The first roast chicken I ever made was motivated by two things. First, I found whole, frozen free-range/grass-fed chickens at the farmer’s market and was extremely curious. Second, I was trying to cook every recipe possible from the one cookbook I owned: The Book of French Provincial Cooking by Hilaire Walden. I bought the cookbook for about $2 at Border’s when I first moved to California two years ago, and it has provided some of my favorite vegetable and vegetable soup recipes, particularly the idea that vegetables are especially delicious when roasted with a layer of cheese (which makes perfect sense in retrospect). The first non-vegetable recipe I made was quite simple: roast a chicken with sprigs of rosemary and two heads of garlic. While I may have slashed the chicken to pieces before declaring it fully cooked, it was some of the most tender and delicious chicken I’d ever eaten. It took very little prodding to try the other roast chicken recipe in French Provincial Cooking: put herb butter between the skin and meat of the breast-side of the chicken and roast until golden. Perhaps these were not traditional roast chickens because I baked them in a dutch oven for most of the time, taking the lid off for the last half an hour to make the skin golden and crackly. But who cares, because they tasted good, and as I’ve learned to do since those first roasted chicken adventures, they are an excellent excuse to roast root vegetables in the dutch oven right along with the chicken. The chicken-vegetable-herb-spice-sauce combinations are endless, so if you find something you like, let me know.
Roasted Chicken with Vegetables and Garlic
1 whole raw chicken (ours are 3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
3-5 potatoes cut into thick wedges
2-3 carrots cut into thick wedges
5 large cloves garlic
Bunches of fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and parsley
Salt and pepper
Special equipment: dutch oven or other large oven-safe baking dish with lid.
Defrost the chicken if frozen. People can have very strong opinions about how best to defrost a frozen chicken, but I like soaking it, still packaged, in a water bath in the sink for a while (I use cold water if I am not in a rush, and very warm water if I am). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease dutch oven with olive oil. Put chicken in dutch oven breast-side down; this makes the white meat more tender and is only a problem if you have to display the chicken at a dinner party and carve it at the table, in which case you should turn the chicken over half-way through cooking so it can obtain a nice golden crust or cook it breast-side up the whole time. Arrange slices of potato and carrot, cloves of garlic (peeled or not, or a combination), and sprigs of herbs around the sides of the chicken. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and veggies, and add plenty of salt and pepper. Spread the olive oil and salt/pepper over the chicken with a spoon to coat evenly. Add 1/2 cup or so of water or white wine to the dutch oven to keep everything moist before the chicken produces its own juices. With the lid on the dutch oven, bring the water or wine in the dutch oven to a boil on the stove and then place the dutch oven, still with the lid on, in the oven and bake for 1 hour. The chicken will probably not be done yet, but after an hour you can take the lid off the dutch oven and let the bird bake until done, another 1/2 hour or more, so that the chicken can become crispy and golden on the outside. To test if the chicken is done, pierce one of the thickest parts of meat (if you bake it breast-side down, then the thighs are the easiest parts to stab) and if the juices are clear the chicken is cooked. If the chicken is not cooked, the juices will be pink and you’ll just have to be patient.
I’m not sure if the best part of this dish is the chicken, vegetables roasted in chicken juice, or the roasted garlic, but they make a fantastic combination. The addition of a green leafy salad and a bottle of white wine would probably make almost everyone happy. In winter, other root vegetables can be substituted/added, such as turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, and of course sweet potatoes.
Finally, there is a bonus to roasting chickens: your own chicken stock. Sometimes I roast chickens not because I want to eat them particularly, but because I’ve run out of chicken stock. And it’s so easy to make that you should try it at least once.
1 carcass of a roasted chicken (bones, skin, fat, everything)
Dutch oven you roasted the chicken in (it probably has tidbits baked to its sides)
Anything else you want to add: chopped onion, carrot, herbs, leeks.
Add everything to the dutch oven and fill the rest of the dutch oven with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Let the mixture cool and then store in containers in the freezer or fridge (I don’t let it sit in the fridge for more than a couple days). I usually add only a bay leaf to the chicken stock mixture, since I use the stock for so many different things. You can also make a point of not including the layer of fat that rises to the top of the stock if you wish, although I think a little bit gives the stock more flavor.