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Winner, winner, chicken dinner: Your new favorite roast chicken recipe

September 22, 2014

Lemony Roast Chicken works no matter what cut of chicken you have on hand, but juicy bone-in chicken thighs are a favorite.

When I was a kid, there were mornings when it didnít take a rocket scientist to figure out what we would be having for dinner.

Before breakfast, a frozen slab of chicken ó usually the bargain-priced family pack from the Red Owl meat department ó would materialize next to the skim milk in our harvest gold Amana side-by-side, initiating its daylong defrost.

To meet the demands of feeding her family, my mother spent lord knows how many hours at the stove, browning vast quantities of hamburger, the protein of choice in 1970s middle America.

But Mom also occasionally relied upon a handful of chicken recipes, each designed to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. They would appear, like clockwork, every few weeks, in rotation with other low-effort classics such as corn-and-Tater Tot hot dish, hamburger goulash and creamed salmon with Festal canned peas over Pillsbury biscuits.

In the same way that Mom ignored the existence of Hamburger Helper, ours was not a Shake íN Bake household. But that didnít keep my industrious mother from utilizing supermarket shortcuts.

When the menu called for chicken, one of Momís rituals invoked a well-worn Corningware casserole, a can of Campbellís cream of chicken soup and an envelope of Lipton onion soup. Another required dredging pieces in crushed cornflakes ó or was it Rice Krispies? ó and baking.

Donít judge. It was the 1970s, after all. Our wardrobes were similarly appalling. And donít get me started on the psychedelic wallpaper that violated the dining room walls in our Burnsville split-entry.

Fast-forward several decades. How did I survive all those years without what has become my go-to chicken dinner recipe?

A TRUE ĎNEW COMFORT FOODí

It hails from a Saveur magazine cookbook, and itís one of the reasons why "The New Comfort Food: Home Cooking From Around the World" immediately became the type of trustworthy title that is the backbone of every kitchen library.

Since it was published in 2011, the book has certainly sparked plenty of happy moments in our kitchen, from flawless buttermilk flapjacks and Iíll-never-bake-any-other Snickerdoodles to the ultimate in mac and cheese and, of course, this fail-proof roast chicken.

Talk about the epitome of an easy yet utterly satisfying supper. Prep time is less than 15 minutes, and once the chicken is in the oven, the air becomes redolent with garlic and citrus, teasing the appetite of anyone within sniffing distance.

Iím continually amazed how the alchemy of just five ingredients ó OK, seven, if you count the salt and pepper ó have the power to become something extraordinary, particularly on an ordinary Tuesday night. One taste and itís easy to see why lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil are such bedrock Italian flavors, and how they can humbly yet completely transform plain-old chicken into something remarkable.

The recipe is flexible, too. The cookbookís version instructs cooks to "marinate for about an hour," and I prefer that outcome; the flavors are brighter, particularly when it comes to the garlic. But my schedule doesnít always afford the luxury of two pre-dinner hours, and Iíve come to appreciate the mellow charms that come from an all-day marinade, one thatís pulled together just before I start my morning commute.

The original formula calls for a whole chicken, cut into eight pieces. Iíve prepared it that way, but trial and error have taken me in all kinds of successful directions, usually in response to purchasing whateverís on sale. Iíve tried drumsticks, a wings fun-pack, boneless and skinless breasts. You name it, and Iíve never been disappointed.

Still, experience has led me to stick with thighs, preferably those retaining their bones and skin; the dark, juicy meat really holds up under the ovenís hot temperature, and it makes for the tastiest leftovers.

And oh, my gosh, the leftovers. This is one roast chicken that is utterly delicious when served cold the next day.

Even shopping for this recipe is a snap. Since we are rarely without garlic and olive oil, I can pull dinner together on the fly with a count-to-three supermarket run, buying one of those produce-department plastic packages of fresh rosemary, two lemons and three(-ish) pounds of chicken thighs.

Another reason to love: Each time I prepare this recipe ó itís a favorite of my husbandís, so Iíve rolled it out probably a dozen times since January ó I get better at it.

This happy development always reminds me of some sage advice that Christopher Kimball ó the founder of the Cookís Illustrated/Cookís Country/Americaís Test Kitchen media juggernaut ó once shared with me. And, subsequently, Star Tribune readers.

"The secret is limiting your recipe repertory," he said. "It doesnít need to be huge; thatís why you go out to dinner. No more than 50 recipes, and stick to them. Thatís how you become a good cook. You canít get good at it unless you do it all the time."

óóó

LEMONY ROAST CHICKEN

Serves 4.

Adapted from chef Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles in "The New Comfort Food: Home Cooking From Around the World" (Chronicle Books, $35), edited by James Oseland.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 lemon, peel and seeds removed, pith and pulp chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

About 3 1/2 pounds chicken, cut into 8 or 9 pieces

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, rosemary, lemon juice, garlic, lemon and salt and pepper to taste.

Select a ceramic or glass baking dish just large enough to hold chicken in a single layer. Brush about 1/4 of marinade across bottom of baking dish. Arrange chicken, meaty side up, over marinade, then pour remaining marinade over chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 12 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 475 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, turn chicken over, spoon any excess marinade over chicken and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn chicken over (so chicken is meaty side up) and roast for an additional 15 to 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and browned. Remove from oven and serve with rice, potatoes or buttered noodles.

 

 


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