I’ve always liked roast chicken fairly well, although for a long time the main reason I made it was to be able to make chicken stock afterwards. The chicken itself didn’t seem all that exciting. Then I bought the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (ostensibly as a present for J, but really of course for myself) and was enticed by her roast chicken recipe. I don’t have a wood burning oven like she does, and I find it difficult to find chickens small enough (the first time I tried it I had somehow found a two-pound chicken and it was ambrosial), but it still makes a chicken that’s downright exciting to eat.
The keys to the method are: salting the bird thoroughly at least a day ahead of time, earlier if it’s a bigger bird; stuffing herbs under the skin – I like fresh bay leaves best; and roasting at very high heat. I usually start the chicken at 450° – if it’s a small one I keep it there, but if it’s bigger I generally turn down the heat to 400° after a few minutes, to make sure it cooks through before the skin crisps. I also turn the bird partway through cooking to baste the breast in the pan juices, then turn it back over for the last 10 minutes of roasting. This reliably turns out a chicken with moist meat, good flavor and fantastic salty, crackling-crisp skin. Anytime I skimp on the salting time it doesn’t turn out nearly as well.
To go with the chicken, I roasted a pan of fennel and beets, and of course we needed wine. We like wine a lot, and try to keep a selection on hand for various moods and pairings. Sometimes we’ll have something special and plan a meal around it, but more often than not the food idea comes first, as was recently discussed over at Last Night’s Dinner. But this past year J was gifted with a membership in the Bonny Doon Winery DEWN club, so every few months we would receive two bottles of wine along with a little story and pairing recommendations. I actually found it hard to open those wines with just anything, I felt like I needed to actually make the dishes called for – just because the writeups were so emphatic. Very irritating, but we managed to drink the wines somehow.
One of our last bottles from the club was a 2006 pigato, and the recommendation was for either seafood or pesto. We just weren’t getting around to it, and it was annoying me, so I decided at the last minute that we’d have it with this chicken. Then, to be an obedient little wine slave, I pulled some pesto out of the freezer and boiled up some egg noodles to go with it. Of course, it was great. The wine was very clear and light in the mouth, but with a full flavor that stood up beautifully to the herby chicken, the pesto and the sweet vegetables. Too bad we don’t have another bottle to try with seafood.