Sunday, March 1, 2015

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables (Adapted from Thomas Keller)

One of my favorite things to do is to make a roast chicken on a Sunday evening. The leftovers are great for work lunches, it makes the house smell delicious, and just makes me feel like I'm putting myself in the right frame of mind to face the week. So, I'm always on the look-out for a new, tasty roast chicken recipe. 

This Thomas Keller Ad Hoc recipe does not disappoint. Full of flavor, some interesting new vegetables to try, and except for a lot of knife-work, one of the lowest-maintenance TK recipes you will ever attempt. There are no weird kitchen tools and the ingredients can all be found at a regular grocery store. He's very particular about the size of the vegetables you use, but I did not stick to those recommendations and found that as long as I chopped the vegetables to be approximate the same size, it didn't matter. Also, these are just the root vegetables I chose to use on this particular day, but I've used tons of other veggies, depending what I've had in my fridge. You can use parsnips, celery...pretty much anything that is a hardy wintery-type vegetable. 

The other note I want to make is that a lot of TK's recipes suggest that it is absolutely essential to bring your meat to room temperature before cooking, which I think discourages us working people quite a bit, as I don't feel comfortable leaving a chicken sitting out all day, and I don't want to wait four hours when I get home at 7 PM to make dinner. My general rule is--if I have time on the weekend to take the meat out and let it warm up a bit, then I do. But if I want to make a meal on a weekday, I just take the meat out of the fridge as my very first step and it will get as warm as it can while I prep the rest of the meal. It really doesn't ruin a meal. 

You can make this chicken in a roasting pan (without the roasting rack), or in a dutch oven type dish (I use my Le Creuset braiser because it's easiest to wash). 

Total prep time: 30 minutes (not including the time it takes to bring chicken and butter to room temperature)

Total cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

What you will need:

4-4.5 lb whole fresh chicken, gizzards/parts removed
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves (you can use fresh ones if you have them on hand, otherwise, I use this minced stuff and it's fine)
6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 large leeks
1 rutabaga (TK calls for 3 tennis-ball sized rutabagas. My grocery store only has humongous, softball sized rutabagas so I reduced to 1).
2 turnips (TK calls for tennis-ball sized turnips. I didn't have a lot of options).
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally (I actually did not use carrots in this batch--see my note above about how you can use whatever veggies you feel like using)
2 small yellow onions, peeled and quartered
8 small red potatoes (golf ball sized)
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Preheat your oven to 475. Yes, you read that correctly. It's not going to stay there the entire time, I promise you.

If you want to rinse your chicken, go ahead and do so. TK actually says you don't have to because when you cook at that high of a temperature, it kills the bacteria, and you're only adding undesired water by rinsing. Whatever your choice, make sure you dry it very thoroughly with paper towels (both outside and inside--I typically stuff a few paper towels in the cavity and let them absorb for a few minutes). This is a super important step as it is the key to making sure you have roast, crispy chicken, not steamed uncrispy chicken.

After the chicken is dry, liberally coat with kosher salt and black pepper. Pour salt and black pepper in the cavity as well, and really, don't be shy with it. You want it to permeate the chicken and give it good flavor. You can rub some underneath the skin as well. 

Put 3-4 thyme sprigs in the cavity of the chicken along with three smashed or chopped garlic gloves. Now put your hand in there and rub all the seasonings and herbs along the inside of the cavity. It really helps get the flavor into the chicken. You can truss the chicken if you want to, but it's not a necessity.

Set the chicken aside and start chopping vegetables. For turnips, you have to peel the outside of the turnip. You can do that with a peeler, but I tend to just slice the outside of the turnip off with my knife, cutting off one end of the turnip to give me a steady base on the cutting board.

Once it's peeled, cut into approximately 1" cubes.

Once these are cut, put them into a large bowl where you will combine the rest of the vegetables. Make sure it's a big bowl, because these veggies take up some room.

Next, take your potatoes and either halve or quarter them, depending on how large they are. The key is to try to get them all to be roughly the same size or weight.

With the rutabaga, the strategy is much the same as it was for the turnip.

Next, make sure your leeks are thoroughly rinsed. Cut the dark ends off. Rinse again. Leeks are dirty little suckers.

I sliced the leeks diagonally into large chunks. They were tasty.

Peel your onions, cut off the ends, and quarter them into wedges.

Once you have all of your vegetables in your mixing bowl, add a generous amount of salt, black pepper, 1/4 of the cup of canola oil (set aside the rest to use on the chicken), and the rest of the garlic. mix well. I just stick my hands in there and toss.

Next, spread the vegetables at the bottom of your casserole dish/roasting pan. Rub the remainder of the canola oil on the chicken, then place the chicken in a "nest" of the vegetables. You don't want to put the chicken on a roasting pan for this want the delicious chicken juices and fats to run directly all over your vegetables to give extra flavor. You can throw the rest of the thyme sprigs on top of the veggies at this point.

Put a couple of pats of butter on top of the chicken (you can skip this step if you're trying to make it kosher, just use a little extra canola oil on the chicken breast).

Pop that baby in the 475 degree oven uncovered for approximately 20 minutes.

You'll see that there's a delightful crisp skin forming on the chicken and you've given it a good jump start to the cooking process. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 and cook for approximately an additional 45 minutes. After about 30 minutes of additional cooking, I start paying a lot more attention to the chicken, and check the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh, waiting for it to register to 160 degrees.

Once the chicken is 160 degrees, remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before you start cutting. They say this helps trap the juices, but I'll tell you, it's really so you don't burn the crap out of your fingers trying to carve. Feel free to sneak a veggie or two while you wait.

Once it's not so piping hot, start carving and serve on a platter or just right out of the dish. Enjoy!

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