Tuesday, March 05, 2013

March Magic: Humble Chicken & Potatoes

"No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers."
-- Laurie Colwin

“One of the good constituents of a good life is the ability to find pleasure in small things. A good jam for your toast in the morning. A chutney that is made from the apples you gathered last autumn. Cutting salt beef that you’ve made and can feed a dozen friends.” 
-- Diana Henry
 If you don't live in Los Angeles, it's probably hard to imagine that we have grey days, when the sun doesn't come out and the sky is more white than blue. On those days, I think about England and crave my two favorite things: roast chicken and potatoes. And I made both for my book group last night. My father, who would have been 99 yesterday, was a huge potato fan, and would complain bitterly to my mother if there was deviation -- rice, perhaps? Some pasta? He had potatoes with every meal -- fried with his breakfast egg, sliced cold for lunch with a little olive oil, salt and lemon, boiled and scattered with parsley for supper.

If you're unfamiliar with Laurie Colwin, read Anna Quindlen's appreciation here.  I think it was Laurie Colwin who made me feel better about my frantically thrown together suppers when the children were small. There was no time for massive attention to detail with one or two little people pulling at one's leg. I believe, and this could be a myth I've created in my own head to make me feel better, that she said something like "don't bother about basting; rub it with oil, some salt, bung a lemon in the cavity and Bob's your Uncle." Although I don't believe that Laurie Colwin said things like "Bob's your Uncle." Whether directly or by inspiration, Laurie Colwin was the one who made it okay to be in the kitchen and to feel good about your cooking even if you didn't have the precision and panache and sous chefs of Martha Stewart, who was, it has to be said, all the rage in the 90s.

Serves 4

"There is nothing like roast chicken,'' Colwin wrote. "It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper, it will not let you down."

a 3- to 3 1/2-pound chicken
3 to 4 cups cubed whole-wheat bread
1/2 cup porcini mushrooms
1/4 to 1/3 cup broth
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Paprika 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon melted butter or water or broth for basting

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rinse chicken and pat dry.
Combine bread and mushrooms in a bowl and toss with broth. Season to taste. Stuff chicken and secure with poultry pin or toothpick. Place in roasting pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. (If desired, surround it with carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic and a red pepper.)
Roast for about 2 hours, basting frequently with melted butter and pan juices. The chicken is done when the leg bone wiggles and the skin is the color of teak.

Last night I roast a chicken using Diana Henry's recipe from Food for Plenty, a very useful book that focuses on using vegetables in season and making good sense of leftovers.

Her roast chicken calls for a mixture of chopped thyme leaves and parsley mixed with butter to be pushed under the skin of the bird on the breast and thighs. I did not have time, but dutifully minced some watercress and parsley, and creamed with some butter, salt and pepper. The bird goes into a 375 degree (365 convection) oven for about an hour and a half. The results were startling. One of the best roast chickens I've tasted.


from Diana Henry's Food from Plenty
Serves 6

Greece truly makes the most of vegetables. This is a complete, delicious one-pot meal; you won't miss meat. Curly endive cooks to softness and the bitterness is pacified. Arugula can also be used. (I used escarole & arugula as it's what I had. These potatoes are a revelation! - MsW)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 leeks, cut into chunks
  • 1-1/4 lb. small waxy potatoes, halved
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 oz. spinach
  • 6 oz curly endive leaves, torn
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • leaves from 6 mint sprigs, torn
  • good squeeze of lemon juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil, to serve (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
1. Put half the oil into a heavy saucepan and add the leeks and potatoes. Season, add a splash of water, cover and sweat for 20 minutes. Add a bit of water every so often and stir. 2. Once the potatoes are almost tender, add the spinach, endive and remaining oil and turn gently. Add another splash of water, season, cover and cook until the leaves have wilted—about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add the herbs and lemon juice, put into a serving dish and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil, if you want.
4. Mix the garlic into the yogurt and serve with the vegetables.
Leftovers: Make these into soup. Add chicken stock, heat, mash to break down the potatoes and leave chunky or purée. Top with Greek yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Many thanks to Liberty London Girl who gave me this book


Lost in Provence said...

Oh, no! Now I want roast chicken and potatoes for dinner!!! Badly!!!! But honestly, I am just too crazily tired to go back out to buy a chicken (potatoes are in permanent residence in this household as is the garlic I cook them with). So no chickie for me, alas. But soon.

And I will most cetainly try the leek dish as well--I have really been trying to up our vegetarian dinners this winter. My very French honey looks askance at them but then usually succumbs after having tasted a bite or two...especially is I somehow work fresh goat cheese into the dish! ;)

I also wanted to say a huge thank you for all of your extremely kind comments on your blog. They arrived with the precision of a guardian angel, I can tell you...

Waving (as tg would say) sleepily from Provence,

LPC said...

MMMMMMMMM. That potato dish looks amazing.