Saturday, March 5, 2011

Simple Pleasures - Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Roasted Chicken - A classy culinary classic!

Between my junior and senior years of college, I spent the summer working in Washington, DC  and living away from my family for the first time ever. The day my parents left to drive back home, they dropped me off at my office at Georgetown University. For the rest of the day, I sat in a conference room reading computer printouts and crying. For eight hours. But that's another story.

I became good friends with a co-worker, a young single mother named Peggy, who invited me home for dinner one evening after work. While she worked in the kitchen, I enjoyed playing games with her little boy in the living room. Before we knew it, Peggy called us to the table, where I first laid eyes on one of culinary world's classics -- a whole roasted chicken surrounded by vegetables.

What's this, I thought? I was familiar with roasted turkeys for the holidays, but I had no idea you could roast a whole chicken. What a great idea! Before I even knew the term for it, I made a note to self. 

An hour is a very reasonable amount of time to prepare dinner. The aroma wafting from the kitchen for that hour was tantalizing. The presentation made a weekday seem like a special occasion. And the flavor was pure and simple comfort food.

With the hindsight that comes with age and experience, I know now why my mother had never served us a roasted chicken. Even though the preparation was fast and easy and the taste divine, my mother would have been wasting her time (not to mention putting all of us in danger!) by placing a platter with a whole roasted chicken in the center of a table ringed with my five hungry brothers.

I shudder to think how that scene might have played out. Hands reaching out from around that table simultaneously selecting grabbing legs and wings and then cutting yanking the less obvious pieces out from the shreds of honey-brown skin.

No, even a stunning presentation could not trump, my mother's need to feed -- with all deliberate speed!

And let's not even consider arming my brothers the hungry horde with carving knives. No, no, my god NO! 

So instead, my mother became an expert at carving up two or more whole chickens in the kitchen ... all by herself ... probably while we were still at school ... and serving them oven-fried. It was a thrifty, simple and fast way to feed the family hungry horde. And we gobbled up every piece on the platter! Every single one.

I didn't discover leftovers until I graduated from college a year later and left home for good. It was quite a while before I learned to cook for two, instead of eight, so I had plenty of leftovers. But that is yet another story!

I love how easy it can be to roast a whole chicken for a smaller family dinner -- four to six is good. And even if you prepare meals for just one or two, the light lemony-herb flavor of this chicken is perfect for chicken salad sandwiches or potpie. It's a twofer!

Let's recap:
  1. quick and easy
  2. healthy ingredients
  3. impressive presentation
  4. feeds the average family
  5. good for one or two, too
  6. good leftovers
  7. comfort food

1 whole chicken (5-6 lbs.)
1 lemon
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
dried or fresh chopped rosemary
1 head garlic
1 small onion
vegetables, chopped in 1-in. pieces
  (your choice of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions etc.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove any giblets from inside of chicken. Rinse and pat dry. Roll lemon on counter with palm of hand to release juices. Pierce lemon all over with point of sharp knife and cut in half. Squeeze 1/2 of lemon over the outside of the chicken. Rub entire chicken with olive oil, inside and outside. Sprinkle inside and outside generously with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and dried chopped rosemary. Cut whole head of garlic in half crosswise. Peel onion and cut in half. Place lemon, garlic and onion inside chicken until cavity is filled. Any pieces that won't fit inside may be placed in the roasting pan with chicken. Place chicken in oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove roasting pan and add chopped vegetables, turning them in juices to coat. Return chicken to oven and continue to cook. As soon as internal temperature of chicken reaches 180 degrees, remove immediately and allow chicken to rest about 10 minutes before slicing. If vegetables are not cooked completely, return roasting pan with vegetables to oven and continue cooking while chicken cools. Vegetables should be slightly brown and crispy on the outside, but not mushy! Chicken may be served whole and sliced at the table or cut and sliced before serving on a platter with vegetables. Leftover chicken may be used for chicken salad or a potpie with vegetables.

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