Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Root of Comfort: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

Is there anyone who doesn't love walking into a home where a chicken is roasting the oven? Okay, it may not be the aroma of choice for a vegetarian or vegan, but for me it's a promise of comfort and goodness. Ironically, that's not because this is a smell that takes me back to dinners in my childhood. I grew up loving my mother's oven-fried chicken and being rather ambivalent about the stewed chicken that was something of a Sunday staple at my grandmother's house. No, roast chicken is an addiction of my adulthood.

It's a kind of freedom, really. Because I'm not bound to a "but that's the way my mother did it" recipe, I'm open to any interesting technique or combination of ingredients. For a couple of years now, Judy Rodgers "Zuni Roast Chicken", with her salt-and-season ahead approach, has been my standby, even if the chicken is destined to be rotisseried on the grill, instead of roasted in the oven. Then the other day, I was thumbing through the copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home that I'd given to my brother-in-law Dave for Christmas. (Is it unseemly to give someone else a cookbook you're dying to have? I certainly hope not!) There was a recipe for roasting a chicken on a bed of root vegetables.

Since we'd just picked up our Heron Pond winter CSA, we certainly had root vegetables. We also had one of  New Roots Farm's pasture-raised chickens in the freezer, which would easily defrost over night. (Luckily the Ad Hoc chicken does not need to be salted ahead of time. In fact, Keller recommends leaving the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for at least a day -- it dries out the skin, which helps it crisp up nicely during roasting. Another secret Keller swears by: letting the chicken sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours before roasting.)
While it takes a little time to cut up all the vegetables, this really is a relatively easy dish to make. (We made it a little more difficult because we flipped the chicken to make sure the skin got brown and crispy on all sides.) The smell of the roasting chicken and vegetables was truly divine. Plus the way the vegetables infuse the chicken with their flavor -- and the chicken infuses the vegetables with its juices -- makes the entire dish a satisfying treat. And the warmed up leftovers the next day? Remarkable!

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 thyme sprigs
2 large leeks
3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas
2 tennis-ball-sized turnips
4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
1 small yellow onion, trimmed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 475 F.

3. Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.

4. Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water.

5. Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.

6. Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.

7. Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper.

8. Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.

9. Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.

10. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird--the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast--and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

11. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.

12. Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glazing them with the pan juices.

13. Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.


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