At the end of yet another stressful pandemic week, I was once again seeking comfort food. Something homey, simple, and familiar. My search led me to the top shelf of my bookcase and Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food, where I found a recipe for skillet-roasted chicken and potatoes.
While sheltering in place during the pandemic, I find myself watching more cooking videos on YouTube than I’d like to admit. Many are a waste of time, but some, like the one that influenced today’s post, are inspiring. I discovered the video through Alison Roman’s “A Newsletter: Recipes, Stories, Unsolicited Advice.”
The subject of today’s post was inspired by Sam Sifton’s weekly New York Times “Cooking” newsletter for January 22, which proposed a “no recipe recipe” for roasted miso chicken with butternut squash and red onions. Indeed, ever since Sifton introduced these free-style recipes last year, I’ve been a fan and was more than pleased last night with the results from his latest.
Being a somewhat less than hip septuagenarian, I wasn’t familiar until recently with the phrase “Winner winner, chicken dinner” that’s often used at casinos to celebrate a victory. But after hitting the jackpot with last night’s chicken dish, my better half thought it an apt expression to accompany a toast.
In this post Julia Child era of cookbooks penned by celebrity chefs or celebrities posing as chefs, it’s heartening to return to books researched and written by cooks whom I regard as culinary scholars–writers who took up the gauntlet from Julia, writers like Paula Wolfert, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Fred Plotkin, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the source for today’s recipe. If you’re thinking that “scholarly” means “dry and dull,” just pick up one of these authors’ books and you’ll find just the opposite.
I love it when friends and family pass along recipes that they’ve read about and think of me. Sometimes, however, they may over estimate my culinary capabilities and propose dishes that are far beyond my skills and sometimes even my budget.
But recently a close friend from back home sent me a link to a New York Times recipe for sheet-pan chicken thighs with shallots and grapes. When I first saw the recipe’s photo, I thought I had already made it, but soon realized that I had only made a similar sheet-pan supper but with sausages.
This is an easy recipe and perfect for a mid-week dinner. The flavors of the shallots and grapes blend beautifully and provide the perfect complement to the crispy chicken.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find the za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix, which I think would have added more complexity to the dish. I also found the recipe’s cooking time a tad too short to render the chicken as brown and crispy as I like it. I cooked mine for about 40 to 45 minutes, followed by two to three additional minutes under the broiler.
Finally, don’t forget the recommended flaked salt for serving. It adds a lot to the final dish.
2 ½ to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon za’atar (optional)
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 medium to large shallots, peeled and quartered root to stem
8 ounces seedless red or green grapes, or a combination of both, broken into small clusters on the vine
4 to 5 sprigs thyme, plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
Flaky salt, for serving
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the chicken with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic and za’atar, if using. Season well with salt and pepper.
Place the shallots and the grapes on the sheet pan and gently toss with the remaining olive oil and season well with salt.
Nestle the chicken skin side up in between the shallots and grapes and lay the thyme sprigs on top of the mixture.
Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the shallots and grapes begin to soften and caramelize around the edges of the pan.
Turn the oven to broil and move the oven rack to sit right below it. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and broil the chicken for 1 to 2 minutes until the skin of the chicken is crispy and golden. Scatter with chopped thyme and season with flaky salt.
Wine Pairing: Beaujolais
My Neapolitan aunt, an outstanding home cook, was never one for fancy food; her dishes were simple and straightforward, her presentations were always family style, and her only garnish, if any, was some chopped parsley.
While America was rediscovering French cuisine in the 60s, she and I would watch the original Julia Child shows. However, if Julia would demonstrate something elaborate like roasting a pig or cooking swordfish “in monk’s clothing,” my aunt would look askance at the television, mumble something like “che stravagante,” and leave the room.
Well, last night I think my aunt might have had a similar reaction if she were to have been watching me prepare Mark Bittman’s recipe for Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey and Orange from The New York Times. It’s not a complicated recipe, but requires repeated braising and rotating the pan every ten minutes to achieve a mahogany-colored bird.
The result was good, with crisp skin and moist meat, but I know if my aunt were still around and watched the preparation, she would have remarked as I did: “non vale la pena” (not worth the effort).
Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey and Orange from The New York Times
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup honey
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 3-pound chicken, giblets and excess fat removed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use a nonstick roasting pan, or line a roasting pan with a double layer of aluminum foil.
Combine orange juice, honey, cumin, salt and pepper in bowl, and whisk until smooth. Place chicken in pan, and spoon all but 1/4 cup of liquid over all of it.
Place chicken in oven, legs first, and roast for 10 minutes. Spoon accumulated juices back over chicken, reverse pan back to front, and return to oven. Repeat four times, basting every 10 minutes and switching pan position each time. If chicken browns too quickly, lower heat a bit. If juices dry up, use reserved liquid and 1 or 2 tablespoons of water or orange juice.
After 50 minutes of roasting, insert an instant-read thermometer into a thigh; when it reads 155 to 165 degrees, remove chicken from oven, and baste one final time. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Wine Pairing: Chardonnay
There’s something about Nigella Lawson. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can watch her cook for hours, even replaying her shows, and never get bored. Yes, she’s probably the most attractive TV chef around, but she brings more than good looks to the table. As she sashays through her kitchen with a just a hint of insouciance, she describes her dishes so sensuously that your mouth waters. And when she cooks, Italian, well…be still my palate.
