Let’s face it. During economically challenging times, “entertaining” may seem like an unnecessary expense. Yet in some ways, these are the times we need to be with friends and family even more than usual. For large groups, I’m a staunch advocate of sharing the burden by hosting potlucks. Everyone contributes, everyone benefits. For smaller, more intimate gatherings, the lavish dinner parties of the past seem out of place in this economy. I’m attempting to continue socializing, stepping up the menu from the same-old same-old while keeping costs (both money & time) under control. Enter the roast chicken. For me, it somehow always manages to have that special quality that speaks to my longing for sitting down, sharing a meal and conversation. I can’t tell you how many great restaurants I’ve been to and ordered roast chicken instead of something more exotic.
Roasting a chicken can be incredibly easy and everyone seems to have their favorite recipe. I’ll admit, with all the rotisserie chicken available, I’ve become lazy and more often than not, I can be tempted to buy take-out. A while back, I read about Marcella Hazan’s recipe in our friend, Audrey’s wonderful blog, Eat Local Northwest. I’ve made her version which involves putting one or two lemons, pricked many times with a fork, inside the chicken, and roasting as usual. You end up with a chicken that is moist and delicious with very little effort, certainly company-worthy and easy on the budget.
Recently I saw Melissa Clark’s recipe for roasted chicken with crispy drippings croutons. I loved the concept but wasn’t sure how to serve the croutons. She puts pieces of stale bread in the pan with a chicken while it’s roasting, drizzles a little olive oil, salt and pepper on top. The bread soaks up the juices and you have, as I discovered, the beginning of an excellent “stove-top” stuffing. Saute a few onions and several stalks of celery in olive oil. Meanwhile, soak a big handful of dried porcini mushrooms (from Foraged and Found Edibles) in warm water for about 1/2 hour. Squeeze out the mushrooms, chop and add to the onions and celery. When the chicken is done, remove the bread from the pan, soaking up any additional juices, cut into bite-sized pieces and add to stuffing. I added some of the mushroom water to make it more moist, some thyme from the garden, salt and pepper. This is as good as any stuffing cooked inside the bird and much less work. The ingredients can vary depending on what you have on hand.
Marcella Hazan’s Roast Chicken with Lemons
3-4 lb. chicken (Try one from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm at the University Farmers Market. Their products are high quality and reasonably priced.)
2 small or 1 large lemon
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and dry the chicken inside and out. Salt & pepper generously inside and out.
Wash the lemons. Puncture many times (at least 20) with a fork.
Place the lemons in the cavity of the bird. Tie the legs together with string. Close the open cavity with toothpicks, leaving some openings for steam to escape.
Place chicken on a rack in a baking dish, breast side down. (If you want to make the stuffing, place 4-6 pieces of stale bread on the bottom of the pan. Drizzle bread with olive oil, salt & pepper.)
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees in the upper third of the oven. Turn the bird over and turn the heat up to 400 degrees. Roast for another 20-30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 170 degrees.
My only complaint about this otherwise perfectly roasted chicken is wanting the skin to be crispier. Next time I’ll rub the skin with butter or better yet, put butter and herbs under and on top of the skin and roast at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce to 325 , checking after an hour (as suggested by Sally). The lemons are essential to the moistness so you can use your favorite recipe as long as you stick a lemon in the cavity.
Don’t give up sharing meals with friends and family. If you need more inspiration, read this article about two kitchen writers coming up with full course dinner parties for 6 for under $50.