March is still roaring like a lion as we found ourselves housebound, looking out the windows, facing 6 to 10 inches of falling snow.
What to do? Roast a chicken of course!
It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that most of you reading this post have either roasted a chicken, or at least enjoyed one at some point. The culinary landscape is filled with recipes claiming to be the best roasted chicken ever, or the only roasted chicken recipe you will ever need. Perhaps they are all right, as every professional chef or home cook has their favorite approach.
Brine or not, simple salt and pepper seasoning or complex spice rub, oven roast or rotisserie, stuffed or not, crispiest skin or juiciest falling off-the-bone meat, there are many paths to follow and many end results.
I was looking for an approach that did not require brining or basting, produced a very moist bird with a crisp skin, cooked in under two hours with little to no attending, resulting in a flavorful, fall-off-the-bone finish, and provided a base in the roasting pan from which I could prepare either an underlay on the plate, or to fashion a pan sauce of some kind.
Since I was still working with winter ingredients, part of my cooking approach included using a mix of winter root vegetables. The other piece of the puzzle was solved by the cooking vessel I chose—my trusty old Dutch oven—kind of an oven-in- an-oven so to speak.
With the combination of the winter roots and the Dutch oven I was able to achieve all my objectives, producing one of the most succulent and flavorful roasted chickens I have ever cooked.
The story gets better but first a word or two about the chicken. It’s always important to try and work with the freshest and best product you can find. Generally, I purchase the chicken I cook from a local farm market with an in-house butcher. They raise their own cattle and partner with local farms for their pork and chicken, so I’m confident of the quality of the product I am sourcing. However, I needed to get to the market and back home before the nor’easter we were facing shifted into high gear. Stopping instead at the local market I discovered a chicken product I had not seen in their cases before. It was marked with a brown kraft label titled “Farmer Focus Whole Young Chicken with Giblets.” “USDA organic, certified humane raised and handled, farmer owned chicken, non-GMO, all vegetable diet, no animal byproducts or antibiotics ever, free range, hand cut, hatched, raised and harvested in USA.” Wow, this was either superbird or a clever marketing approach, but either way it was worth a try. Believe it or not, I was not disappointed with the product or the end result.
Having secured the main ingredient, my approach was to roast the chicken on a bed of finely minced root vegetables, cut the finished bird into serving pieces and use the roasted root vegetable base for a sauce similar to a salsa verde and accompany the entrée with a side of garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. The vegetables I had on hand and used as the base were; carrot, celery root, fennel, garlic, leek, parsnip, red onion, and scallion. Other additions could have been butternut squash, rutabaga, and turnip, mixing and matching the vegetable base depending on what’s on hand or available in the market.
The following recipe is how my Dutch oven-roasted chicken was put together.
“Snow Bird” . . . A Great Roast Chicken!
Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
3 to 4 pound whole chicken with giblets
A mix of winter root vegetables as described, 1 or more of each depending upon size
1 to 2 sprigs of thyme and sage
¼ cup each white wine and either vegetable stock or chicken stock
Roasted garlic puree (optional)
Salt and pepper
Remove the giblets from the cavity of the bird and wash both the inside and out with cool water. Using paper towel, dry the bird, both inside the cavity and outside.
All of the giblets can be used to flavor the vegetables during the roasting, however since we were all hunkered down in the house while the snowstorm carried on outside, I thought it only fair that our dogs, Allie and Marcus, shared in a small piece of the meal, so I cooked most of the giblets for them, using the chicken neck to add some additional flavor to the vegetable base.
Mince the onion and set aside. Cut all the remaining vegetables into small pieces and using a food processor, mince them together, working in batches as needed and set aside.
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper and stuff with the sprigs of thyme and sage. Tie the end of the legs together to secure the cavity and keep the chicken together for when it comes time to turn it over during the roasting.
If using, rub the outside of the bird with a generous teaspoon of the roasted garlic puree and a little olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-high temperature and heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the onions to begin the sauté and sprinkle with salt and pepper, stirring until the onions begin to soften.
Add the remaining mix of minced vegetables, again stirring to combine with the onions and coat with the olive oil. Season again with salt and pepper.
Once the vegetables begin to soften, place the chicken, breast side down, nestled on top of the root vegetable sauté. Pour the wine and stock around and cover the Dutch oven, placing it in the preheated oven to roast undisturbed for 1 hour.
At the end of an hour, take the pot out of the oven, uncover it, and carefully turn the bird over to breast side up. The meat is very tender at this time and well-basted from cooking inside a covered Dutch oven, so turn it over carefully so as not to break it apart. I used rubber gloves to insulate my hands (the best kitchen tools), from the heat of the bird. If the vegetable base seems a little dry, add another ¼ cup of stock, wine, or both.
Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees, placing the Dutch oven back in uncovered for 30 minutes to allow the chicken to finish cooking and the skin covering the breast meat to brown and crisp.
Once the bird is done, remove it from the Dutch oven to a platter and tent it for 15 minutes before carving it into serving pieces.
Place the Dutch oven back on the stovetop to begin to prepare the accompaniment using the vegetable base roasted with the chicken.
Unfortunately, this is where my story takes a detour, hence the title “Snow Bird.”
As I was about to begin my preparation of the vegetables to finish the meal, our power went off! No lights, no stove, no heat, and no indication as to when we might be back on line. What to do?
The first step after setting out candles and gathering what flashlights we had on hand, was to open a bottle of wine. Now you are going to have to use your imagination here because there are no photos of the finished dish.
What I had planned to do was serve the chicken cut into convenient serving pieces, legs, wings, thighs, and the whole breast cut across horizontally, draped in a thick mixed roasted vegetable salsa, similar to a salsa verde, just more colorful, accompanied by garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. Needless to say that wasn’t happening.
The minced roasted vegetables could have just been served directly from the Dutch oven as they were or a more gravy-like topping could have been prepared by deglazing the Dutch oven over high heat with some additional wine and stock, mashing the cooked vegetables until a thick sauce was achieved. Either way the salsa or the gravy would have been a flavorful conclusion to the roasted chicken.
In the end, we dined by candlelight with my wife opting for a chicken sandwich, juicy, thinly sliced white meat on a semolina bastone (not toasted unfortunately), while I, Fred Flintstone-like, impersonated a cave man, eating the chicken wings, legs and thighs using my hands!
Not the best presentation, but one of the most tender and juicy roast chickens I have ever cooked and eaten in quite some time. Score one for the Dutch oven. Perhaps the next time I’ll share photos of the finished dish. Meanwhile, check the weather before you roast your next chicken.
Be well. Eat well.
Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, rather than endure.
Drink wine, be happy!