Most recently, I watched her making an Italian roast chicken with peppers and olives accompanied by a saffron orzotto. The chicken is cooked untrussed in a roasting pan, stuffed with a half of lemon and rosemary, atop sliced red, yellow, and orange peppers, leeks, and pitted black olives. Everything is drizzled with olive oil and seasoned simply with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A few more sprigs of rosemary are tossed in with the sliced vegetables.
Because the chicken is untrussed, it cooks rather quickly in a 400°F oven for about an hour or an hour and a quarter. As the chicken, or as Lawson calls it “my burnished bird,” rests, the vegetables continue to roast for another 10 minutes.
Lawson accompanies this succulent chicken with a saffron orzotto, an easy alternative to a risotto Milanese. I prepared it for two and used a half cup of pearled barley (orzo in Italian).
Heat 1 cup of chicken stock and add about a 1/4 teaspoon of saffron threads. Keep it warm.
Finely chop a banana shallot and cook it over medium heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When the shallot has softened, in about 5 minutes, add the barley, stirring to thoroughly coat the grains with the oil for about 1 minute.
Add the stock, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the barley is cooked. At the end, stir in some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
There is nothing difficult about this menu. The multicolored vegetables and the golden orzotto alongside the burnished chicken make for a colorful presentation.
Here’s a link to the original recipe on Lawson’s Website.
Back in the day when the Food Network seemed to care more about food than personalities and featured cooks who could teach rather than stars who entertain, Sara Moulton was one of my favorites. Her style was similar to Julia Child’s: instructive and encouraging.
This past weekend, I was happy to discover that she has a new show on PBS, Sara’s Weeknight Meals. I watched her prepare a roast chicken stuffed under the skin with zucchini and cheese with such nonchalance that I had to make it myself. I thought it would be perfect for supper on Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year.
Roast Chicken Stuffed with Zucchini and Cheese Adapted from Sara’s Weeknight Meals
1 medium zucchini (about 1/2 pound), grated coarsely, about 2 cups
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped fine (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
1 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 slices firm white bread, pulsed in food processor or blender to make 1 cup of fine crumbs
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta
Freshly ground black pepper
One 3 1/2 pound chicken
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Toss the zucchini with ¼ teaspoon salt and set it aside in a strainer to drain for 15 minutes.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it is golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Squeeze the zucchini by small handfuls to remove excess liquid. Discard the liquid and set the zucchini aside.
5. Stir the thyme and well-drained zucchini into the skillet and sauté for 2 minutes over medium heat; transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.
6. Add the bread crumbs, the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the ricotta, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the zucchini mixture. Add salt to taste.
7. Place the chicken, breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan or skillet. Gently slide your fingers under the breast skin and loosen the skin on the breasts and thighs. Do this slowly to avoid tearing it. Rub the skin with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
8. Using your fingers, stuff and spread the zucchini mixture evenly under the loosened skin of the chicken.
9. Truss the legs of the chicken loosely with kitchen string.
10. Roast the chicken for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and roast the chicken for 20 minutes. Cover the chicken loosely with foil and roast for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until a meat thermometer inserted into an inner thigh registers 165°F.
11. Remove the chicken from the oven and set it aside for 10 minutes before carving.
Here’s a link to the original recipe: Roast Chicken Stuffed with Zucchini and Cheese. It has a recipe for an optional sauce and suggests accompaniments.
Wine Pairing: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Roast chicken has to be one of my favorite poultry dishes. However, for a weeknight dinner roasting a whole bird may be a little too time consuming. That’s one of the reasons why I use Dave Lieberman’s recipe “Dad’s Roast Chicken My Way.” Lieberman somehow disappeared from the Food Network, but his easygoing approach to cooking was a welcome alternative to some of the network’s more flamboyant stars.
Over the years, I’ve tweaked this recipe adding a little ground cumin to the seasoning, upping the amount of herbs, and sprinkling the skin with some paprika for added color. But my major change is substituting skin-on, bone-in thighs for the chicken pieces. In my opinion, thighs are the tastiest parts of the chicken.
I like to serve this dish with roasted broccoli.
Also, take the time to make the olive oil drizzle. Just a little adds a lot of flavor to the chicken, especially if you don’t enjoy eating the skin.
Dad’s Roast Chicken My Way Adapted from The Food Network
For the chicken:
1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken cut in 8 serving pieces (I use thighs.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
Olive oil, for drizzling
Zest of 1 lemon
For the parsley drizzle:
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degree F.
Trim off any excess skin or fat from the chicken. Cut off and discard the wing tips. Place the chicken pieces in an 11 by 13-inch baking pan lined with foil, or any pan that that they fit in without crowding.
Season the chicken pieces generously with salt, pepper, cumin olive oil, the herbs, and the lemon zest. Toss through all the seasonings and then arrange the chicken piece skin side up in the pan. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature. (You can season the chicken pieces and set them up in the roaster up to a day before you cook them. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Roast until the skin is nicely browned and there is no pink near the thigh bone and the juices run clear, about 35 to 40 minutes. Check both white meat and dark meat. If the white meat is done before the dark meat, take it out and set it on the serving plate until the dark meat is done.
For the parsley drizzle, wash and dry the parsley. Remove the leaves from the stems and chop the leaves finely. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and use immediately to garnish the roast chicken.
Wine Pairing: Chablis, un-oaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir