Way back in February I posed a challenge to you. I encouraged each of you to get in your kitchens and start cooking real food for yourselves as well as for your friends and families. I did this because I truly believe one of the easiest ways to regain some balance in our lives is to perform simple acts that nurture and nourish us and those we care about. Preparing meals together and then sharing them is a wonderful way to achieve intimacy, have fun, and feed our bodies as well as our hearts. This is just one of the countless paths I am personally exploring to reach an equilibrium between fitness and indulgence, which I’m hoping will lead to a greater harmony within.
In my effort to move you in that direction, I said I would begin offering simple recipes that anyone can make and, with some practice, master. These recipes will form a simple foundation from which you can experiment and create other dishes entirely of your own design. How rewarding!
We began with two versions of a classic chicken soup because (1) it was frigid in most parts of the country at that time, and (2) I believe that once you understand the ‘formula’ for making one homemade soup, you can go on to create any number of them. I hope you took the time to make a least one of the recipes and that perhaps since then, you’ve experimented with changing out the flavors using different seasonings, proteins, or vegetables. If so, you can see how easy it is to whip up a hot bowl of something comforting without too much effort.
The next recipe I think everyone should master is one I make at least once a week, a perfectly roasted chicken. People are always telling me their chickens are dry, flavorless, or boring, calling to mind the old Woody Allen classic in which he describes his own mother’s chicken as being “put through the deflavorizor”! This hurts my heart, dear reader, because it really is easy to pull a gorgeously golden and glistening bird out of your oven every time by following a few simple rules.
Rule #1 – Start with the freshest, plumpest bird you can find; preferably one that has lived a cage-free, organic-fed life.
Rule#2 – After patting the skin dry, let the bird sit at room temperature while you preheat your oven (to 425 degrees) and prep your other ingredients. This will ensure the bird cooks evenly and the dry skin will crisp up nicely in your oven. (And we all plan to snitch the crispy skin when we think no one’s looking, don’t we?)
Rule #3 – Choose a homemade or good store bought chicken stock, a white wine, or some kind of juice such as orange or apple, with which you will baste the chicken periodically as it cooks. (At times like this, I tend toward more is better and usually use both stock and wine.)
Rule #4 – Select your seasonings. Salt and Pepper are not optional, use them generously! Garlic in either clove or powder form, fresh lemons or oranges, some kind of onion (brown, yellow, or shallots), and fresh herbs if possible. All of these things, in any combination, will keep your dinner from being “boring” or “flavorless”.
Once you’ve patted dry your chicken, place it in an oven proof pan and sprinkle it all over with salt and pepper. Don’t forget the cavity! Do the same with the garlic if you’re using a powdered version. If using whole cloves, smash them gently and place them inside the cavity, along with sliced onions, quartered lemons and large bunches of whatever herbs you are using. (Rosemary, dill & tarragon all work nicely.) Sometimes a nice shmear of dijon mustard on the skin is nice, but certainly not necessary.
Now pour a small amount of whichever liquid you have chosen over the bird. As the cooking progresses, you will want to add more liquid to the pan by pouring it directly over the breast, legs and wings.
Allow the bird to cook uncovered, at 425 for approximately 20 minutes or until the skin becomes a deep golden brown. At this point, lower the heat to 375 degrees and cover the chicken lightly with aluminum foil to prevent it blackening further.
Most chickens are completely cooked and utterly succulent after about an hour and a half. To be sure of doneness, prick the fatty part of the leg with the tip of a sharpened knife. If the juices run clear, it is done. If they are still pink, return the chicken to the oven for another ten minutes or so.
Lastly, whatever you do – SAVE THE DRIPPINGS and reduce over a low flame for a few minutes. It will serve as a most excellent gravy!
There is so much variation one can apply to this recipe and I hope it inspires you to come up with your own. Adding fruits (fresh or dried) and vegetables directly into the bottom of the pan as the chicken roasts will springboard your imagination to endless combinations. Enjoy!