Perfect Roast Chicken

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This is so much less about roasted chicken than it is about chicken in general.

Really, once you’ve roasted one or two chickens, you have the basics down pat and there isn’t much to change aside from herbs and citrus and, perhaps, what you roast around it.

My fall back recipe – as I cannot for the life of me keep oven temperatures or timing in my head – is an oldie but a goodie, from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. I admit. I’m boring. I stuff a head of garlic that I cut in half horizontally, a lemon that I cut in half, and whatever fresh herbs I have around inside the chicken. I liberally sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and Bob’s your uncle. Potatoes, carrots and onions around the chicken. Completely fix it and forget it.

As most of you know, I am now living in DownEast Maine – and why is it called downeast Maine? Well, I’ll tell ya! Coastal schooners laden with goods for Portland and other Maine ports would leave Boston, Massachusetts keeping their compass headings generally east or northeast, hoping that the prevailing wind from the westerly quadrants would stay behind them. Hence, they sailed downwind in an easterly direction. Hence, they were traveling down east. Things are very different here.

And you must be wondering why, if I don’t really use a roasted chicken recipe am I prattling on about roasted chickens and living on an island off the coast of Maine.

El Dia de la Pollo Muerto … the day of the dead chickens.

A some of our friends once a year purchase chicks. They’re so very cute when they’re little. We would go over and look at them, watch them grow. I would wonder why, unlike the laying birds that are free range, these chicks were penned. Seems you can have either laying chickens or eating chickens.  They raise a bunch of eating chickens. Once they’ve been tended to and loved and fattened up … well, el dia de la pollo muerto.

HORRIFYING! I know! Growing up in the big city, while you try to be conscientious about how animals are being raised and what they’re being fed, you don’t necessarily give much though to the in between raising and purchasing/eating.

Around November, the Dear One and some of our friends get together and – to quote the Queens of Hearts – off with their heads.

I have been invited to attend this gala event. I have politely declined, trying not to make the squelched up face I’m making as I type. ‘They’ say it’s quick and painless (let’s ask the chicken that!) and rather quick to go from live chicken to ready to eat. I don’t know the actual process, but there are beheadings, and contraptions that look like dryers that do the defeathering, and the descriptions just get worse from there.

My last conversation with our friend MG went something like this –

MG: You should come. It’s great. Fascinating to watch.
ME: Are you kidding? No way, no how, no time.
MG: Oh, it’s not so bad. Quick.
ME: Well, what time do you start? But DON’T count on it. And I’m not helping
MG: ME? No, no, no, no. I don’t go. I can’t bear it.

Seriously, Dude?

So I stay home. Thinking good thoughts for the poor little chickens giving so much of themselves for my roasting pan, and convince myself that the chickens going to my freezer are all from the grocery store. You see, the one request with these 8-10 incredible chickens that come into the house … no feet, no heads, no feathers, no guts, and please put them in plastic bags so I can pretend there was just a fantastic sale on chickens.

I do wonder if the laying hens feel guilty. There they are, well fed, out all day playing in the sun with the turkeys and guinea fowl, goats (meanest little creatures ever born), and the pig, Kevin. Why are they safe? Are they to be next? One will never know the mind of a chicken.

That being said, these are probably the best chickens I have even eaten. Cooked here only for those deserving, chosen few.

This past go round, I was honored with a big bag of chicken livers and skin … pate and cracklings … more no that later.

  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil

NOTE: I skip the melted butter, use whatever fresh herbs I have around, and substitute potatoes for the fennel.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

Veggie Pot Pie

Veggie Baked
Cooking. It’s a fine dance, I tell you, and not an easy one.
In this house there are two meat eaters, one who only eats chicken, and one who eats no meat at all. How do you make ONE meal and make sure no one is horrified and everyone is satisfied? I really, really refuse to become one of those people who makes two, perhaps three, dinners to cater to everyone’s dietary choices.
I came across this recipe for veggie pot pie and knew I had at least one solution … that is if everyone liked it!
I  made the filling in one large skillet, poured it into two baking dishes and added poached chicken to one baking dish, then made one and a half of the biscuit topping and plunked them both in the oven.
It was a hit! Seconds were taken, even! Leftovers were taken for lunch! Hooooooray! I have one gret cold night, comfy, easy dinner now in my arsenal.
Yes, there’s a lot of chopping, but I have a great helper in the kitchen. Once the chopping is done, this dish comes together really quickly.
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1 C vegetable broth
  • 1/2 C cream
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • salt and pepper
  • oil
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • 2 T chopped fresh chives
  • 2 T chopped fresh parsley

