Friday, May 1, 2009

Food May '09: Roasted Chicken, A New Perspective on a Classic and the Ultimate Family Meal

You probably think you are over it, or maybe you have never tried it on, but the roasted chicken is the Chanel #5, the little black dress, and your favorite college sweatshirt all rolled into one -  the classic elegance, the foundation piece, and the comfort.  The long and short is that it is maybe the lowest maintenance foundation for a healthy family dinner out there.  It can be served as the main contender, stuck in your preschooler's sandwich the next day, dressed up to serve for a dinner, or reused as a chicken soup.  Here is a classic recipe to love along with ideas for serving to toddler and adult, how to make it work as a meal several times over for your family.  Great as a Sunday night dinner for moms working out of the house, it can work for you all week long as a main course for the kids' dinner or an add on to their favorite mac and cheese (LOVE it with Annie's Organic Shells and White Cheddar and some frozen peas.) 

Roasted Chicken with Thyme and Lemon
1 Whole Chicken - (I like Bell and Evans or Whole Foods 4-5 lbs)
1 lemon
3 cloves garlic
1 onion
Bunch of Fresh Thyme
Tablespoon of Sea Salt
Tablespoon Herbs de Provence
Tablespoon Butter (softened if you think of it)
2 Tablespoons EV Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees - convection if you have it.  Wash the chicken inside and out with cold water, removing all giblets (save on the side if you are making stock) and dry.  Take a tablespoon sea salt (roughly I just fill up the inside of my palm when its curled into a cup) and rub it around the inside of the bird and stuffing into the cavity three hand crushed cloves of garlic, a bunch of thyme, 1/2 of a lemon cut across and 1/2 of an onion that has been quartered.  "Plug" the  cavity with the last half of lemon.  Throw on a roasting pan (I like Emile Henry or Le Creuset ceramic pans).  You can truss or tie the bird to keep the moisture in.  Put the rest of the onions on the side.  Run the bird with the olive oil first and the softened butter second (or place the butter if not softened in small dices around the top), sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs de provence.   Put in the oven at 425 for 20 minutes and then reduce to 400 degrees for another 40 minutes to one hour and fifteen minutes (depending on the size of the chicken and your oven).  Invest in a digital read thermometer if you can and figure on taking the bird out at 164 degrees internal temp.  Cover with tin foil and a towel and let sit at least 10 minutes before serving - this lets the juices steam back into the breast meat.  

Options for serving:  For a dinner party I always bring in a roasting pan to the table, but at a family meal, we carve it first.  It is great to serve fresh to the kids at 5pm and then easily reheat in the oven on a low temp (250 degrees for 15 minutes) for dinner with your spouse when the kids are in bed.  When I reheat later in the week for the kids, I usually save a thigh and microwave with the skin on to keep it moist -just enough to warm It can be served traditionally with almost anything: rice, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes and a steamed veggie on the side.  Or, create a classic pasta dish - the names sounds fancy but the dish is easy, juicy and the perfect comfort food:

Roasted Chicken Fettuccine with a Deconstructed Pesto  

1 pound pasta (any thick noodle will do)
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves (about 1 cup loose)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup of chicken broth 
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to garnish

1 roasted chicken stuffed with:
3 cloves garlic
1 handful of basil leaves 
sea salt
one cup chicken broth 

As above, prep and roast your chicken, placing the chicken broth (homemade or store bought low-sodium) in the bottom of the roasting pan.  When the chicken is almost finished, start a pot of boiling water.  Take the chicken out of the oven and let rest as you put the pasta in the boiling water.  While the pasta is boiling, stack the basil leaves, roll them and slice thinly. Toast pine nuts on a skillet or in a toaster oven for three minutes or just enough for a golden brown - on low, tossing frequently so they do not burn.  Pull the meat off the chicken -white and dark in small pieces, placing them back in the pan juices of the roasting pan.  Pull the garlic out of the cavity of the bird and crush, placing back in the pan juice.  Finally, drain the pasta and place into a either the roasting pan with the juices, or into a separate pasta bowl, pouring the juices on top along with the sliced basil, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil if the pasta is still dry after tossing, but it shouldn't be!  

My toddler is not a big fan of the pine nuts and she's holding the jury out on basil, so sometimes I put a little pasta aside and add the chicken and pan juices to hers first, then adding maybe some leftover steamed broccoli from last nights dinner, with the Parmesan cheese.  

Last note: the quality of the ingredients always changes the quality of the meal, but I find this is particularly the case with cheese.  If possible, spring for the Parmigiano-Reggiano when you can.

