Jeffrey Steingarten famously declares in It Must Have Been Something I Ate that every time he is bored, he roasts a chicken. Calculating that he gets bored approximately once a week, this translates into 52 roast chickens a year and more than one thousand since he began as food critic at Vogue. That’s a lot of chicken, but it’s also a lot of practice in the art of roasting. Now, Steingarten goes on to say that roasting a chicken in the oven is little more than baking it, and that real roasting can only be done on a spit over a flame, which is perhaps true, but in the absence of a spit and fire, I think oven-roasting (baking) can produce a perfectly delicious roast chicken, and would refer you to the recent post “How to Spatchcock a Chicken” for a quick step-by-step.
Indeed, to my mind, (and to disagree with Mr. Steingarten, for once) there is one distinct advantage to oven-roasting vs. spit-roasting, namely, drippings, and drippings, like the crumbles in the corner of a bag of chips (crisps), are where the flavor is at. These drippings, you see, can be made into one of the most sublime of all cooking by-products, the gravy.
So, after washing and patting dry my bird, I stuffed its cavity with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon, before giving it a good rub all over with olive oil and a healthy sprinkling of salt. I then placed said bird in a dutch oven (le creuset) and leaving the lid off, put it in a 420F oven for forty minutes. After forty minutes, and with the bird looking perfectly golden and crispy, I turned the heat down to more placid 350F and let it roast for another hour before removing it and letting it rest a while out of the oven.
Before carving it, I removed the bird from the pot and took out the stuffing from the cavity, then drained all the juices out of the cavity into the pot where they mixed with roasting juices. Adding the cavity stuffing to the juices, along with about a pint of tap water, I turned up the heat and scraped the burnt bits off the bottom of the pan. I let the liquid reduce by about a third, stirring occasionally and crushing some of the vegetables a bit with my wooden spoon.
Nicely brown and beautifully redolent of chicken, thyme, lemon and the sweetness of roasted carrots, I strained the gravy and then pushed the solids through a sieve to add some body and flavor back in to it. Seasoning only slightly with salt and fresh pepper, I was proud to have made an absolutely fantastic, honest-to-goodness chicken gravy without recourse to stock, bouillon cubes or thickeners like corn starch. It was a moment in which I realized that just by following my instincts I had recreated the kind of gravy you’d commonly find at a good English restaurant or pub, or indeed, a good country French restaurant.
It was really quite an ordinary dinner – roast chicken, dauphinoise potatoes and a warm asparagus salad with fennel and celery tops, but with this gravy it became extraordinary — exactly the kind of restorative elixir that my body needed. “They” say that chicken soup contains something that makes you better when you’re sick, and I am sure that this chicken gravy had some of that goodness in it too. It was freshly made, flavorful and, well, chicken-y in a way that only chicken can really taste like chicken, and it made me feel wholesome without resorting to wheat germ, lentils and colonic irrigation.
Another interesting by-product of this dinner was a rather toothsome recipe for a potato and fennel gratin that I’m also inordinately proud of, perhaps because I didn’t work from a recipe, perhaps because I’m an asshole. Anyway, here’s how to do it:
Potato & Fennel Gratin
- 2 large or 3 medium waxy potatoes (yukon gold are best here) peeled, but left whole
- 1 large fennel bulb with tops trimmed and reserved for fennel salad
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup milk
- 2-3oz low moisture mozzarella, sliced thinly
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Using a mandolin on the middle thickness setting, slice your potatoes and fennel.
- Lay out potatoes overlapping one another by about 3/4 slice (see photo below) in a layer in a baking dish.
- Then do the same thing with your fennel slices. This second layer will probably not be as neat as the first one, but that doesn’t really matter.
- Pour the milk over the vegetables but make sure milk does not cover them. Depending on the size of your dish, you may need a bit more or a bit less milk, but it should only come up to the bottom of the upper-most layer of vegetables.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover dish with foil and place in oven for about half an hour.
- After this time, remove from oven and lay your mozzarella slices on top. Do not add too much cheese – be a little sparing.
- Return to oven and allow to bake for another twenty minutes or so, until cheese begins to puff and brown.
- Remove and allow to cool a bit before serving (cutting is easier when vegetables and cheese have firmed up a little).
- Serve with roast chicken on a Sunday night and calm the weekly apprehension at your impending return to work.
Check out these other posts you may enjoy:
- BRAISED PORK CHOPS WITH LIME AND OLIVES
- ENSALADA DE CABRALES (Thin Sliced Apple and Cabrales Cheese Salad w/ Vinaigrette)
- AUTHENTIC THIN-CRUST PIZZA
- BLACK, RED OR PINTO BEANS WITH CHORIZO AND CUMIN
- VEAL KIDNEYS WITH MUSHROOMS AND COGNAC
- CREAMY LEMON PASTA
- LIDIA’S LAMB CHOPS (Lamb Chops with A Mustard Anchovy Sauce)