NOTE: One request was made for the next time (yes, they want this one again, SCORE!) less peas. A cup sort of overwhelmed the rest of the vegetables. I poached three boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and then chopped them into bite-sized pieces before adding them to the vegetables. Three thighs was plenty for the 3/4 of the recipe that was dedicated to chicken. Also, I chopped up extra parsley and chives to press into the biscuit dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Veggie Chopped Veg

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven on your stove top. Add the diced onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook until translucent, about five minutes.

NOTE: Because I was splitting this between two baking dishes, I ditched the Dutch oven idea and went for a large skillet. But there’s a LOT of filling so you really need a LARGE skillet.

After the veggies are translucent, add the diced potatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes and sprinkle in the 1/4 cup of flour, stirring, making sure you coat everything with flour. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Next, slowly add the broth, cream and milk, stirring as you go. Salt and pepper liberally.

NOTE: Just when you think you’ve added enough salt and pepper, add more! Really. I thought I had added too much and in actuality, it needed more than what I thought was a ridiculous amount.

Bring to a simmer. Simmer for about five minutes until the mixture has begun to thicken. Pull the skillet off the heat and stir in the chopped herbs, vinegar and peas.

While the veggie mixture is bubbling, make the crust.

NOTE: This seemed like an awful lot of peas, next time I’ll cut this back to maybe to a scant 3/4 cup.

FOR THE BISCUIT CRUST:

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 T shortening
  • 1/2 T baking powder
  • 6 T milk
  • 1/2 t salt

NOTE: The above measurements are for the straight veggie pot pie. I mixed up one and a half of these to cover both baking dishes.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Use a fork to cut in the shortening until the flour forms little crumbs. Use your fingers to mix in the milk as you pour it in slowly – the dough should not be sticky, so go easy. If it is sticky, add a little more flour.

NOTE: Being in a hurry, I put everything into the bowl. Sigh. So the biscuit on the large pie was a little tough. Making the second one, I followed the instructions and it was perfect. And don’t over work it, it gets tough! I had extra chives and parsley, so when I rolled out the dough, I rolled the herbs into the biscuit.

Roll the biscuit dough into a disc roughly the size of your Dutch oven (or baking dish) and place it on top. You don’t want this to cover the entire surface, leave a little space around the edges for venting.

Place in the oven with no lid and bake for 30 minutes, or until the biscuit top is done.

Veggie Ready to Serve

Hasselback Potatoes with Bacon

Potatoes Finished
A side dish. A side dish. Don’t you just find yourself making the same ones over and over again? Rice, potatoes, orzo (no comments, Marg!) I find that particularly true with POTATOES … mashed, baked, roasted, baked, mashed, roasted, and roasted again … B-O-R-I-N-G.
If this dinner was going all the way, the potato had to go all the way as well.  I had seen Nigella make these years ago and had tagged them in Forever Summer to try one of these days.
Always to be one to gild the lily, I added BACON. Bacon makes everything better!
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 slices thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into 9 pieces
  • 2+ tablespoons butter, melted
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375º.

After peeling potatoes, place them in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning.

Lay the bacon pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Cutting Potatoes

Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and carefully transfer to a baking sheet; let cool slightly.

NOTE: This just gets them started cooking a little faster.

One at a time place potato lengthwise on a cutting board. Place wooden spoons lengthwise along the potato. Cut slices across the short side of the potato, about 1/8 inch apart. The wooden spoons will prevent your knife from cutting completely through the potato. You don’t want to cut through to the bottom of the potato.

Stuffed with Bacon

Once cut,place potatoes on a baking sheet and insert 3 pieces of the frozen bacon into the cuts of each potato, spacing the bacon evenly and letting it poke out of the top. Melt 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the potatoes and in the cuts. Reserve any excess butter for basting. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.

NOTE: Okay, so I used more than THREE pieces in each potato. THREE? Seriously?

Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake until the outsides are browned and crisp, about 40 minutes, basting halfway through with the reserved melted butter.

Season with salt and pepper.