Put a Bird On It.

I wouldn't be so bold as to say that roasted chicken is an heirloom Mennonite recipe. But that's just the point- "Mennonite food", in my opinion, is a rather fluid concept. Putting a bird in an oven is virtually universal. Plus I really love roasted chicken... sometimes that's just enough.

Also I have a firm belief that all people everywhere should know how to roast a chicken. Getting the one technique dialed gives you so much... perfect for a lazy Tuesday night, a fancy Friday dinner party or a Sunday family supper. It can be a one pot meal or the main course in an elaborate dining experience. The decision on vegetables, sauces, herbs are all yours. Room for creativity is boundless.

But every recipe you'll find for the dish is the one the chef swears by: Brine the bird. Brining not needed. Salt that little sucker before roasting. Only season after. Take out the wishbone. Or not. Put butter underneath the skin of the breast. Or not. Stuff the cavity with bread cubes, pancetta and chicken livers. Truss the chicken. Trussing... whatever. Rotate it while roasting. Rotating... maybe next time... It's an exhausting effort trying to sort through what really is going to deliver good results and what's a sham. So I'll just tell you... All of them. They are all going to deliver a delicious roasted chicken as long as it's not raw or overcooked and as long as you use salt somewhere. Ok there's also the recipe that said to put it in vinegar and a stick of oleo... I'd stay away from that one.

So here's what I did on my lazy Tuesday night. It was a rainy Tuesday in Portland so it all seemed appropriate. I had a chicken - a small, whole, 4.5 pound chicken. If you're lost, tell the butcher what you're doing with the bird. A good butcher will lead you to your mark.
I like to roast my chicken on a bed of veggies, especially on a lazy Tuesday night. So I looked around my kitchen and used what I had. Eric had to laugh at my choice of sweet potato as there's a running joke about my usage of the root. "You and a sweet potato are like Portland and birds," he says. Check out Portlandia for the reference and this will all make sense.

The idea of the dish was being led by Thomas Keller, accompanied by moi. The result was a beautiful marriage - the perfectly seasoned meat with a crisp exterior.
Just the smell of the veggies had me impatient for suppertime.
The mushrooms gently cut their way to us from the kitchen.
The garlic and thyme sang of the garden.
Accompany this recipe with your own ingenuity. I'm confident it will sing as well.

Whole Roasted Chicken and Veggies
Lightly adapted from Keller, Thomas. Ad Hoc at Home. New York: Artisan, 2009.

Yield: 2 generous servings with a bit of leftovers, or 4 small servings
Total time: about 20 minutes hands-on, about 80 minutes cooking and resting time

One 4-1/2 pound chicken (but any size will do)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large sweet potato, cut in large chunks
3 medium-sized red potatoes, halved
1 pound cremini mushrooms
1-1/2 onions, quartered
7-8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
6 thyme springs
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Remove the chicken from the frig and let rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Note: This isn't vital but does decrease cooking time.

2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Fahrenheit.

3. To prepare the bird: (See above options for ideas. The following was my own take) Generously season the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper. Add 3 of the garlic cloves and 3 sprigs of the thyme and massage the cavity, lightly smashing the garlic as you massage. Leave them inside for flavor. If you want to stuff the bird with something else, do so now. Any meat you stuff it with should be precooked though.

4. Truss the chicken. Note: The purpose of trussing is for aesthetics and to help keep the juices inside the bird. Having said that, you can skip this step and it won't hurt.

5. Combine all the vegetables in a large mixing bowl: sweet potatoes, red potatoes, the 5 remaining garlic cloves, mushrooms, onions, and the 3 remaining sprigs of thyme. Toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and seasoning of salt and pepper.

6. Return to the chicken and very generously season it with salt and pepper. This is also the time to put a pad of butter underneath the skin of the breast if you'd like.

7. Put all the vegetables in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet and nestle the bird in the middle. Cut the 2 Tablespoons of butter into small chunks and place on top of the chicken.

8. Put the chicken in the oven and roast at 475 for about 15 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 450 after 15 minutes. Roast for approximately 1 hour. The bird is done when the juices run clear as you separate the thigh from the breast. A meat thermometer should register 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest covered with foil and a tea towel for 15 minutes. Note: If it's on the very edge of being done, go ahead and pull it as it will cook slightly more as it rests. Check again after rest period to ensure this though.

9. Reheat the vegetables over medium heat in the same pan.

10. For service, take off the trussing string, cut the bird into serving sizes, and arrange with veggies.

In other Shoofly Project news... I'll be e-cooking and talking with Kate Stoltzfus from Pittsburgh soon! I can't wait to see what she and her Mennonite roots have baking!

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