under the bird, so that it is resting at an angle, breast down. Cover with a large inverted bowl (or tented aluminum foil) and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, finish the vegetables in the skillet: reduce chicken juices over high heat, stirring frequently to prevent vegetables burning (alternatively, remove vegetables to a warming platter with a slotted spoon and reduce chicken juices in the skillet, then pour over vegetables prior to serving). Carve bird and serve.
Serves 4 – 6.
- Any of your usual chicken flavorings/stuffings will work with this recipe. I did find that roasting on a bed of vegetables helped to keep the chicken stable while on its side.
- Be sure to truss the chicken legs for ease in flipping the bird and stability while it roasts on its side.
- This meal could be 100% local by substituting chicken schmaltz or melted butter for olive oil.
Refrigerated up to 5 days. Make sure to save bones and carcass for homemade stock.
Year-round, but I wouldn’t choose this method in summer.