We’re very lucky to have, at our farmer’s market, a lovely lady who sells organic, free-range chickens and their eggs. She actually has photos of her daughter chasing them around the farm, so you know that they truly get outside, rather than just having access to the outside. Chickens, apparently, are not the smartest creatures and if they don’t know there’s an “outside” it’s rare that they will use a door to get to it. So it’s nice to see that “free range” lives up to its meaning for once!
I’m a big fan of anything that’s not mass produced or factory “farmed”, so it’s a real treat to have her there. Seeing as how her eggs are 50¢ more expensive than Whole Foods, and a whole chicken is just $14, and two chicken breasts at Whole Foods cost $10, buying her product is a no-brainer. (And, thanks to this very instructive video, I’ve learned how easy it is to cut up a chicken into pieces!) Plus, you can make your own chicken stock out of the bones—especially after you’ve roasted a chicken.
During my years in England, I learned that a Sunday roast dinner is almost a ubiquitous event. It’s a lovely tradition of sitting down to a meal with family or friends on Sundays at around 3 or 4 o’clock. It’s especially nice in the winter, where the oven warms the house and you feel all safe and cozy with the inclement weather blustering away outside. If you don’t want to make it yourself, there are many pubs and restaurants who provide their own version, from the posh version at Mirabelle down to your “local” (aka the pub around the corner).
The standards are chicken, beef, pork and lamb, and occasionally you see ham too. With a pork roast, “crackling” is essential, but almost impossible to get the cut over here that will provide it. I will get that sometime soon, and definitely post about that. With roast beef, don’t even try to skip the Yorkshire pudding, either made in a big pan, which is quite impressive, or small individual-sized ones. There’s always roast potatoes which, done correctly, are some of the most delicious things Britain ever contributed to the culinary world, and cauliflower cheese. And that reminds me—haven’t made cauliflower cheese in a while. Hmmm….
But I digress. This was the first chicken I’d bought from the farmer’s market in a while, so I did it up with a ton of herbs and butter. I didn’t roast the potatoes as I probably should have done, but I couldn’t be bothered to go and get the roasting tin from out back so I just popped them in the oval Le Creuset Dutch oven around the chicken. I cobbled together a few recipes—the chicken is a bit of what I could remember from Jamie Oliver and part from a Sunset magazine recipe to add some gravy. Nothing goes better with potatoes than gravy. Except butter. Butter goes well too…
For a vegetarian option, I would remove the chicken (yeah, no duh!) and add more root vegetables, like parsnip, turnip and some squash, like butternut, and perhaps a red onion cut in four from end to end.
ROAST CHICKEN WITH SHALLOT GRAVY
1 whole chicken, cleaned
8 shallots, peeled
A mix of chopped herbs*, about 1/2 cup in total, plus more on stems
8 cloves of garlic, pressed or grated fine
1 stick of butter or Earth Balance, softened
2 lemons (Meyer lemons would be ideal, but I didn’t have them)
3/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/3 cup white wine
About 8-10 small Yukon Gold potatoes, about 2-3″ in diameter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix together the chopped herbs with the garlic and butter. Throw in some lemon zest if you’re feeling fancy. Take one lemon, cut it into quarters and place it inside the bird with the herbs still on the stem. Carefully lift up the skin over the breast and spread some of the herb-butter mixture underneath it. Then take the rest of the butter and make sure that the whole chicken is greased up like an English sunbather on a Spanish beach (come on, guys, you know it’s true!). Cover with salt and pepper.
Coat the bottom of your Dutch oven with oil and put in the shallots. Top with the chicken, and then tuck in the potatoes around the bird. Pop that in a 400 degree F oven for about 1 to 1.5 hours, until (according to Sunset) “a thermometer registers 170 degrees when inserted through thickest part of breast to bone”. But, don’t just forget about our little bird—make sure you show it some love and baste it every 20-30 minutes. Don’t put a lid on it, as it’s not going to get brown on top if you do so.
Once the chicken is done, take it out and cover with foil to rest. Take out the potatoes, and if they’re not too crispy, put them back in the oven on a baking tray for a little bit. Put the Dutch oven right on the stovetop and fire it up. Deglaze the pan with the stock and wine, and let simmer with the shallots for a minute. Squeeze in a little lemon juice, and get ready to blend it. I used a stick blender, and if you do so, please beware. I was spraying the kitchen with hot gravy before I managed to finish!
Sunset said to strain the gravy, but where’s the fun in that? I like a thick, rich gravy. Straining gravy is for sissies, unless you’re making a demi-glace. But that’s for another day. As are the roast potatoes, which I will definitely blog about the next time I make them.
We served this with a nice side salad, but any cooked green vegetable would complement it nicely. Don’t throw out the bird when you’ve eaten all of it, but rather throw it in a pot with as many veggies as you can find (celery and their leaves, carrots, onion, garlic, more herbs) and boil it down to get some lovely homemade stock.
*I used rosemary, oregano, sage and chives