Earthy Roast Chicken

In the past few weeks I’ve been described not once, but multiple times by different friends, as “earthy”. What, me? It caught me by surprise the first time–how does a girl like me, raised in the midst of High Tech Central, become earthy? It must just be the Birkenstocks, I said to myself. But when it happened a second time, then a third, I knew it was more than a misplaced adjective. I do tend to be drawn toward old broken down things, things with memories in their cracks, things with chipped paint and fraying velvet, that smell like pine trees and verdant countrysides, and sound like campfires. In other words, I dig the peasant lifestyle. Does that make me earthy? Or am I just another hipster nostalgic for a time I never lived through…hmmm…

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When it comes to food at least, I’m can confidently say I’m in the Earthy Peasanty Food camp. Things like stews, beans, crusty bread, thick jams, tender vegetables, ripe fruit–peasants probably didn’t have the luxury to eat like this all the time, but this type of fare has the rustic honesty of peasant food that I swoon over.

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King among all the Earthy Peasanty Foods is undeniably roast chicken. A single four pound bird, thrown in the oven for little over an hour, will make a hearty dinner with about as much effort as it takes to drive to Sweet Tomatoes, plus garner some groans of appreciation in the process. The leftover meat can be chopped up and tossed into pasta for the next day’s lunch and the bones can be simmered for stock. It’s versatile, economical, and down-right satisfying, which is why when my brother asked for ways to feed himself in college, chicken was the first thing I suggested.

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It can be dressed as simply as with a pinch of salt and pepper rubbed into the skin or as fruffed up as with a cream and cognac sauce. I went somewhere in between the two and ended up with this, the earthiest of all of roast chickens.

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Roast Chicken with Pine Nut Stuffing

Adapted from Jacques Pepin and The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook

I roasted this chicken using Jacques Pepin’s technique. The browning and roasting on its side allows the dark meat, which is harder to cook, to get some extra heat from the pan and cook in the same amount of time as the breast. The result is a juicy chicken.

Also, don’t skip the allspice in the stuffing. A pilaf of Basmati rice, chanterelles, and pine nuts, soaked with chicken juices, can hardly be a bad thing, but the allspice gives it a subtle something-or-other that rounds out the whole dish.

1/4 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms (optional)

1 cup hot water

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 chicken (about 4-4.5 lbs)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Soak the dried chanterelles in the hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until the onion is transparent. Stir in the allspice.
  3. Add the rice and nuts and cook for another 3 minutes over medium high heat. Pour in the chanterelles along with the soaking liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes until the rice is mostly cooked. Set it aside to cool while you prepare the chicken.
  4. Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry. Remove the wishbone for easier carving. Remove the two blobs of fat near the tail end of the chicken and any major blobs of fat near the breast. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425.
  6. Spoon the stuffing into the cavity. Truss the chicken any way you like. I used this method this time, but I think I’ll tuck the wings behind the back next time like the traditional way because they don’t stay put.
  7. Heat an oven-safe skillet over medium high heat for two minutes. Add the blobs of fat that you removed from the chicken until a few tablespoons render out. Place the chicken on its side in the skillet and brown it for about 3 minutes. Flip it over and brown on the other side for another 3 minutes. Remove the remaining chunks of fat and place the skillet in the oven.
  8. Roast the chicken in the oven for 23 minutes, then turn it onto its other side and roast for another 23 minutes. Baste with the pan juices, turn the chicken onto its back and roast for an additional 23 minutes.
  9. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the warm stuffing.
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