Chicken Stock
When I make a roasted chicken on a Monday night for the kids' dinner, I will carve it for them and serve them dinner at the kitchen island.  While they are eating, I carve the entire bird, leaving some white meat for my husband and I for dinner, and setting aside the rest along with all the dark meat, in the refrigerator for a soup.  Then I take the rest of the bird and pan juices (along with any giblets I fished out before cooking) and stick it in a big soup pot with water 3/4 up the soup pot.  (almost covering the bird).  many recipes have you add more onions, celery and carrots to the broth, but truth be told, I never have the time and I think the chicken, the pan juice and its stuffing contents make a super-rich broth without it.   Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer and let it go partially covered while I give the kids a bath, get them ready for bed, eat my dinner etc.  Before bed, I turn it off, let cool for 20 minutes, strain it through a sieve and place it into the fridge.  In the morning, a good part of the fat has congealed at the top and I pull it off with a big spoon.  You can freeze it in Ziploc bags or Pyrex containers but I love using the Preserve line by Recycline in the 25.5 oz. containers, (  they are just the right amount to pull out of the freezer when you need chicken stock for a recipe, they stack well and look cute in the freezer and you can feel good about this plastic.   Its flexible - if you are up longer because Gossip Girls is on, great - let it stew longer.  If it is a rerun and you are wiped, no worries - it will still be a great stock after a only a couple of hours.  

Chicken Soup
Soup isn't about a recipe - its about using what is fresh in the fridge (or garden for that matter).  It should be evolving and different each time.  That said, this is a rough sketch of what I like my soup to be like.  The Greek version (my father's side of the family) always has a hint of lemon.... so I roast the lemon, garlic thyme chicken to use for this soup.  As these recipes build from each other, so do the flavors at each level so that the details of the stuffing filter into the pan juices and get shared with stock and ultimately, soup.   

1 roasted chicken, meat pulled off in small chunks
(see lemon thyme recipe above)
2 sweet yellow onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4-6 carrots depending on size, diced
4 stalks celery diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt (1 teaspoon) and pepper to taste
fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon
large handful (1 cup) of chopped fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf)
6-8 cups homemade chicken stock from above roasted chicken
lemon wedge
1/2 cup dried pastina, made and then set aside

Melt the butter and olive oil in a soup pot, put in onions on low heat for around fifteen minutes, salting lightly and stirring often, almost caramelizing them.  Add garlic and cook for about 1/2 a minute before adding carrots and celery.  Cook on med-low until the vegetables soften (about 7 minutes or so).  Add flour and stir to coat the vegetables in the flour.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  At the boil, reduce heat and add parsley.  Let cook on low with top on for about 30 minutes.  Add chicken and fresh thyme with the juice of a squeezed lemon wedge and cook another five minutes until the chicken is heated through.  Add the cooked pastina to soup just before serving.  Serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top and if you have them, crostinis.  

Variations on the Roasted Chicken:
This bird will fly with various passengers - easily changing the destination - here are some of my favorites:
(a) Winter: 2 clementines or one orange sliced in two with several sprigs of fresh rosemary and a quarter onion.  Season the top with dried rosemary, salt and pepper.  This makes a beautiful presentation brought straight to the table in its roasting pan and adds color to a winter table.
(b) Spring: 1 lemon halved, a few sprigs of mint and 2 cloves of a shallot, seasoned with sea salt. This is a great one to serve as a risotto.  Take the meat off after roasting and make a broth, using the broth to make the risotto and add the roasted chicken into the risotto with fresh spring peas.  Finally, garnish with mint.  
(c) Summer:  2 limes halved, a bunch of cilantro and quarter onion, seasoned with sea salt - super fresh, light flavor.  I like to use this recipe when I am planning on using the leftovers in enchiladas, burritos or tacos, sometimes reheating with chili powder and cumin.  
(d) Fall: 1 apple halved with a quartered fennel bulb and oregano sprigs.


  1. This is a beautiful site! I'm so glad you chose roast chicken as your first post. I've just started roasting chicken weekly since it's the one protein I can count on my three year old eating. This stock recipe seems so much less daunting than I feared. Thanks for creating such a complete solution! Well done. I look forward to future posts.

  2. I love the blog! Will be following with much interest. I am also a big fan of chicken bouillion--no carcass ever goes to waste in our house. I sometimes even drink it like tea when I need a little extra boost . . . I learned from some French cookbook to throw in 2 or 3 whole cloves. You don't taste them, but they add character to the broth.
    Thanks for the recipes!

  3. I had the pleasure of eating Krissy's roast chicken. It was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed by my entire family. I know we left nothing but bones behind. When I have some free time I plan on cooking it myself. I like that not only does it taste good, but it looks good too.

    Who needs book club, I need a cooking club so someone can teach me to go beyond nuggets and yogurt!
    Lindsey Gund